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Donation scam threatens to turn Brown vs Blair

If there is a new inquiry, Brown could become only the second serving Prime Minister to be questioned in a criminal investigation, reports Vijay Dutt.

world Updated: Nov 29, 2007 22:44 IST
Vijay Dutt
Vijay Dutt
Hindustan Times

With the row over the David Abraham’s “donation by proxy” of nearly £630,000 to the Labour Party threatening to embroil 10 Downing Street and lead to a police investigation necessitating the interview of Gordon Brown personally, Brownites are trying to pass the buck to Tony Blair.

A Labour insider told HT that this attempt to “pass the brown envelope, or who can avoid the blame in the dodgy donations scandal”, has re-opened the decade-long Blair-Brown rift.

After Tory leader David Cameron taunted Brown during the Prime Minister’s question hour in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Brown supporters orchestrated that the first donations from Abrahams’ proxies were accepted by the Labour Party in 2003, when Tony Blair was Prime Minister and Brown Chancellor.

Brown too has insisted that any wrongdoing “happened originally before the time I became leader”, reminding MPs that the covert payments had started “four years before”. A source close to Brown endorsed this and reportedly said, “The bottom-line is that this started under Blair, at a time when Gordon just wasn't able to get involved in donations or the party finances because he was Chancellor. We inherited this situation.”

Blair’s remaining allies in parliament now are fuming. They are convinced that an attempt to link the current funding scandal with the cash-for-peerages affair that clouded the last months the Blair premiership was being attempted to pre-empt questions about Brown’s integrity -- which Cameron attacked in the Commons.

He said Brown's explanations “beggars belief...we have had 155 days of this government. We’ve had disaster after disaster… His excuses go from incompetence to complacency and there are questions about his integrity”.

So far, Peter Watt, the youngish Labour general secretary, is the only person to resign over the Abrahams’ affair, and Brown’s supporters are keen for him to take the blame for keeping the true nature of the covert donations a secret.

A former party official close to Brown went on to suggest that Watt had been part of the “old regime," pointing out that the departed general secretary had been the party’s head of finance and compliance under Blair.

Blairites are livid. One reacting angrily said, “It's typical cowardice – they’ve never been willing to take the blame for anything, but this has happened on their watch so they'll have to take the rap.”

Another Blair supporter, an MP, added, “They can spin all they want but they can't hide from this one - Gordon is PM now, it's his party and his government, so it's his problem.” Lance Price, a former adviser to Blair said, “In his rush to draw a line under the Blair era of funding scandals, spin and haemorrhaging trust, Gordon Brown clearly decided he was not going ‘to do a Tony’. This week is proving the toughest test to date of whether doing a Gordon produces better results.”

Most MPs believe the launch of a second police investigation into Labour funding is only a matter of time. In July, no one was charged in the “cash-for-honours” inquiry which destabilised Tony Blair's government. The latest allegations are seen as more clear-cut and could be studied much more quickly. If there is a new inquiry, Brown could become only the second serving Prime Minister to be questioned in a criminal investigation.