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The Corruption of New Labour: Britain’s Watergate?


John Simkin
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There is a theory that the reason that Blair has not sacked Clarke and Prescott is that it will give him an alibi for today’s inevitable disaster. That the people have voted against Clarke and Prescott rather than Blair. He will then attempt to sort out the problem by sacking the two men next week.

This is what happened. Except that Prescott was allowed to keep his pay and perks without having to do the job. This will only make matters worse and according to reports, senior Labour MPs will be sending an open letter to Blair calling on him to resign.

Blair is clearly not willing to go. He has promoted the last few Blairites left. This includes Hazel Blears as chair of the party. This was an important move as the chair was expected to negotiate the succession.

Des Browne is another interesting promotion. His job will be to arrange the massive privatization of military support services. No doubt the luck companies will become the major funders of the Labour Party at the next election.

The most interesting move was the demotion of Jack Straw. The reason for that is that Straw has made it clear that he would resign if Blair supported the bombing of Iran. Blair has taken Bush’s advice and sacked Straw. It is possible that Blair also wanted to punish Straw, who has got very close to Brown recently.

There is another explanation for this move. Most political commentators are suggesting that Blair will be ousted over the next few months. The only thing that would stop this happening is if the UK is involved in a serious international crisis. If Bush bombs Iran it will probably lead to a war in the Middle East. With troops in Iraq, there would be no way that the UK could withdraw from the region. At the same time, it would be difficult to remove Blair during this crisis. Is it possible that Blair would resort to such a tactic to hold onto office?

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Two years before the Iraq War in 2003, Tony Blair moved the then foreign secretary, Robin Cook, to the post of leader of the commons. Cook was known to be against US expansionism (he claimed he wanted to follow an ethical foreign policy).

History has been repeated by Blair’s decision to move the foreign secretary Jack Straw to the post of the leader of the commons.

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Two years before the Iraq War in 2003, Tony Blair moved the then foreign secretary, Robin Cook, to the post of leader of the commons. Cook was known to be against US expansionism (he claimed he wanted to follow an ethical foreign policy). History has been repeated by Blair’s decision to move the foreign secretary Jack Straw to the post of the leader of the commons.

It wouldn't be the first time that the Bush administration has played an important role in persuading Tony Blair to sack his foreign secretary. It was little discussed at the time, but Robin Cook's demotion in 2001 also followed hostile representations from Washington and private expressions of doubt in Downing Street about his ability to work with a Republican administration. Again, there may have been other factors, but of those suggested at the time, none seems convincing. Last week's reshuffle helps to put the episode in a new, revealing context.

The first signs of what lay ahead came in the run-up to the 2000 presidential elections, when telegrams from the British embassy in Washington started to report an attitude of suspicion towards the Blair government on the part of those likely to fill senior positions in an incoming Bush administration. People such as Dick Cheney and Richard Perle were expressing scepticism about Labour's reliability, citing the presence at senior level of ministers who had supported nuclear disarmament and criticised US foreign policy in the cold war.

There was little reason to suppose these telegrams had made any impact until a relatively small incident at Labour's annual conference. Like all cabinet ministers, Cook was commissioned to write a "pre-manifesto" paper, setting out Labour's provisional second-term agenda and illustrating how the government intended to build on its achievements. One proposal was to appoint a special envoy to campaign for global abolition of the death penalty. Switching Britain's position to support abolitionism was one of Cook's early foreign-policy decisions, and he thought that a special envoy would be an uncontroversial, but useful, way of promoting the government's policy.

Blair had other ideas. On the day the proposal become public, Jonathan Powell and other Downing Street officials warned Cook that it was unacceptable and must never be mentioned again. The reason? The only one given was that a special envoy would inevitably indulge in "finger wagging" at America, one of the biggest users of capital punishment, and therefore strain diplomatic relations with Washington. Under no circumstances would the prime minister countenance this, especially under a Republican administration. The Foreign Office could continue to support abolition of the death penalty, but not in any particularly active sense.

