Thursday, April 20, 2006

Tony Blair is innocent of this ridiculous sale of honours charge

I hope if I’m arrested for a criminal offence Labour MPs, like Jon Cruddas, will be popping up on the BBC to praise my integrity. A noble act of friendship toward his best mate Des Smith, and in no way an attempt to influence Scotland Yard, whose officers had just arrested Mr Smith, under the 1925 sale of peerages act.

Mr Smith, adviser to the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (SSAT) had admitted telling a journalist that if they put up a large sum of money for City Academies there would be a “a certainty” of a peerage or a knighthood in it. I’m sure that the police will discover that this was the result of stress brought on by the demands of his work.

It is a surely a disgrace that a man of Mr Smith’s integrity should be treated this way by the constabulary, clearly working under direct orders from Gordon Brown. I mean, how can we expect people to offer themselves for public service if they are going to be pilloried and arrested merely for offering honours for money?

Not that Mr Smith ever intended to do that during his brief moment of madness. Whatever it was he did was motivated by his passion for improving the lot of the educationally deprived. It had absolutely nothing to do with the cash for peerages scandal which is, anyway, a fiction of the Brownite press designed to damage the PM.

Anyway, no one in government has ever heard of Mr Smith. He was a frequent visitor to Number Ten and advised Tony Blair personally on schools policy, but you can’t remember every Tom, Des or Harry who comes to the PM with offers of millions of pounds. The anonymous Mr Smith worked for Lord Levy, who is President of the SSAT and also Tony Blair’s fund raiser and private banker, but there is no evidence that Lord Cashpoint ever set eyes on his employee.

And let there be no snide talk about “following the money” for I’m sure they never discussed how the PM was going to raise cash for academies from rich donors. It’s just not on for cynical individuals to now go running round putting two and two together and making four all over the place. We all know that two and two make whatever the Prime Minister wants it to make. Indeed, in this case it made just under fourteen million, which is a very respectable sum, given by responsible people to Lord Cashpoint’s fund for the educationally disadvantaged, c/o 10 Downing St. London.

The Prime Minister certainly wouldn’t have talked to either Mr Smith or Lord Levy about awarding honours to benefactors. It is also pure coincidence that, according to the independent Power Commission, every plutocrat who has donated more than a million pounds to the Labour Party has received either a knighthood or a seat in the Lords. Well, what of it? Come on then, let’s hear the latest conspiracy theory. Nyah, nyah, nyah, hearditalbefore.

There may appear to have been conflicts of interest, but these things are very much in the eye of the beholder. The property developer Sir David Garrard, for example, sponsored a City Academy, and also gave Labour a secret loan of £2.3m. But these donations were in no way connected, even though they were both solicited by Lord Levy, directly and through his agent Mr Smith. It is pure coincidence that Sir David later appeared on the PM’s nominations list for peerages.

It is a matter of record that Mr Smith’s boss, Lord Levy, had been advising wealthy philanthropists that it would be kind of them to give secret loans of millions of pounds to the Prime Minister so that their names wouldn’t have to be disclosed. But this was simply for their own good, since publicity can be highly bothersome and intrusive. Whereas, giving donations to City Academies is the kind of thing that it is highly appropriate to publicise since it shows just how philanthropic and public spirited the businessman really is. And how suitable for a place in the House of Lords because of “services to education”.

The Prime Minister has already said the system of secret loans is to be scrapped in future, so that surely confirms the system is working as it should. Otherwise he would hardly be scrapping it would he? Tony Blair has demonstrated his honesty and integrity in the clearest way possible: as soon as he was found out he took action to change the law so he would never do it again. What more can you expect of a Prime Minister than that?

Really, it sometimes makes you despair for the future of democracy the way that people impugn the good names of politicians without a shred of evidence of any wrong doing - except of course the evidence that led to the arrest of Des Smith. And even if Mr Smith is guilty, he was definitely not obeying orders.

Never let it be said that in Britain you can buy your way into the House of Lords, and we never will say it because it has never needed to be said. A nod is as good as a wink to a blind fraud squad officer. And where does it say in the 1925 act that you can’t give a nod to a chap that his cash could come in very handy and would make the Prime Minister very happy indeed? A happy Prime Minister is surely a good Prime Minister.

And, when it comes down to it, why shouldn’t rich men be given seats in the House of Lords? They have become rich through their hard work running philanthropic bodies like expensive restaurants, property development companies, commercial old peoples’ homes, and through nurturing cultural icons like Bad Manners and Alvin Stardust. Aren’t these precisely the kind of figures we want our young people to aspire to?

