The sad thing about the “Deputy Dawg” affair is that hanging around with rich men is probably what John Prescott thought he ought to be doing. After all , hasn’t his boss made a point of going on holiday chez dodgy billionaires like Silvio Berlusconi? Poor old Pressa probably thought he’d earn a stack of New Labour brownie points by accepting holidays – sorry fact finding missions – to the Colorado ranch of Philip Anschutz.
Fact that he was wanting to turn the Millennium Dome into a supercasino would only enhance Prescott’s prestige among the cynical special advisers of Number Ten. New Labour “loves millionaires” – as Peter Mandelson once fatuously put it. If they are willing to take the wretched Dome off the government’s hands, so much the better.
Has John Prescott done anything wrong? Well I’m tempted to say that if he didn’t know, there’s not much point in telling him. Was it a breach of the ministerial code? I doubt it, or else the PM and most of the cabinet would be in the dock for similar indiscretions. There may be some questions for Sir Phlip Mawer, the standards commissioner to consider about whether Prescot, whose department oversees planning issues, was too close to the contractual negotiations over the Dome to be accepting gifts in kind from one of the commercial interests. However, I doubt if this is going to be a resignation issue. Prescott doesn’t have a department any more.
Anyway there’s so much else for “Butch Calamity” to resign over, you hardly need a standards scandal. He is simply a huge, lumbering, incoherent embarrassment – not just to his party but to the country. How could a man who cannot utter a coherent sentence become Deputy Prime Minister? Party chairman, perhaps, but not a heart-beat away from leading the nation.
New Labour has lost all sense of propriety after nine years in office and become a liablityto itself. In the same week as Prescott’s High Noon, we had confirmation that David Mills, the lawyer husband of the culture Secretary Tessa Jowell – another casino enthusiast who wined with Mr Anschutz – is to stand trial for embezzlement and tax fraud in his dealings with Silvio Berlusconi. You couldn’t make it up. This really is turning into a spaghetti western. A fistful of fivers, and a few fivers more, perhaps.
Mr Mills had been providing legal services for the former Italian Prime Minister and had received a mysterious gift of some three hundred and fifty thousand pound from the “b” people. He may be totally innocent of any charge and deserves a fair trial. But it all contributes to the sense of a government which has become far too fond of wealth for its own good.
This is the Labour Party, after all, the party, supposedly,of the dispossessed. Why are they all so obsessed with money and status? Remember, it was a loan from a businessman, Geoffrey Robinson, that led to Peter Mandelson’s first resignation. He needed the money to buy a posh London flat to impress his friends and there was no way he was going to do that on a mere junior minister’s salary.
But why should the trappings of wealth become so attractive to certain left-wing politicians? They surely weren’t attracted to Labour politics because they thought it would lead to financial gain. If that was their game they’d have joined the Conservatives, who not only value wealth for its own sake but were very good at converting public office into liquid assets.
Why is Tony Blair so fond of flash and glam? Designer clothes and champagne? Why buy that awful, tasteless house in London for 3.6 million – money neither he nor Cherie possess?
Being the PM’s wife has turned Mrs Blair from being a spiky human rights lawyer into a grasping celeb who charges extravagant sums for delivering charity lectures and required the Labour Party to pay her 7 grand hairdressing bill during the last general election campaign.
Those were expensive haircuts alright. I wonder how many Labour activists tore up their party cards in disgust when they learned that they’d been paying their dues so that Cherie could employ her own Mr Teasy
How many more will throw their memberships down the toilet at the thought of John Prescott, supposedly the guardian of Labour’s socialist soul, playing the high-roller with casino owners. Or Tessa Jowell ingratiating herself with the same Mr Anschutz in order to secure Britain’s’ first ‘supercasino’? Who wants one anyway?
Or Tony Blair’s soliciting of nearly fourteen million pounds in secret loans from rich business men, many of whom , by happy coincidence, found themselves on the honours list. The cash=for=peerages affair has been largely forgotten during the ho ha over the World Cup – which is exactly what the government hoped would happen. However, it is the great financial scandal of this administration. It will continue to haunt Tony Blair so long as he remains in office.
The police are still conducting their inquiries into an apparent breach of the 1925 abuse of honours act. Lord Levy – Mr Blair’s fundraiser – invited plutocrats to convert political donations into loans so that they would not have to be registered. For me, the guilt lies in the secrecy of this operation. Not even the treasurer of the Labour Party, Jack ‘the hat’ Dromey was informed.
I think here we can begin to see where Labour’s relations with wealth started to go wrong. In the mid 1990s Labour launched its “high value” donor programme, which was designed to free the party from financial dependency on the trades unions. They were following
American practice here. The Democrat President Bill Clinton’s success was largely based on his ability to attract very large sums from private individuals and therefore to free himself from the US labour unions. New Labour thought they could do the same.
But the embrace of money became a bear hug. Staging lavish dinners and glitzy receptions became a great deal of what senior Labour politicians did. Many began rather to enjoyit. Who wouldn’t? So nice to attend those private lunches with Lord Levy’s glamorous friends. So pleasant, and so – well – ‘modern’ to have rich men fawning over Labour politicians for a change.
But rich men don’t fawn for nothing. Nor do they hand over millions of pounds to a political party because they like their policies. Labour ministers were flattered to have these ‘masters of the universe’ hanging on to their every word. But they were only hanging on so that they could hang in long enough to win some advantage.
Influence, in British politics, is so ridiculously cheap and easy to buy. A few meals, a few holidays and ministers are eating out of your hands. There may be nothing whatever improper or corrupt about these transactions. Though there is compelling prima facia evidence that honours were traded for political donations.
But just having the ear of a minister is hugely valuable to anyone in business. Particularly the ear of a minister who might be awarding a contract in future, or giving clearance to a development, or who might be making a regulatory decision which would affect the trading position of certain firms. Just being in the know – able to lift the phone and speak to a senior politician – is hugely valuable. And all you have to do is throw a bit of hospitality their way, invite them to gawp your ranch, or country house. Or if you are Rupert Murdoch summon them to address your annual company get-together.
It’s not just Prescott. They have all been morally corrupted by over-exposure to wealth. Mind you, Pressa’s head on a plate would be a start.