Cook was aware of his vulnerability, especially after the Florida chads ended up hanging in the wrong direction. He sought to replicate the strong relationship he had enjoyed with Madeleine Albright by cultivating her successor, Colin Powell. Indeed, the two men established a relationship of mutual respect even before Bush was sworn in. But in a foretaste of Powell's own marginalisation, this cut little ice. As Cook revealed in his diaries, the neoconservatives never dropped their hostility to him and eventually got their wish.

The treatment of Straw seems uncannily reminiscent, but the issue of Iran is of a different order of seriousness to anything Cook was grappling with five years ago. There is a pressing need for Blair to tell Bush what Attlee had the guts to tell Truman in the Korean war: that a decision to breach the nuclear threshold would encourage proliferation and make America an outcast from the community of civilised nations. He may think it clever strategy to put pressure on Tehran by keeping all options open, but the Iranians are not the only ones who need deterring.

Once again, Blair seems willing to put the wishes of the US government before those of the British people. That should be reason enough for wanting him out of office as soon as possible.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/st...1769900,00.html

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Hello John,

Interesting stuff. I agree with a lot of what you say, but would offer the following:

The main reason that we do not have such a society is that the system has always allowed the rich to corrupt our politicians

I would suggest they have all already been corrupted before reaching the top. Indeed, they only reach the top because they are in the pockets of the power elite who decide who runs the country on their bahalf.

It is no coincidence that Blair has been such a successful 'tory', carrying on and continuing many of the policies the conservatives themselves would have carried out if they had remained in power. In a true democracy with genuine political diversity Bush and Blair would never be able to share foreign policy objectives.

Democracy is just a facade, they gave us the vote, but had already devised a way to continue retain control.

The situation in the UK is mirrored in the US where the general public is beginning to question whether or not they have any real choice and who their elected officials are really representing.

Cameron is beginning to look like a breath of fresh air(that's the idea), but so did Tony Bliar, and is just the next political 'carrot' in a long line of confidence tricks designed to maintain our attention - remember Charlie Brown and Lucy in Peanuts with the footbal?

IMHO the restrictions of civil liberties, the politicization of the Police, Terror Legislation used against (one may even argue, aimed at) dissenting opinion, changes in the protections afforded under the law and id cards is as a direct result of the the general population 'losing faith' with the democratic process. A lot of people are no longer fooled by it.

While democracy works - they use democracy. When it doesn't they will use something else...

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When Tony Blair became prime minister in 1997 he appointed Alistair Graham as chairman of the independent committee on standards in public life (CSPL). Graham, a former trade union official, was a strong supporter of New Labour and was seen as a reliable ally of the new government. Graham, like Blair, had been a critic of “Tory sleaze” during the governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major.

Graham, like all honest politicians, has been appalled by Blair’s own corruption. He has also been unimpressed with Blair’s reaction when his ministers have been exposed as being corrupt. He has refused to sack them although in most cases they were forced to resign because of media pressure.

Graham has decided to go to the press about Blair’s refusal to take advice from CSPL. In interviews in the Sunday Times and on Radio 4, Graham condemned the hidden loan provided by Lord Sainsbury, the science minister. He also pointed out that Prescott should have been sacked as there is “clear evidence that he took advantage of his public position and breached accepted codes of conduct in fulfilling his public duty”. In doing so, a member of the civil service future career was put at risk.

Graham also reported that Blair has refused to accept the CSPL’s recommendations on how to bring an end to cronyism. Interestingly, Graham pointed out that in a meeting with Gordon Brown last month, he was much more supportive of these ideas than Blair has been.

The police investigating corruption in political parties have asked to parliamentary committee probing the affair, not to cross-examine witnesses as it might influence future legal proceedings. The MPs have agreed but it is possible that the police are part of the cover-up. It is especially worrying that Scotland Yard's Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Yates is leading the investigation. Yates is very keen to get the top job at Scotland Yard. Is it in his best interests to bring down the prime minister or is he just another Earl Warren?

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I had asked earlier if there were any indications that Conrad Black's peerge may have been "purchased." Seems I'm not the only one who wondered such things about Black, whose corporate board members included Richard Perle and Henry Kissinger. This report was published today, in Canada's newspaper of record, The Globe & Mail:

Black's name surfaces in letter

PAUL WALDIE AND SINCLAIR STEWART

Conrad Black, who is facing several criminal charges and civil legal battles, has now had his name surface in a British newspaper in connection with its report into an investigation by British police into allegations the government rewarded political contributors with appointments to the House of Lords.