We don’t want the House of Lords populated by the same old judges, scientists, university vice chancellors and former ministers. Boring, boring, boring! We need to bring the House of Lords into the 21st Century, by showing that money talks - in politics as in business, and that it speaks in a language that the government can understand. What better way to ‘put something back’ for society than to place an anonymous million or two into Tony Blair’s private Labour fund?

You know, it’s not that long ago that Labour was the kind of organisation that wouldn’t have wanted a million pounds from Bernie Ecclestone, let alone two. It believed a mass political party should be financed by the fund-raising efforts of ordinary members, by trades union subscriptions and party membership dues. How hopelessly out of date. Indeed, how offensive to Britain’s wealth community to exclude them in this way from the centres of power.

No one surely wants to go back to the bad old days when rich people had to hide their heads in shame. So let’s stop this witch hunt now, and let Tony and his friends get on with the job, whatever it is.

Smoking ban shows it's time to look again at drug laws

And then - nothing happened. It’s three weeks since the smoking ban hit Scotland’s pubs, clubs and cafes. We were warned of mass civil disobedience. It was an offence against civil liberties, said critics, and Scots would defend their freedoms against the nanny state. The result would be chaos.

Well, surprise surprise - the overwhelming majority of Scots have abided by the ban; there’s been not a hint of violence; and newspapers have reported soaring bar sales since the legislation came into effect. Suddenly, city pubs are pleasant places to meet, and eat, and your clothes don’t have to be dry-cleaned the next morning.

If ever there were a candidate for Private Eye's “The Nation’s Press: An Apology”, this must surely be it. Though I have to say, as a supporter of the smoking ban, that even I am amazed that it has gone off so smoothly. When you think how deeply ingrained is Scotland’s drink culture, and how belligerently those loud-mouthed defenders of personal liberty threatened defiance, it is scarcely believable that there was no trouble. Not a single arrest.

It’s a tribute to the Scottish Executive of course for having had the bottle to promote this legislation - though of course they’ll get little credit for that. By definition everything Jack McConnell does is either sleazy or dumb, so expect no plaudits for the First Minister. People are already saying that, well, what was all the fuss about?.

Well, fuss there certainly was. It took guts for McConnell to put his name to this anti-smoking legislation, which could easily have gone wrong. Look at England. Half the Scottish media has been on smoke watch for the last three weeks looking for evidence of the civil unrest, however trivial, that they forecast.

For some it will be confirmation that people have become powerless before the all-controlling nanny state, determined to regulate our lives. But for me it is confirmation that Scotland remains a law-abiding country - in the best sense of the word. We accept and support restrictions on our freedom provided they have been the result of evidence, debate and proper democratic process. It’s what the Scottish parliament is there for.

But the smoking ban is a reminder also of the fragility of the law. You realise that laws don’t work on their own, or because the police are there to enforce them; they only work when the people accept them and effectively enforce the law themselves. The reason the smoking ban worked was that hundreds of thousands of people in pubs and clubs quietly made sure that those minded to break the law did not do so.

But what of the other poisonous and addictive substances that are so much a part of modern social intercourse? The laws on drugs are not being enforced by the same public who make the smoking ban a success. Quite the reverse: for people under the age of forty, there is almost universal transgression of the laws on drugs. Everyone either breaks the law themselves by taking illegal drugs like cannabis or ecstacy, or knows someone who is breaking the law and does nothing about it. And we are talking, quite literally, of millions of acts of illegality. So, how do we square that?

Officers in the Strathclyde Police Federation caused a massive row last week by suggesting there should be a debate on the legalisation of drugs - and not just soft drugs, but class A substances like heroin. They were accused of defeatism, of irresponsibility, of being soft on drug barons. But we are asking the police to enforce laws which we - the public - reject. It is OUR hypocrisy, and the Strathclyde police officers are right to call time.

The war cannot be won. The only way to deal with this problem is to cut it off at source. Either people agree to stop abusing drugs, or else, after a proper national debate, we are going to have to look at alternatives.

Now, I have argued for legalisation of cannabis in the past. I have always hated it myself because it turns me into a zombie, but I could never see any reason for it being illegal. Though recent evidence of the harmful effects of dope, on the functioning of the brain as well as on behaviour, certainly made me think.

