Charlie Whelan: Dirty cash proves New Labour's Achilles' heel

I remember sitting with the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1998 when the Prime Minister rang to say the Labour Party had accepted a £1m ‘gift’ from Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone, coincidentally around the time that restrictions on tobacco sponsorship were delayed for the sport. I thought I’d never see Gordon Brown so angry, but his mood is even darker now.

Part of Number 10's PR strategy to get out of the Ecclestone mess was to distance Tony Blair from the decision to accept the cash. But in the latest 'cash for power' scandal my old union pal, Labour Party treasurer Jack Dromey, ensured the Prime Minister was on his own this time. This has meant Number 10's current strategy is to focus attention on the wider issue of political funding.

To this end Blair does have the support of David Cameron – who cannot really attack him as his party has been up to the same tricks.
Less surprisingly the Tories have also united with Blair on seeking to end the Labour Party's reliance on trade union funding. The very day (Monday) that Cameron announced his solution to party funding, including limiting trade union donations, Alastair Campbell told Daily Mirror readers in a column that unions were 'a fraction of society' (six million people, actually) and should not be relied upon for finance.

I have no idea where this 'loans' affair will end but my instinct is that if those intent on seeing off Blair 'follow the money' – as the Watergate investigators were advised to do by Deep Throat – then we may have a new Prime Minister sooner rather than later.

People may even have to go back as far as the so-called 'blind trust' that Blair set up to fund his original Labour leadership election.

Money, it seems, is Blair's – and New Labour's – Achilles' heel.
I have no doubt the PM wouldn't last another five minutes if Brown pulled the plug now. However, this was unlikely in a Budget week. It would also fly in the face of the Chancellor's strategy of not wanting to be seen to move against his former friend for fear of being accused of disloyalty.

I believe the Chancellor and his team are wrong in this respect. There is now only one solution to help restore the tarnished New Labour brand and that's for Blair to go, and go now.

How Blair goes or who pushes him will not matter a jot to the
new leader. What matter is for his successor to be genuinely whiter than white when it comes to matters of money .

Brown easily passes that test, and, luckily for Labour, is just about the only senior politician who does.

charlie.whelan@haynet.com

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