Scotland Yard has asked for information about Lord Black as part of its probe into the "cash for peerages" affair, according to an Observer report yesterday. The information surfaced in a letter sent recently by Conservative Party chairman Francis Maude to former party officials asking for background information in connection with the investigation. The Observer reported that it was told by a source who read the letter that Lord Black was the only peer mentioned in it.

Mr. Maude confirmed to the newspaper that he sent the letter, but added that the party was simply gathering background material. "We want to co-operate fully," he was quoted as saying. He said Lord Black was not being singled out and had not provided donations.

Yesterday, Edward Greenspan, Lord Black's Toronto-based lawyer, said he was unaware of the investigation. "We don't know anything about it," he said.

Tony Blair's Labour government was plunged into controversy this spring after it was revealed that four businessmen who had lent the party approximately $10-million were later nominated for seats in the House of Lords. A peerage is more than a mere titular reward, since Lords actually have a say in influencing public policy decisions. The Blair government later acknowledged it was lent about $30-million before the last election, while the Tories have reportedly borrowed slightly more than that.

Under British law, political contributions over £5,000 (about $10,000 Canadian) must be declared. However, loans do not have to be declared if they carry some kind of interest payment. Police are investigating fundraising by several political parties, and their probe is believed to be going back to 2001, when the country's election law was modified.

Mr. Blair appointed Lord Black to the House of Lords in September of 2001. He was nominated in 1999 by then-Tory-leader William Hague, but the appointment was blocked by former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien, who invoked an obscure and archaic law that prevented Canadian citizens from assuming foreign titles. Lord Black challenged the law in court, but when his legal bid failed, he formally renounced his Canadian citizenship.

Over the weekend, Mr. Maude told the newspaper there was "nothing specific" in Lord Black's name being mentioned in his letter. The request for information, he said, reflected the fact that the investigation was "looking at everything" related to the choice of peers since 2001. Mr. Maude also denied that Lord Black or any of his companies provided donations or loans to the Conservatives. British law forbids foreigners from contributing to political parties.

Lord Black did have several high-profile Tory connections, including former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who reportedly pushed for his peerage nomination.

The political intrigue comes as Lord Black is battling several legal fronts in North America. He and other former executives of Chicago-based Hollinger International Inc. face several criminal charges in the United States over allegations they took more than $80-million (U.S.) from the company. Lord Black and others have pleaded not guilty, and none of the charges have been proved. Lord Black and the company are also involved in a series of civil lawsuits in the United States and Canada.

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Conrad Black, who is facing several criminal charges and civil legal battles, has now had his name surface in a British newspaper in connection with its report into an investigation by British police into allegations the government rewarded political contributors with appointments to the House of Lords.

Scotland Yard has asked for information about Lord Black as part of its probe into the "cash for peerages" affair, according to an Observer report yesterday. The information surfaced in a letter sent recently by Conservative Party chairman Francis Maude to former party officials asking for background information in connection with the investigation. The Observer reported that it was told by a source who read the letter that Lord Black was the only peer mentioned in it.

Mr. Maude confirmed to the newspaper that he sent the letter, but added that the party was simply gathering background material. "We want to co-operate fully," he was quoted as saying. He said Lord Black was not being singled out and had not provided donations.

Yesterday, Edward Greenspan, Lord Black's Toronto-based lawyer, said he was unaware of the investigation. "We don't know anything about it," he said.

Tony Blair's Labour government was plunged into controversy this spring after it was revealed that four businessmen who had lent the party approximately $10-million were later nominated for seats in the House of Lords. A peerage is more than a mere titular reward, since Lords actually have a say in influencing public policy decisions. The Blair government later acknowledged it was lent about $30-million before the last election, while the Tories have reportedly borrowed slightly more than that.

Under British law, political contributions over £5,000 (about $10,000 Canadian) must be declared. However, loans do not have to be declared if they carry some kind of interest payment. Police are investigating fundraising by several political parties, and their probe is believed to be going back to 2001, when the country's election law was modified.

