Frank Johnson

Be as bad as you like, but be sure to call an inquiry

Be as bad as you like, but be sure to call an inquiry

By the weekend, the Conservatives had achieved the feat of making their own funding become just as much ‘the issue’ as Labour’s. The papers were full of sharp-looking loans which the Tories, as much as Labour, had received from the capitalist class.

The Prime Minister and his allies had succeeded in making any scandal appear bipartisan. So much so that Mr Blair felt safe enough to set up an ‘independent inquiry’ not into how he and Lord Levy had financed New Labour, but into how all parties were financed. His friends were able to put it about that it was time to ‘move on’ and to have a ‘serious debate’.

It was a brilliant stratagem. It also told us much about the times in which we live. Rich and powerful malefactors, provided they can associate themselves with one of the two main political parties, preferably the party in office, can escape trouble by having their activities politicised. If they have obviously been trying to buy or sell peerages or secure contracts by contributing to a party, and they are found out, they can claim it is merely ‘an issue’, not a potential offence against either the law or good behaviour. The answer is not that they should be prosecuted or incur odium, but that we should all ‘move on’ to a ‘debate’.

Recent malefactors, proven or alleged, must be annoyed that this tendency in society has arrived just too late to save them. Certainly, had the dates been a few years different, Jeffrey Archer would have been able to say that he gave this prostitute cash and set in train a sequence of events which sent him to prison for perjury. ‘But the incident raises the broader issue of how Britain finances its prostitution industry, and indeed makes it necessary for its alleged clients to commit perjury.

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