As for hard drugs, it would have been irresponsible for any newspaper column to argue crack cocaine and heroin - some of the most addictive substances ever synthesised - should be made freely available. However, something has to be done. Scotland now has 51,000 addicts where we had only a handful in the 1960s, before the government outlawed the prescription of heroin to addicts. Methadone is no solution.

For the reality is that the present regime is only benefiting the criminals. The pushers exploit public tolerance to promote a vicious and predatory expansion of their trade. Just as prohibition benefited organised crime in the 1920s, so prohibition is creating a global criminal infrastructure which is becoming a political force. The drugs industry is is now worth £300bn a year worldwide -equivalent to the GDP of sub-Saharan Africa. The British and American army defeated the Taliban in Afghanistan in a matter of days - but they haven’t been able to defeat the poppy growers.

But perhaps the smoking ban shows a way forward. It accepted the right of individuals to take a dangerous drug - nicotine is just as addictive as heroin - but only within a responsible social context and with strict rules which protect the health of others. Perhaps we could start exploring ways to modernise the drugs laws, allowing people to use drugs in the privacy of their own homes, provided the state regulated their to protect vulnerable young people and those who become addicted.

It is a scary thought - the state licensing the sale of cannabis, ecstacy, cocaine. But at present we have the worst of both worlds. We have uncontrolled mass consumption of narcotics and we have laws that are openly flouted by a criminal industry which is free to devop its trade in the most pernicious way. The Scottish Parliament has made history with the smoking ban; perhaps it should turn its attention now to Scotland’s second biggest drugs problem.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Could Berlusconi Bring Down the Curtain on Tony Blair

First lesson: don’t insult the electorate. Silvio Berlusconi’s fate was surely sealed when he called voters “dickheads” - at least those that didn’t agree with his tax cuts - at the height of the Italian election campaign.

Mind you, that was relatively mild from the former Prime Minister of Italy. Earlier in the campaign he’d called opposition supporters “coglioni” - literally “testicles”. Well, it seems that enough of them had the balls to get rid of their Prime Minister - the latest in a long line of right wing clowns going back to Mussolini.

And yes, Berlusconi had a soft spot for Il Duce, insisting, against all evidence, that the Italian dictator had never killed anyone. Don Silvio compared himself to Napoleon and Jesus Christ and said he was the most dynamic leader in the world. So dynamic in fact that ninety separate court actions have been taken against him, ranging from bribing judges to tax evasion.

He is widely believed to have inherited the Mafia support previously enjoyed by the corrupt Christian Democrats. The irony is not lost on anyone in Italy that Berlusconi met his Waterloo on the same day that the ‘capo di tutti capo’ of the Cosa Nostra, Bernardo Provenzano, was finally arrested, appropriately in the Sicilian town of Corleone. The Godfather will be questioned very closely by state prosecutors eager to learn about his business contacts and certain real estate investments near Milan which involved Mr Berlusconi in a previous life.

So, the surprise isn’t that Silvio Berlusconi has finally been defeated - by the slimmest of possible electoral margins - but that he has been around so long. Berlusconi’s has been the longest lasting government in post-war Italian history - five years.

And it is Silvio’s second stint at the helm. He first came to power in 1994 only to resign nine months later over corruption allegations. You have to ask: how could anyone have trusted such a man to lead the country? Maybe Berlusconi’s right about the Italian voters’ brains being in their underpants.

But it wasn’t just the voters who were captivated. Tony Blair had an almost instant rapport with the billionaire media magnate, who owns half the Italian TV and controls the other half through his government appointments. Two years ago, the two PMs couldn’t get enough of each other. Tony and Cherie naturally spent their holidays at Silvio’s flashy Sardinian holiday villa, where the perma-tanned premier appeared with a dashing pirate bandana on his head.

Blair and Berlusconi bonded in the great enterprise that was the Iraq war. Silvio even sent troops which, in accord with Italian military tradition, didn’t get too close to the action. Though the Americans managed to kill an Italian secret agent in March 2005, while he was helping the release of a hostage. But I digress...

Blair seemed to see in Berlusconi a reflection of his own attempts to “modernise” politics and marginalise the Left. They were both intensely pro-American, and keen to be regarded as leaders of a “new Europe”, as the US Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, liked to describe those Eastern European and Mediterranean countries that supported the Iraq invasion.

However, one senses that there was more to this political love affair than support for George W. Bush’s military adventures. Blair and his followers have an almost mystical regard for businessmen, media moguls, billionaires of all kinds. Look how the Blairite minister Tessa Jowell’s husband ended up accepting a “gift” of 350,000 from the “B people” for allegedly failing to reveal evidence of Berlusconi’s corruption.