Mr. Blair appointed Lord Black to the House of Lords in September of 2001. He was nominated in 1999 by then-Tory-leader William Hague, but the appointment was blocked by former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien, who invoked an obscure and archaic law that prevented Canadian citizens from assuming foreign titles. Lord Black challenged the law in court, but when his legal bid failed, he formally renounced his Canadian citizenship.

Over the weekend, Mr. Maude told the newspaper there was "nothing specific" in Lord Black's name being mentioned in his letter. The request for information, he said, reflected the fact that the investigation was "looking at everything" related to the choice of peers since 2001. Mr. Maude also denied that Lord Black or any of his companies provided donations or loans to the Conservatives. British law forbids foreigners from contributing to political parties.

Lord Black did have several high-profile Tory connections, including former prime minister Margaret Thatcher, who reportedly pushed for his peerage nomination.

The political intrigue comes as Lord Black is battling several legal fronts in North America. He and other former executives of Chicago-based Hollinger International Inc. face several criminal charges in the United States over allegations they took more than $80-million (U.S.) from the company. Lord Black and others have pleaded not guilty, and none of the charges have been proved. Lord Black and the company are also involved in a series of civil lawsuits in the United States and Canada.[/color]

I used to work for Conrad Black at the Telegraph. Not that I ever met him but he did know about me and rejected my proposal for the Telegraph to provide a Virtual School for the world’s students. My slogan was the “Telegraph’s millennium gift to the world”. He actually thought that the Telegraph was so badly thought of by British teachers that they would not use the materials. Black also had doubts about the popularity of the internet (this was in 1998).

Although his knighthood was proposed by the Conservative Party, Blair seemed fairly keen for him to have it. Blair probably thought Black might tell his journalists to go easy on New Labour. However, it did not happen. Blair’s decision to allow rich foreigners to keep their tax loopholes, was probably more important to Black than his title. It definitely got him the support of the other press baron, Rupert Murdoch.

I must say I have watched Conrad Black’s legal problems with great satisfaction. It never ceases to amaze me the lengths that people like Black go to increase their wealth. I don’t suppose he will end up in the place he deserves – prison.

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Ivor Caplin, the former defence minister and member of the Labour Friends of Israel, surprisingly stood down at the last election. His decision now makes more sense. It has just been disclosed that he has taken lobbying jobs with two companies, Foresight Communications and MBDA Missile Systems.

Foresight is run by Mark Adams, Tony Blair’s former private secretary and is involved in the £20 billion Eurofighter contract. MBDA is an American missile company. This mirrors the corrupt relationship between politicians, civil servants and arms companies that takes place in the United States. For example, George Bush’s corrupt relationship with Halliburton.

Caplin has broken the ministerial code and has been criticized by a Whitehall vetting committee. Not that this will make any difference. Caplin and others like Jack Cunningham (a lobbyist for the nuclear industry) are laughing all the way to the bank.

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BAE Systems, Britain’s biggest arms company, is at the centre of a major scandal and is being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office. Barry George, acted as BAE’s agent during the government sale of two British frigates to Romania. Apparently, BAE paid Barry George over £7m in commission for this deal.

The deal was arranged in 2003 by William Bach, the government’s arms sales minister. Ironically, Tony Blair has been lecturing Romania on tackling corruption before being accepted into the EU. Obviously, he does not think they are sophisticated enough in their corruption. Maybe he will have to give them advice on this.

BAE Systems have a long record of corruption. Last year, it was alleged in Chile that BAE had paid more than £1m to intermediaries linked to ex-president Pinochet in return for arms deals.

In 1996 a secret £7m payment from BAE to the foreign minister from BAE to the foreign minister of Qatar was discovered in a Jersey account after an arms deal to the state.

In 2003 a whistleblower alleged that a £60m slush fund was being used by BAE to provide presents to the head of procurement for the Saudi air force.

Is it possible that BAE have been involved in providing money to Tony Blair? Maybe that is the real source of Lord Sainsbury’s loans.

