Opinion: Labour spins towards another Watergate

The Downing Street spin machine has been so inept over the 'cash for gongs' scandal that the only thing to save the Prime Minister from greater embarrassment following Ruth Turner's arrest was the Big Brother story being of more interest to the media.

While Gordon Brown was left fuming in India as his high-profile visit was dominated by a reality TV show, the champagne corks were popping in Number 10 as they toasted Jade Goody.

But their celebrations proved premature: this story will not go away, and has been made worse for Tony Blair by the briefings against the police. ­Spinning against the long arm of the law will only have one result, and that’s a greater likelihood of charges being brought. This was confirmed when Metropolitan Police union boss Simon Humphrey said that ‘the time has come for Downing Street and the anonymous Labour spin doctors to keep quiet and let the police get on with the job’.

If Number 10 were in any doubt about the anger of the police, then the dawn raid and arrest of Turner put paid to that. Instead of learning their ­lesson, though, the briefings got worse. Tessa Jowell said that she was ‘bewildered’ by the Met’s ­behaviour. Laughingly, Denis MacShane accused the Old Bill of arriving at the door of a ‘young, sincere ­woman’ in a bid to make her crack.

If Blair’s supporters believe that anyone will have sympathy for Turner as a result of the manner of her ­arrest then they are living on a different planet from the rest of us.

Part of the problem is that Downing Street believes that even if ­peerages were offered for cash donations to the Labour Party, so what? That’s what the Conservatives did for years and no Tories ever had their collars felt. What they fail to realise is that it’s not the cash for honours that matters, it’s the ­cover-up.

And no amount of spinning can hide ­deleted Treasury emails – they are all preserved on the mainframe.

It’s no wonder then that the police have commissioned advice from computer experts, which has led to speculation that the Met has hacked into the Number 10 system.

Until recently, most pundits believed that Blair’s legacy would be Iraq. It now seems more likely to be something akin to the Watergate scandal, which ended with Richard Nixon being given a pardon by his successor, president Gerald Ford.

Gordon Brown certainly wouldn’t do that, even if he could.
charlie.whelan@haymarket.com

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