Mr Mills would be wise to start packing his bags because the Italian prosecutors will be all over him now that Berlusconi is no longer in office. The crime of which Mills is charged carries a seven year jail sentence.

Indeed, as the magistrates rake through the ashes of the Berlusconi years one suspects that other people in British public life might also have cause to look to their suitcases. Certainly, the document shredders are going to be red hot in Westminster and the City of London this weekend as evidence of Silvio’s network of influence is erased.

Of course, Tony Blair would never have been so stupid as to accept money from any political leader - holidays are of course another matter. His crime is more one of political naiveté. By worshipping at the altar of cash, under the guidance of high priests like Berlusconi, Labour politicians like Tony Blair completely lost their sense of propriety and social values.

I mean, how could a Labour Party leader associate with a right wing populist who had neo-fascists in his governing coalition? Berlusconi’s flashy, opulent, tasteless life-style should have been anathema to any Left wing British politician, however “modern”. It was a terrible reflection on the Prime Minister’s judgement.

Berlusconi was - is - one of the shadiest characters in modern European politics. He survived numerous prosecutions only because they lapsed under new statutes of limitation which Berlusconi introduced into Italian law. He accuses anyone who disagrees with him of being communists. And what’s worse, he’s been a rotten manager of the Italian economy, which has gone into reverse under his stewardship.

Berlusconi corrupted the entire Italian media by placing his relatives in charge of TV stations and newspapers; by sacking television journalists who criticised him; by using his own authority to marginalise and demonise competitors - political or business. His party, Forza Italia, was not a political party in the real sense, but an advertising campaign, financed by Berlusconi and promoted through the newspapers and television stations and even football clubs that he controlled.

So, why did people vote for him? Well, in some ways it was like putting a charismatic businessman like Sir Alan Sugar in charge of Britain. Or Richard Branson or any of the new business celebrity elite, who we are all supposed to admire as moral individuals. Berlusconi was elected by a cynical electorate which believed the modern myth that businessmen are better at running things than politicians simply because they have made lots of money.

But this is surely a compelling reason why self-made businessmen, however uncorrupt, should be excluded from high political office, which demands altogether different skills. Running a country is not like running a business; the bottom line is very different for a start. It involves reconciling competing interests, not mastering them.

Once businessmen take over the state, they are inclined to turn it into a means of their further enrichment. It isn’t their fault; it’s what they do. And politicians should steer clear of them. Blair should never have allowed himself to be seen with this man - outside European Union summit photos.

Say what you like about Gordon Brown, but he would rather have been be seen dead than going on holiday with the likes of Berlusconi. The Chancellor, sensibly, uses parliamentary recess to be seen with Nelson Mandela and visiting poor schools in Africa. What better illustration of the difference between Blair and Brown.

Perhaps Berlusconi will bring the final curtain closer for Tony Blair. Perhaps, indeed, the former Italian PM might find a lucrative haven for TB in his media empire. Now there’s a marriage made in heaven.

State Funding of Parties Must Take Account of Scotland

The cash for coronets affair seems to have brought about a fundamental, indeed historic change in Britain’s attitude towards the funding political parties. Suddenly, everyone wants the state to pay for our politics.

The Tories want a cap on donations of £50,000, applied to individuals, organisations and firms, plus 60p per voter at election time. Labour want the trades unions to continue paying the political levy, and for there to be a limit on spending at elections. Others have suggested that payment should relate to the number of individual small donations from individuals, perhaps with tax relief and match-funding.

All very well. Though it’s perhaps a little unfortunate that the big parties didn’t discover their support for state-funding before they were caught red-handed prostituting themselves to rich donors. It has been a salutary experience, and it seems there is no alternative but to take private cash out of politics.

But has anyone thought this through for Scotland? We have a different political system up here, with a major political party, the SNP, which doesn’t exist in England. We also have separate Scottish elections. Does this mean that Scottish political parties will be paid twice by the state: once for UK elections and again for the Holyrood ballot? Under the Tory plan, it would mean a cash windfall for Scottish politicians.

The SNP might welcome such a change, if only to seek relief from its financial hardship. Bereft of businessmen who want to curry favour with Alex Salmond, the SNP has been in desperate financial straits for years. It was practically bankrupt before the last Scottish elections, all because of an overdraft that was little more than the price of a posh flat in Edinburgh.

