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Friday, April 20, 2007

Accidents Of Timing

Things are looking fine for Labour in ScotlandMarch 2006 - Angus Brendan MacNeil MP, SNP Member of Parliament for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, lodges a formal complaint with the Metropolitan Police regarding the Labour Party "Cash-for-Honours" scandal. Metropolitan police begin inquiry. The SNP is becoming more bullish as their opinion ratings start to climb.

April 2006 - Angus MacNeil MP and ex-MP Martin Bell write to Tony Blair calling for all appointments to the House of Lords to be suspended in the wake of the scandal. Headteacher Des Smith is the first person to be arrested. A former adviser to the body that finds wealthy sponsors for the government's city academies, Des Smith allegedly suggested that backers of a flagship Labour schools policy could expect to be rewarded with honours. His lawyers subsequently state he "categorically denies" the allegations.

Hand over your wallet or I will exterminate...exterminate...July 2006 - Lord Levy is arrested for the first time. He is later re-interviewed and re-bailed without charge and insists he is innocent. The Commons Public Administration Committee calls for tighter checks on the propriety of honours awards. It emerges that police officers have already questioned the former Labour Party chairman, Ian McCartney (now a junior Trade & Industry minister) and Science Minister Lord Sainsbury (who has since stepped down), among 48 interviewees. Mr Blair acknowledges a "real problem" with the public's perception of the "Cash-for-Honours" row but says he believes that nobody in the Labour party has broken the rules.

August 2006 - Political parties are urged to improve their disclosure of financial support after more than £300,000 of donations is found to have been declared after the deadline. The Electoral Commission says late reporting is "not acceptable".

Linda thought they'd arrested me!September 2006 - Sir Christopher Evans, a biotech mogul who made a £1m loan to Labour, is the third person to be arrested. He is bailed without charge. The next day he says he is "extremely shocked and dismayed" and insists: "I have done nothing wrong." It later emerges that Ruth Turner has been questioned under caution. She is believed to have been asked about emails and documents relating to the inquiry. Opinion polls reveal that more Scots now want their country to become independent than the number who want to stay within the United Kingdom.

October 2006 - Electoral Commission research shows that voters want to see donations to political parties capped as part of reforms in the wake of the "Cash-For-Honours" revelations. It's the Tories' turn to be investigated. Bob Edmiston (leading Tory donor and car importer) is reported by the Times to have been questioned under caution. Michael Howard (former Conservative leader) says that he agreed to be interviewed by police investigating the "Cash-For-Honours" affair. He has not been arrested or questioned under caution.

An independent man, appointed by Tony BlairNovember 2006 - Angus McNeil calls for Lord Goldsmith to distance himself from the inquiry following reports that the Attorney General could be responsible for making the final decision over whether criminal charges are brought, saying that there is an "obvious conflict of interest" given Lord Goldsmith's political links to the PM. Goldsmith refuses to rule out having the final say and Tony Blair refuses to comment on the matter.

Meanwhile Scotland Yard and Downing Street refuse to comment on reports that Jonathan Powell is to be interviewed under caution. It emerges that virtually all ministers who served in the cabinet in the run-up to the 2005 general election have been contacted and asked to declare formally in writing what they knew about the loans. They included such senior figures as Gordon Brown, John Prescott and Ruth Kelly, but not the PM himself. Alan Milburn (former Health Secretary) also reveals that he has been questioned over "Cash-For-Honours" and it also emerges that Patricia Hewitt has been questioned.

Lord Sainsbury resigns as Science Minister but says his decision is for personal reasons and has nothing to do with the inquiry. John Prescott declares himself satisfied with police conduct as Downing Street rejects reports that No 10 has complained about the handling of the affair.

Yates of the Wine BarIn a letter updating MPs, Acting Assistant Commissioner John Yates says the investigation has turned up "significant and valuable material" and that "considerable progress continues to be made". He reveals that his Scotland Yard team has conducted 90 interviews thus far - 35 members of the Labour Party, 29 Tories, four LibDems and 22 people not linked to any particular Party. Mr Yates tells the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee that he hopes to be able to send a file of evidence to the CPS in January. The file is eventually completed and sent today.

It also emerges that Labour Party Chair and my secret love Hazel Blears has met Mr Yates "to keep her up to date" with the matter. Lord Goldsmith says he does not expect to be interviewed as he had not been involved in any Labour party fundraising. "I am not going to be involved in the process - with fundraising issues - that they are concerned with, so I can't see why I should be," he says in a less than erudite moment.

