Charlie Whelan: Mortgage gaffe shows a party out of touch

The fact that a politician can actually be accused of faking the end of her marriage in order to save her Cabinet job is a sign of just how tarnished the New Labour ‘brand’ has become.

Last week when I wrote about the early stages of the Tessa Jowell scandal I suggested that a certain Alastair Campbell was bound to be involved in the story in some way, simply because he is a close friend of hers. I forgot to mention that he (in common with the editors of The Independent and The Guardian) also plays golf with her husband, David Mills.

There are echoes here of Campbell telling Robin Cook to choose between his wife and his mistress or face the sack. But this time Campbell can't help, because he is part of the problem.

Apart from that the strategy has been wrong. I also suggested last week that it was crucial that nothing was done to 'feed' the Jowell story. The 'separation' announcement did just that.

But the ultimate mistake Jowell made was going on the radio to argue that remortgaging a property to the sum of hundreds of thousands of pounds was 'not an unusual thing to do'. I think the man on the street may disagree.

It is a recurrence of a blindspot that has dogged New Labour over the years. The Blairs seemed completely ignorant that many Labour supporters may find the purchase of a £3m house a little
excessive, while Peter Mandelson could see nothing wrong with borrowing hundreds of thousands of pounds from a pal to purchase a house – a sum that would have bought a whole street in his constituency Hartlepool.

This is not to say that Jowell is not a decent person, far from it. It is just that the administration as a whole has lost touch.

It was interesting to see that The Sunday Telegraph rang round all the Cabinet to ask them if they had any monies offshore. Number 10 quickly rang round to tell Cabinet press officers what to say – ie. nothing. The Treasury ignored the edict and announced that the Chancellor and the chief secretary to the Treasury had no such money offshore. Was this their way of saying Tessa, or more subtly Blair, must go?

New Labour may not have yet reached the depths of Tory sleaze under Major, but its failure to recognise the damage done by financial scandals will cost it dear in May's local elections.

The only real solution is for a new broom to come in and sweep Labour clean of the perceived sleaze. Gordon Brown must be thinking that his day has just got significantly closer.

charlie.whelan@haynet.com

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