By-elections are a mixed blessing for the SNP because they cost a lot of money. The Liberal Democrats reportedly spent #100,000 on the Dunfermline by-election in February, whereas the SNP could only manage around #20,000. It expects to be similarly outspent in Moray later this month. The Tories will want to push the by-election boat out for their candidate, Mary Scanlon.

These costs weigh ever more heavily on political parties today because of the collapse in party membership. The activists who used to do most of the canvassing have long gone, leaving parties hiring banks of telephone canvassers to do the work. In Dunfermline, the Liberal Democrats not only had the most sophisticated canvassing operation, they also enlisted helpers from as far away as Exeter.

With state funding of political parties, there may have to be some kind of financial firewall at the border. You simply can’t have big UK parties like Labour and the Liberal Democrats pouring money and effort into by-elections in Scotland and gaining unfair advantage over parties which have to be sustained by their Scottish membership alone. Mind you - just try and stop them.

The UK Labour Party spent something like £18 million on the last general election. If that funding were to be allocated on a “Barnett”-style formula, that might mean something like £1.8 million in Scotland - a figure the SNP couldn’t possibly compete with. The Tory proposal is to limit the cost of elections to £15 million, but that would also leave Labour with a massive financial advantage in Scotland, out of all proportion to its share of the vote. Or would the SNP be handed hundreds of thousands in public funds to even the financial score?

These are very complex matters which the advocates of state funding have hardly begun to address. At the very least there will have to be some kind of balancing formula applied to party funding Scotland to ensure a level electoral playing field.

But what would happen if the SNP, or any other independence party, were to start building up a massive vote in Scotland? Would the unionist parties in London be content to see the state pay for the dissolution of the United Kingdom?

We have some experience here from elsewhere in Europe where small parties have been in precisely this situation. Afew years ago, the Flemish nationalist party, Vlaams Block, started winning a larger share of the vote. The big Belgian parties tried to cut off its access to state funds on the grounds that the state shouldn’t fund separatism. Vlaams also happened to be a racist party, which helped the case against state funding.

But does the large parties have the right to do this in a democracy? Is it legitimate for the old party oligopoly to decide who is and who is not worthy of state funding? When it comes down to it, the British National Party is a legitimate democratic organisation, which has recently been cleared of charges that it incited racial hatred. It would be very difficult to rule that it should be denied state funds, even though everyone knows that it is a racist organisation.

Of course, the Scottish National Party isn’t in that category. It is a liberal, multicultural and democratic nationalist party which has no place for extremists of any kind. But it isn’t that long ago that a Labour Shadow Secretary, George Robertson, was talking about the “dark side of Scottish nationalism” and comparing the SNP to ethnic extremists in the Balkans. It is quite possible that a future government in Westminster might take a dislike to the SNP’s separatist vision, and choke off its funds.

The prospect of state funding is attractive to parties who see a way out of their financial difficulties. But it could be a devil’s bargain. Ideally, funding should relate, not just to votes, but to the ability of parties to attract members and donations from ordinary people. They shouldn’t get it just because they are there. Otherwise, we might be trading one kind of sleaze for another.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The New Labour Project Has Just Lost