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The House of Commons Constitutional Affairs Select Committee has been persuaded by the police not to interview those involved in the “loans for honours” scandal. The police argued that these interviews might prejudice their criminal investigation into these matters. Members of the committee are beginning to think that the police are part of the cover-up. There is great scepticism concerning the progress of the police inquiry. The chairman, Alan Beith, has now suggested that he will interview people like Lord Levy in private.

I wonder if any deal has been done. Blair will go easy on the investigation into the “shoot to kill” policy in return for an easy ride over political corruption in the Labour government.

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Rupert Murdoch has never been a man to let details get in the way of a good headline. This week he accepted the accolade of being the most influential Australian of all time, even though by his own admission there were others on the shortlist who'd done a lot more to make the world a better place.

Surely he should be stripped of his title without further ceremony - and not because of the inconvenient little fact that he's been an American citizen for the past 21 years. His editors insist that he never influences the way they produce their papers. The politicians maintain that, for their part, they act in the best interests of the country, not those of Rupert Murdoch.

He may carry some clout in the boardroom, but in the cabinet room? Mr Murdoch should throw up his hands, give back the award and admit that he has no more influence over government policy than you or me. Less, in fact. At least we have a vote in this country.

In my spin-doctoring days I might have tried an argument like that, although not without that tell-tale flicker of a smile. It's true that Rupert Murdoch doesn't leave a paper trail that could ever prove his influence over policy, but the trail of politicians beating their way to him and his papers tells a different story.

There is no small irony in the fact that Tony Blair flew halfway round the world to address Mr Murdoch and his News International executives in the first year of his leadership of the Labour party and that he's doing so again next month in what may prove to be his last.

I have never met Mr Murdoch, but at times when I worked at Downing Street he seemed like the 24th member of the cabinet. His voice was rarely heard (but, then, the same could have been said of many of the other 23) but his presence was always felt.

No big decision could ever be made inside No 10 without taking account of the likely reaction of three men - Gordon Brown, John Prescott and Rupert Murdoch. On all the really big decisions, anybody else could safely be ignored.

The rest of this article can be read here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/st...1810266,00.html

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Rupert Murdoch has never been a man to let details get in the way of a good headline. This week he accepted the accolade of being the most influential Australian of all time, even though by his own admission there were others on the shortlist who'd done a lot more to make the world a better place.

Surely he should be stripped of his title without further ceremony - and not because of the inconvenient little fact that he's been an American citizen for the past 21 years. His editors insist that he never influences the way they produce their papers. The politicians maintain that, for their part, they act in the best interests of the country, not those of Rupert Murdoch.

He may carry some clout in the boardroom, but in the cabinet room? Mr Murdoch should throw up his hands, give back the award and admit that he has no more influence over government policy than you or me. Less, in fact. At least we have a vote in this country.

In my spin-doctoring days I might have tried an argument like that, although not without that tell-tale flicker of a smile. It's true that Rupert Murdoch doesn't leave a paper trail that could ever prove his influence over policy, but the trail of politicians beating their way to him and his papers tells a different story.

There is no small irony in the fact that Tony Blair flew halfway round the world to address Mr Murdoch and his News International executives in the first year of his leadership of the Labour party and that he's doing so again next month in what may prove to be his last.

I have never met Mr Murdoch, but at times when I worked at Downing Street he seemed like the 24th member of the cabinet. His voice was rarely heard (but, then, the same could have been said of many of the other 23) but his presence was always felt.

No big decision could ever be made inside No 10 without taking account of the likely reaction of three men - Gordon Brown, John Prescott and Rupert Murdoch. On all the really big decisions, anybody else could safely be ignored.

The rest of this article can be read here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/st...1810266,00.html

It is said that reason that Tony Blair did some sort of deal with Rupert Murdoch in 1997 is that he feared he could not become prime minister without his media support. Reference is often made to Neil Kinnock’s defeat in 1992. Many people in the Labour Party seem to believe that it was Murdoch’s newspapers that destroyed Kinnock’s campaign.

There might be some truth in this but I suspect that such was the state of the Conservative Party in 1997, Labour could have won without Murdoch’s help. However, it is undoubtedly true that Murdoch’s media empire has given Blair and his government an easy ride over the last nine years.

