On the Politics Show, Sunday 2 December 2007, Jon Sopel interviewed Geoff Hoon, the Government Chief Whip
JON SOPEL: To discuss this extraordinary week, I'm joined from Nottingham by the Chief Whip and so-called, Wise Grey Beard, Geoff Hoon. Geoff Hoon, thanks very much for being with us.
I know journalists sometimes get parodied for writing, 'this was the worst week ever for the government...', but surely, this one is right up there.
GEOFF HOON: Well certainly, a week has been a long time in politics, it has been a difficult week for the Labour Party and it's important that we get on top of this issue, that we examine in detail, what has taken place and more over that we co-operate fully with both any enquiry by the Electoral Commission itself, or indeed by the police and that's what we have undertaken to do.
JON SOPEL: And David Cameron is right isn't he, it simply beggars belief that the Prime Minister didn't know about this source of funding.
GEOFF HOON: I simply do not accept that. Anyone who knows Gordon Brown, knows that he has been completely shocked by these revelations.
He has a real reputation around parliament, and you know that as a journalist who's worked for a long time in and around Westminster that he has a reputation as someone frankly, not that interested in matters of money, certainly, so far as it affects him personally and as far as it affects the party.
This has come as a real shock to him. I've spent some time with him this week, discussing these issues and I know how really upset and really hurt he feels that... (interjection)
JON SOPEL: But shouldn't he have known...
GEOFF HOON:... this reputation has been affected by these revelations.
JON SOPEL: But shouldn't he have known. He is the leader of the Labour Party, you've had funding scandals in the past, he should have known.
GEOFF HOON: I do not accept that because this is something that has been going on apparently for some time, it's something that has been clearly a matter of conduct involving some individuals and what is important now is that we get to the bottom of it.
We find out how this arose, how it has happened, how it's gone on for so long and indeed, fully co-operate with any investigation that takes place.
JON SOPEL: Is Gordon Brown actually talking about changing the way parties are funded or just trying to change the subject.
GEOFF HOON: I think it is important that we look in detail at the way in which political parties are funded. I think it's important that we get around the table, that we discuss with the other political parties, the best way of ensuring two things: firstly, how we regulate the amount of money that is spent locally in constituencies.
I've always felt that one of the great achievements of our democracy was to control pretty tightly and very effectively, the amount of money spent in individual constituencies. At the same time, we need to be clear how much is spent nationally and indeed, in particular, how much can be given by organizations or by individuals (interjection)...
To that extent, I was pleased by what David Cameron said this morning. I think it is important that we all sit around the table and work out those issues because it sounds as if we're always talking about parties and donations and rich people who are giving money.
When the truth is, this is fundamental to our democracy. It is about the way in which our democracy operates. We've always rightly had great credit in this country for quite tightly controlling the amount of money that can be spent in each and every constituency. That, I think, is a good thing. We've got to match that with appropriate controls on how much can be spent nationally and indeed how much can be given by individuals.
JON SOPEL: Okay, all of which may be true, but isn't the real issue that this week is not about the way parties are funded. This is about illegal fund raising.
GEOFF HOON: It's certainly about the way in which the Labour Party made very serious mistakes about the compliance with legislation, which after all, we introduced, we led the way in the regulation of political party funding. We need to ensure that not only do we set the principles, but we apply them in practice and I accept that it appears clearly that we did not do that.
Now, I'm not in any way making excuses, I'm saying we got that wrong, but we do have to learn from that, we have to make sure in future that the culture changes. But I think at the same time, looking beyond this particular problem. We have also to make sure that political party funding, across the board... (interjection)...
JON SOPEL: Okay...
GEOFF HOON:... involving all political parties is better understood and more transparent.
JON SOPEL: And those mistakes have cost the General Secretary, Peter Watt, his job. What about the position of the Leader of the Labour Party in Scotland, Wendy Alexander. Should she be considering her position over illegal donations
GEOFF HOON: Well again, I haven't followed that very closely. I am aware that there is a, an issue there. I understand someone has resigned but I think what is important is that we all recognize... (interjection)
JON SOPEL: I'm asking you about the specifics about Wendy Alexander. She has accepted a donation from a Jersey businessman, wrote a thank-you letter to him. Doesn't that put her in an impossible position?
GEOFF HOON: Well, I don't believe it puts her in an impossible position, no. But clearly, she has to explain how this came about, what she knew at the time and that's actually the same issue for all political parties.
All political parties have accepted that from time to time mistakes are made. David Cameron did that his morning and I think it's important that we all move on, recognizing that there have been problems, to find a way in which together, we can agree a system that protects our democracy.
That's really what it's about. Because if we get to a situation where essentially the political parties are engaged in some sort of arms race on raising money, again, David Cameron this morning was, I felt rather boasting about the face that he'd raised thirty million pounds, since he became leader. Now does that mean that every other political party... (interjection)
JON SOPEL: I just want to... you've made that point, you've made that point. I just want to go back to the Wendy Alexander issue. Do you think the police should get involved there too.
GEOFF HOON: If there has been any suggestion of any er, breach of the criminal law then, then certainly and we've made clear that we will always co-operate with any investigation. We need to clear this up. I'm not in any shape or form, making any kinds of excuses.
We need to ensure that we get to the bottom of what has taken place both here and in Scotland. We need to learn the lessons that flow from that. But crucially, what I do think is important, and I'm sorry if I keep saying the same thing but I think what is important is that this is about our democracy.
JON SOPEL: Okay.
GEOFF HOON: It's about the way in which we organize the most important aspect of our democratic system. How we raise money for political parties ¿.
JON SOPEL: I understand that completely...
GEOFF HOON:... is part of that.
JON SOPEL: Okay. And let's go for a specific then. Do you support the proposal that for future Labour party funding, there should be individual donations from trade union members, where they have affiliated and signed up to that, and that there should be a cap of fifty thousand pounds from the Union itself.
GEOFF HOON: I certainly believe that it is important that we find a way of controlling the amount that both individuals and organizations can give as a maximum figure. I'm not necessarily committed to the fifty thousand pound figure. I think what is important is that we find a way in which we regulate that.
That all donations, whether they're from trade unions or organizations that give money to political parties, are organized on the same basis. That, I think as a matter of principle, is right. I think we need to sit down now with the Conservative Party and with the Liberal Democrats and make sure that we have a robust system that is not then subject to the kinds of problems that we've seen in recent weeks.
JON SOPEL: Just a final thought Mr Hoon. Do you feel there has been something almost grotesque about the way the Labour Party seems to be treating David Abrahams now.
You look at the Sunday Papers today and it's peppered with references almost to him being either a Wacko or a Saddo, or perhaps both, when he has been a staunch supporter of yours for years and has given large sums of money and been feted at top tables.
GEOFF HOON: Well certainly, I would not in any way support those descriptions. I suspect that they're newspaper descriptions rather than the comments of any individual member of the Labour Party. I am not aware of ever having met Mr Abrahams.
As you say, he's been a long-time supporter, not only of the Labour Party but as I understand it, other charitable causes, so I'm not in any way imputing his reputation. But he is part of these events, we need to get to the bottom of what has taken place. We need to find out precisely what has happened.
JON SOPEL: Okay, Geoff Hoon, thanks very much for being with us. Thank you.
END OF INTERVIEW WITH GEOFF HOON
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The Politics Show Sunday 2 December 2007 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.
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