Sunday, December 02, 2007

"The Roof, The Roof, The Roof Is On Fire..."

So. Wendy Alexander's Labour leadership campaign team accepted an illegal payment from property developer Paul Green, one of several donations which came in suspiciously below the £1,000 threshold at which the identity of a donor would have to be revealed by law. Initially, Wendy claimed not to have known about this until 1pm on Thursday last week. Once the details were revealed, the man who had solicited the donation, Charlie Gordon MSP, did the decent thing and took a tumble for his troubles.

And that was supposed to be that. However, the donation was illegal because it had come in the form of a personal cheque from Mr Green, who was not actually eligible to vote in the UK. Nonetheless, Wendy was in the clear, we were told, because she had been informed (incorrectly) that the donation had come via a UK based company, which would have made the donation legitimate had this been the case.

It then emerged on Friday that she had written a 'thank you' note to Mr Green back in October. Given that she wrote to him personally rather than via the company he was said to be donating "under the auspices" of, and that she did so to an address outside the UK, this gave us the first hint that we perhaps weren't being told the whole truth by Team Wendy.

Today, it emerged that her letter to Mr Green notwithstanding, she may have known at least three weeks ago that the donation was illegal. As a regulated donee, she bears ultimate responsibility for the donations she has received. As such, she has broken the law, and is now looking down the barrel of a criminal investigation, a prison sentence and potentially, an unlimited fine. Regardless as to the outcome of any deliberations by the Electoral Commission, her credibility is shot through entirely. Press statements might not be delivered under oath, but if she thinks the Scottish press pack has been merciless, just wait until Strathclyde CID come knocking on her door.

Yet in spite of this tissue of lies and deceit, Wendy is going to stay on as Leader of the Labour Group in the Scottish Parliament, because there was no "intentional wrongdoing" and she is "confident" of being exonerated. In fact, you get the feeling that she feels a duty - an obligation even - to stay on. In her own words:

"I offered myself to lead Labour in the Scottish Parliament in the autumn because I believed and continue to believe I have a contribution to make to improve the lives of my fellow Scots".

Now, I don't want to kick someone when they're down, but this really is complete and utter humbug. The pressure to stay has nothing to do with her much-vaunted sense of mission, and everything to do with her loyalty to Gordon Brown. Consider - Wendy's timbers are now well alight, but if she falls, she'll take Harriet Harman crashing down with her (who knowingly accepted an illegal donation 5 times larger than the one causing Wendy so much difficulty just now). If that happens, the part of the barn currently sheltering Gordon Brown will quickly catch light also. And if that comes to pass, the government will be consumed in an inferno so intense that Labour will be able to salvage nothing - nothing - from the remains.

Tough choice - resign and bring your political mentor down with you, or hang on in post to try and protect him, and destroy your party's credibility in the eyes of Scottish voters? Like I said, I don't want to kick someone when they're down, but I do find it hard to feel much sympathy for her. The rules on political donations brought in by Labour are simple to follow, and were, in the main, designed with no higher principle in mind other than to stuff their political opponents. 'To be hoist by one's own petard', is, I believe, le mot juste.

TIMELINE: Courtesy of BBC News Online

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