Sunday, July 16, 2006
Sleaze-Busters Closing In
We've been told for some time about the Loans for Coronets 'time-bomb' ticking away underneath Blair's residence in Downing St, but it's been a surprise-to me at least- to realise how close to actual detonation time we've come. John Major, on the Andrew Marr programme this morning, was keen to make the point that his government was never involved directly in anything shady- it was merely peripheral figures, mostly backbenchers whose feet got stuck in the quagmire. But, this time, with Labour, the trail leads right up to the knocker on the PM's door.
Nick Cohen, in the Observer today provides an interesting angle on the saga. It was the SNP MP, Angus McNeil, of course, who first started asking questions about the close correlation between the giving off cash to parties and the receipt of honours. He found, however, that this association was wholly accepted by old parliamentary hands and that Geoff Hoon treated Alex Salmond's remonstrations on the subject with dismissive contempt. The actual legality of such practices seemed to have been forgotten. 'Fizzing with rage' McNeil checked in the Commons Library that the Honours(Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925 outlaws-on pain of prison- what has subsequently been commonplace in our politics. When the Met decided to investigate his complaint it was their first ever foray into political corruption. Which is such very bad news for Tony Blair.
We all know he's keen to stay in power to burnish his legacy; but already it looks way beyond the ministrations of any polish on the market. DAC John Yates has already interviewed nearly fifty people over the last few weeks -perhaps the furore over Prescott has helped keep the issue just below the radar- but it's been the arrest of Lord Levy which, according to Andrew Rawnsley which has shaken Number 10 to its foundations. Levy is widely seen as Blair's personal friend and instrument; it is inconceivable he could have done anything without the PM's blessing. What is more, he's let it be known that he'll not be a scapegoat; according to him, it was Blair who sanctioned the £14m of loans to finance the 2005 election. If Blair is arrested, his survival will be impossible. Political Betting report the best bookie price on him surviving the year is a mere 5/2
If he does indeed fall in this way, the irony will be that (even Honest) John Major and virtually every other PM since Robert Walpole, used the honours system to win political advantage but got away with it. Given the fact that Blair should have resigned after Hutton, I would see such outcome as no more than a re-assertion of natural justice.
It is time we had an elected 2nd chamber!!
- the problem of competing mandates
- the question of which chamber the government draws its mandate from
- gridlock (as with the US)
- the notion of having "experts" in the upper chamber who are able to speak on certain issues with sufficient acumen, thereby helping the process of debate. I am aware, though, of the potential elitist implications of this.
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