Labour complains to the BBC after it is reported that journalists were offered £100 "bounty" payments for stories on the Cash-For-Honours affair. Hewitt has a "brief" interview with the police, talking to them "as a witness".

Hewitt is believed to have faced questioning over donations made to her Constituency Party in Leicester West by curry tycoon Sir Gulam Noon - one of those who later loaned the Party money and was blocked for a peerage. Then, in perhaps the most dramatic moment of the entire affair, Lord Levy threatens to take Blair with him if he is charged.

December 2006 - Downing Street announces that Tony Blair has been questioned by police, but not under caution. Leading venture capitalist Sir Ronald Cohen and Tanzanian businessman Sir Jayantilal (Andy) Keshavji Chande angrily deny being involved in the "Cash-For-Honours" scandal.

Anyone for fall guys and dolls?January 2007 - With the press announcing that police are "closing in on Blair", Ruth Turner is arrested under the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925 and on suspicion of perverting the course of justice.

MPs on the Constitutional Affairs Committee reveal evidence showing that Lord Goldsmith overruled Attorney General Lord Falconer in refusing to stand aside from the Cash-For-Honours probe.

Once you've sucked blood you live for everLord Levy is arrested for a second time, on suspicion of conspiring to pervert the course of justice.

February 2007
- It emerges that Tony Blair was interviewed by police for a second time on January 26. The PM was questioned for less than an hour by officers, but the police requested a news blackout. We still don't know what Tony did and said during this interview. Ruth Turner is questioned for a third time by police and this time she is released on bail pending further inquiries. Things are now starting to look very serious for Tony Blair and his closest advisers.

March 2007 - The Attorney General obtains an injunction against the BBC to stop it broadcasting a report about the Cash-For-Honours investigation. After details are revealed by Reeta Chakrabarti on News at Ten, the injunction is amended so that the BBC can report that it related to a document written by Ms Turner to Mr Powell about Lord Levy. The Guardian defies the Attorney General to report that detectives were investigating whether Lord Levy urged Ms Turner to shape the evidence she gave to Scotland Yard.

Lie with me, lie for meThe BBC injunction is partially lifted allowing them to report that Ms Turner had written that she was worried that Levy had put to her a description of "his role in drawing up the Honours List which she believed to be untrue". The injunction is then fully lifted, allowing the BBC to claim that Ruth Turner told Tony Blair's Chief of Staff Jonathan Powell that Lord Levy had asked her to lie for him during the investigation. Lord Levy denies all wrongdoing. The Independent reports that only Tony Blair's threat to resign and force a General Election 'saved' him from being arrested. With only weeks to go until the local elections, things still look bad for the Labour Party in Scotland.

McConnell, McDonnell, MacDonald... who makes the best burgers?Visiting Ministers don't exactly help, with Patricia Hewitt revealing in a TV interview that she does not know the name of the Scottish First Minister.

The BBC starts to prepare "obituaries" for those most likely to be charged when the papers eventually go to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

April 2007 - Tabloid newspapers print lurid stories about "Cash-For-Honours" complainant Angus MacNeil MP, claiming that he has been involved in a "drunken romp" with two teenage girls. Mr MacNeil claims to have been followed and to have received a series of "suspicious phone calls" to his Barra home. Assistant Commissioner Yates hands over a 216-page file to the Director of Public Prosecutions, the last of 6,300 documents to be passed to the prosecutors. Three people remain on police bail - Lord Levy, Ruth Turner and Sir Christopher Evans.

Question - Who decided two weeks ago that it was "a good sex day to bury bad news"?

The sex romp story filled the front pages and neatly distracted attention away from the SNP lead in the Scottish local election polls and the "Cash-For-Honours" scandal - two stories that all of us in the Labour Party want to see disappear from public attention.

How many votes will Labour regain from the SNP amongst the strict Presbyterians of Scotand?

It does seem oddly coincidental that just before the Scottish local election, the Scottish MP who initiated the "Cash-For-Honours" investigation should find himself photographed after a bedroom "romp" with two 18-year-old girls.

Maybe I am just an old cynic.

1 comment:

Antonia Fitzwalter said...

One presumes that all this will be allowed to fade away now. One can't imagine that with all of the parties involved having received honours and appointments from Tony that they are now going to rat on him, can one?