Friday, July 20, 2007

 

'Black Friday' for Conservatives hit by Triple Whammy

How the Tories must have longed for prosecutions from the Cash for Coronets police inquiry led by Scotland Yard's John Yates. A big scalp or two would have suited them nicely as they seek to neutralize the (for them) worryingly buoyant Brown Bounce.

But an 18 month inquiry, costing over three quarters of a million pounds and involving scores of interviews-three with the prime minister- plus three high profile arrests, has not convinced the Crown Prosecution Service that a conviction is likely.

It's easy, and true, to say that the whole enterprise was misdirected in the first place. Honours have been handed out for favours to the government ever since the Anglo-Saxon kings; the age of democracy has accelerated rather than reduced the flow, whatever colour of government has been in charge. Does this make it right? In the case of medals and even knighthoods I don't see a huge problem-though they are supposedly handed out on the basis of merit, not ability to give cash to parties- but it is the peerages which are crucial as they help- albeit in a limited way- to make the laws of the land.

Money should not change hands in deciding who does this, though in effect it does to some degree. Even if both major parties have rewarded donors with peerages, the law introduced in 1925 to end what had been Lloyd George's flagrant abuse of such patronage, was more than justified.

So how did they avoid prosecution given that We know Blair and co. must have dangled rewards in front of rich donors? I suspect Number 10 has been pretty clever at avoiding anything in writing which would incriminate and maybe shredding anything which looks even vaguely as if it might. The other reason might easily be-as the The Guardian suggests- that the wording of the act is too precise to make a conviction straightforward; one Labour MP said: 'It's difficult to get anyone unless you actually catch them handing the money over.' So those Number 10 aides can relax, it would appear, but Yates's meteoric career might have been badly slowed by this failure to make his formidable efforts stick. I wonder if he will comment as some suggest Scotland Yard is furious with the CPS.

I said 'Triple Whammy'? Well, the two by-elections- though reducing Labour's majorities- have reinforced the Brown Bounce nicely and Cameron's third place in both poses big questions for where he goes from here as well as increasing the odds on an early election. It must be Black Friday in Conservative HQ.

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