The important question is what does Murdoch want from Blair? It is often stressed that Murdoch is keen for Blair not to be too pro-Europe. Personally, I think this is a smokescreen. The subject that interests Murdoch most of all is the government taxation policy. Understandably, he is very much against high top-rates of income tax. He also likes those loopholes that means he pays very little tax in this country.

Blair, like Thatcher and Major before him, have carried out Murdoch’s orders on taxation. They have been well-rewarded for their work. All three obtained multi-million royalty advances for their memoirs from HarperCollins, a company owned by Rupert Murdoch. It is believed that Blair has been promised £3.5 million for his memoirs. Of course, their royalties will never reach such figures. However, it is a great way to pay a bribe.

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John Reid, the home secretary and member of the Labour Friends of Israel, is planning a new official secrets law to punish intelligence officers who blow the whistle on government policy by leaking secret information. He wants longer jail sentences and the removal of a key legal defence of “necessity” for whistleblowers.

The crackdown is aimed at preventing cases such as that of Katharine Gun, a former translator at GCHQ, who leaked a memo showing that in the months before the Iraq war in 2003 the Americans wanted GCHQ’s help in bugging the homes and offices of UN security council members. The government dropped its case against her after she threatened to use the necessity defence that she broke the law to prevent a greater “crime” in the form of an invasion of Iraq.

If her court case proceeded, her defence team would have been able to explore the legality of the invasion of Iraq in court. The government could not afford this to happen.

Tony Blair obviously fears other whistleblowers coming forward with stories concerning the illegal actions of our government. Breaking the 1989 Official Secrets Act currently is punished by a maximum of two years in prison. The government hopes that longer jail sentences will stop whistleblowers from protecting our democratic system.

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For the last 17 months Tony Blair has been refusing to disclose the dates of his large number of private meetings with Rupert Murdoch. Blair’s spokesman has claimed that “disclosure would undermine the prime minister’s ability to hold free and frank discussions in the future”. This does not make sense as the requests by Lord Avebury only concern the dates of the meetings, not what was said. Blair is obviously concerned about the large number of meetings he has had with Murdoch. The information commissioner has rejected Blair’s excuses and ordered him to reveal the dates under the Freedom of Information Act.

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We now know why the Labour Party all of a sudden became very keen in 2003 to allow the building of 17 casinos, including “super casinos” (casinos with jackpot machines with unlimited stakes) in the UK. At the time, the Labour government was having great difficulty selling off the Millennium Dome. John Prescott stepped in to do a deal with American billionaire Philip Anschutz. This was a surprise as several businessmen had looked into the possibility of redeveloping the site but claimed it could not be turned into a profitable venture. Anschutz came to the same conclusion but calculated that it could become profitable if he could get permission to build a super-casino next to the proposed sports and entertainment arena.

However, John Prescott was not responsible for making decisions about these super-casinos that were going to be the result of the new gambling bill that was being guided through parliament by Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport. Jowell is of course the wife of David Mills, who has numerous links with the gambling industry and has been accused of money laundering. He is currently being investigated by the Italian authorities because of a suspected corrupt relationship with Tony Blair’s close friend, Silvio Berlusconi.

It was recently revealed that Prescott has had an undeclared meeting with Philip Anschutz on his ranch (the trip was paid for by the British taxpayer). Prescott claims he went to see Anschutz to talk about William Wilberforce and the farming subsidies in the United States. However, as a result of the Guardian seeking documents under the Freedom of Information Act, it has been discovered that Prescott had seven private meetings with Anschutz between August 2002 and July 2005. These documents show that Anschutz’s company, AEG, was seeking “high-level confirmation” that the government’s plans to liberalise the country’s gambling laws would go ahead.

Most disturbing of all were documents showing that Prescott’s officials were pressing the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to be kept informed about the progress of the negotiations going on with AEG.

The government now has a problem. If they give a super-casino contract to Anschutz it will be claimed that he bribed Prescott and Jowell (what is the betting that Prescott, Jowell and Mills (if he is not in prison) end up with lucrative contracts as consultants to the gambling industry. However, if Anschutz does not get the contract he is likely to turn nasty and might reveal that he is one of those who has been providing the Labour Party with the loans that Lord Sainsbury was pressurized to say he gave.

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