Is the British body politics about to cannibalise itself.
Lib-Dems aspirant leader Chris Huhne has reported Labour to the police. Will police inquiries become a new arena for party point-scoring ? Other parties will retaliate. Police time will be wasted and the reputation of British Politics will be unjustly dragged through the mud again. It's irritating that every Labour scandal, real or imagined, is exaggerated. Other parties problems are downplayed or ignored.
Elfyn Llwyd MP referred to Labour this morning as having 'their hands in the till.' If true, it's our till. Elfyn has a short term memory problem if he has forgotten that he and two other Plaid immaculates were found guilty last week of grabbing Â£5,000 each from the taxpayers' till. There may well be breaches of the law in this piece of shameless chicanery. Another job for PC Plod?
In 1997 I repeatedly raised the funding of William Hague's leadership campaign. Â£20,000 came from the managing director of the controversial City Mortgage Corporation, David Steene. The City Mortgage Corporation has been criticised for charging some clients penal rates of interest. The City Mortgage Corporation lends to homeowners who have been turned down by other mortgage lenders under contracts which allow for increased rates if borrowers fail to make a payment. In one case, a man was charged 9 per cent interest until he missed a payment and then it jumped to 18 per cent." This was dirty money that Hague should have repaid. He did not. The media were not interested. Could the police have helped shed a little light?
The role of the Midlands Industrial Council in funding Conservative party activity has not been investigated by the police. In essence, by giving money to the MIC rather than directly to the Conservative party, it has allowed big donors to remain anonymous. The MIC in turn, after receiving these anonymous donations, funds Conservative campaigning. After public pressure, theyâve published a one-off list of their currently active members - but wonât say who else has given money in the past or that theyâll publish names of new donors in the future. Time for the police to probe?
THE Liberal Democrats were criticised from their own ranks over a decision to accept Â£2.4 million from a company owned by a Swiss-based financial business. The donor Michael Brown was jailed for two years. The Electoral Commission cleared the LibDems of 'bad faith' but left open the separate issue which is still under investigation: was the money that Michael Brown gave to the Lib Dems his to give away. Anyone reported this to the police?
Lord Ashcroft, the multimillionaire bankrolling the Conservatives' controversial campaign in marginal constituencies is under increasing pressure to explain whether he has honoured pledges, made before he received his peerage, that he would return to the UK and pay income tax. One promise that he would return was made by the then Tory leader, William Hague, in order to secure the peerage more than seven years ago. A similar assurance had already been given by Ashcroft himself when he settled a libel action with the Times newspaper.
However in 2004, five years after the assurances were given, Ashcroft's main residence was declared in the House of Lords expenses register to be the central American tax haven of Belize, thousands of miles beyond the reach of HM Revenue and Customs. Should the police investigate whether any law has been broken?
Tory peer, Lord Laidlaw, who has taken a leave of absence from the House of Lords after he took no action to change his tax-exile status in Monaco. The House of Lords appointments commission imposed the condition in approving his appointment in 2004 but has no powers to take away this peerage. The Conservative party confirmed that despite Lord Laidlaw's enforced leave of absence, the party had not removed the Tory whip from him. I don't remember any headlines in the Daily Telegraph on this one.
There is bit of suspicion about the Tories' arrangement to sell their HQ in Smith Square. The Party continues to own 32 Smith Square, having recently purchased the freehold of Smith Square and the adjoining 67 Tufton Street, and is continuing to review options on its future use.
The party has been negotiating to sell the freehold to their historic headquarters in Smith Square, together with adjoining offices in Tufton Street, for an estimated Â£30m. Yet they acquired the freeholds on both properties in March this year for Â£15.56m, after obtaining a loan from the Allied Irish Bank. Tory officials have declined to reveal the identities of either the businessmen who sold Smith Square to them in March or any company in the process of purchasing it. Now it is back in the news. In a wide-ranging on Tory fund-raising, the Independent on Sunday names Christopher Moran as one of those involved in the transaction. He was expelled from Lloyds in 1982 for 'discreditable conduct'.
The Sunday Times article claims that the "party accepts money from a number of unknown or obscure organisations, trusts and companies â devices, it is claimed, that are used to avoid public scrutiny of donors." A Tory spokesman said the party had signed a confidentiality agreement with the new owner at their request, but he said they were not party donors. It is just they have asked for their name not to be disclosed." The Electoral Commission decided it was a commercial transaction. Would the police agree?
On June 29th this year a cash for peerages complaint was made to Deputy Commander Yates about Tory cash for peerages. It was disposed of by October 10th without any arrests, lurid headlines, dawn raids, press coverage of arrests before their were made. The complaint against Labour took 16 moths to resolved. There was never any practical chance of a prosecution. But great damage was done to the reputation of the Labour party and of British politics.
Opposition parties hellbent on using the police to fight political battles may well themselves be burnt. I am proud that Labour in 2000 introduced the best reform in political funding transparency laws. Irritated, bewildered and ashamed that by our stupidity not our greed, we have embarrassed ourselves.