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Tony Blair and the House of Lords

John Simkin

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When Tony Blair was elected he promised to reform the House of Lords in order to make it acceptable in a democratic society. However, he has failed to do this and Robin Cook disclosed in his diaries that Blair was never keen to reform the second chamber. The reasons are clear. Selecting who should be in the House of Lords gives tremendous power to the prime minister. It is also a source of income as Blair has been selling honours for the last nine years.

All but one of Labour’s top donors who have given over £1m have received a peerage. The exception is Lakshmi Mittal, the steel magnate (he has been rewarded in other ways – the Romanian steel contract).

One of the most interesting cases is Lord Drayson, the chief executive of Powderject Pharmaceuticals. He has given £1.1m. As well as a peerage he has obtained multimillion contracts to provide vaccines for the government. It is one of the clearest examples of government corruption in recent history.

Giving money to New Labour is good business. In 2001 Richard Desmond gave £100,000 to New Labour. Within days the DTI gave permission for Desmond to buy Express newspapers for £125m. Afterwards he admitted it was a good deal as New Labour spent £114,000 advertising in his newspapers “so I actually made money on the deal.”

Over the last five years, 17 out of the 22 donors who have donated more than £100,000 have been given some kind of honour.

The publicity over links between donations, honours, and government contracts (PFI was always going to lead to government corruption) has resulted in Blair developing a new tactic. This involves businessmen in providing loans rather than gifts. Loans do not have to be declared. The idea is that several years after the contract has been given or the honour awarded, the loan is turned into a gift.

Chai Patel (1.5m), Sir David Garrard (1m) and Barry Townsley (1m) all gave this money to Lord Levy (Blair’s bagman). Levy himself obtained a peerage after arranging the payment of £7.5 million from a group of Jewish businessmen to Blair just before he was elected as leader of the Labour Party. The charm of George Bush is not the only reason we have troops in Iraq.

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