David Cameron did his best to divert attention from Labour’s loan scandal last week by making a full disclosure of Tory loaners which was somewhat less than full. Some five million pounds worth of cash, much of it from foreigners, remained unaccounted for. This was because the party had paid it back.
Yes, the Tories have spent the last fortnight travelling the globe, desperately stuffing cash back into the pockets of foreign plutocrats so that they wouldn’t have to reveal their identities. It’s a bit like the Kent bank-robbers shoving pound notes through the door of Securitas and saying they’ve done nothing wrong. ‘Straight up guv - it was all on commercial rates’.
The fact that these were loans rather than actual donations doesn’t make them any less objectionable. Some of the loans were used as collateral so that the Tories could develop their Smith Square property. This allowed them to realise huge capital gains, which allowed them to raise yet more loans. It’s an amazing scam. You can make donations to a party without ever having to give them any actual money.
But who could these mystery benefactors be? I mean, what foreign businessman would want to bankroll the Tories - especially on the eve of an election they were almost certain to lose? Doesn’t it betray a want of business sense on the part of the global super-rich that they were prepared to invest in such dud stock? I think we should be told.
Of course, these foreign businessmen knew perfectly well what they were buying: influence. As one Northern business benefactor remarked last week, it was the only way to get London politicians to listen. That said it all. What is so striking from the Tory rich list is how easy it is to buy into the highest levels of British politics if you have a couple of million that you don't mind parking with them for a whlie.. The Electoral Commission demanded that the Tories come clean, one hopes that they will continue to demand transparency until we know just exactly who has been buy into our political system.
Mind you, it hardly came as a surprise to learn that the Conservatives had been soliciting cash from businessmen. I mean, do bears crap in the woods? The Tory loans scandal is an embarrassment, but it is Labour’s involvement in the cash for honours affair that is really shocking. It is supposed to be the party of the people, the party of the dispossessed.
But that Labour Party no longer exists. It has been replaced by a new form of political life - a parasitical anti-party, which lives in and feeds on the decaying flesh of what was the biggest mass political organisation in British history - a federation of millions of trades unionists, socialists societies, co-operatives and intellectuals, which was dedicated to the struggle for workers rights in factories and parliament.
That party is receding into history along with those grainy images of Upper Clyde Shipbuilders thirty five years ago this summer when 15,000 workers took over the yards. Looking through my own archives recently I came across a “Current Account” documentary I made for the BBC in the Eighties about a simultaneous factory occupation of the British Leyland truck plant and the nearby Plessey electronics plant in Bathgate. We somehow got word that the workers at Plessey were planning to seize their means of production, and were able to film inside the factory gates as they literally locked the bosses out. Didn't save the Plessey or BL, but it galvanised Scottish politics. The youngest chairman of the Scottish Labour Party, one George Galloway, visited the plants and delivered rousing speeches about workers control.
Excuse me for indulging in this syndicalist nostalgia. I do so only to point out how that kind of mass participation politics, linked to industrial militancy, is as dead as Soviet Communism. The trades unions are a shadow of their former selves and the Labour Party has largely ceased to exist as a mass membership party. It was the genius of the opportunist coterie around Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson, that they saw a way of exploiting the Labour “brand” - which still had rather noble egalitarian and democratic associations - to create an entirely new kind of political entity. One that had no need for mass membership, industrial muscle or radical programmes. Just a single-minded pursuit of political power.
New Labour used focus groups to home in on the aspirations and fears of the small group of marginal swing voters who decide elections and targetted their message accordingly. Labour powered into office in 1997 on the back of public disgust at recessions, house prices and Tory sleaze - sleaze which now seems almost quaint. I mean, accepting a couple of grand for asking a parliamentary question seems pretty small time compared to selling peerages for donations (allegedly).
For this was the one weakness in the Blair project, and turned into its undoing: media politics requires large amounts of cash. In the past, Labour had relied on the trades unions for ninety percent of its funding, and had relied on its mass membership to run elections. The hundreds of thousands of stamp lickers, poster pasters and door knockers who worked for the party at election time for nothing. Blairites had to look elsewhere. They did. In the mid-90s they started approaching “high value” donors - businesses, businessmen, media stars, wealthy individuals, anyone indeed who could pay for a #1,000 a plate dinner, or be seduced by one of Lord Levy’s celebrity dinners.
But the party needed more than just thousands, or even hundreds of thousands. To win the last election, Labour needed fifteen million. So, a discreet bargain was struck: that provided the “high value” donors made a splash in the voluntary sector and flashed their chequebooks at worthy causes, they would also be able to buy into government by giving loans and cash to Tony Blair. Now, this bargain isn’t written down anywhere, and no one will ever admit that it exists. Lord Levy never said, straight up, that if you cough up a hundred large you can get a down payment on peerage. But he didn’t have to; it was obvious.
The independent Power Commission revealed last week that every donor who lent or gave Labour a million pounds has received a peerage or a knighthood. Labour insists there is no connexion between the two, and its just that wealthy philanthropists like to give Tony Blair their money 'cos he's such a straight kind of a guy. Look at all their other activities, they say. Which is precisely what the Lords Appointments Committee finally did, and promptly blocked Tony Blair’s attempt to give businessmen like Chai Patel peerages. He’d been criticised for conditions in his private nursing homes.
Inspector Knacker of the Yard is now investigating the cash for peerages affair, but don’t hold your breath. Like Lord Hutton’s inquiry into Iraq, this will find that no one’s fingerprints are at the scene of the crime. But that doesn’t mean that Labour won’t be punished. This has been a crushing defeat for the Blairites, and they know it. They can’t raise money like this in future and without that they can’t fight elections. No one in the party is going to work for them, so they can’t appeal to the membership.
New Labour is undone; the party’s over. It’s Gordon Brown’s historic obligation to invent a post-New Labour Labour party. The big question now is whether the Blairites will let him.