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Monday, 13 May, 2002, 14:17 GMT 15:17 UK
Blair faces backlash over Desmond donation
Daily Express Owner, Richard Desmond
"Richard is more upright than a lot of people in Government"
Yet again, Labour finds itself on the defensive over a large donation - this time from the owner of the Express newspaper group, Richard Desmond.- a man whose pornographic publishing interests make him a hate-figure for many in the Labour family, including several MPs.

You don't need to be of a particularly suspicious disposition to spot the problems with Mr Desmond's 100,000 gift last year: so here's the circumstantial evidence.

Fact: Labour were worried that the Express, which had supported the party under its previous owner, Lord Hollick, might switch allegiance in the run-up to the last election - especially since Mr Desmond had once given a small donation to the Tories.

Fact: Mr Desmond was hoping that his takeover of the Express would not be referred to the Competition Commission. Fact: the Office of Fair Trading decided in Februray 2001 that a reference was not necessary and that the deal could go ahead.Fact: in the same month, Mr Desmond gave the party a large cheque. Fact: Shortly after the donation was made, new rules came in under which it would have been revealed immediately, in other words before the election, with all the possible embarrassment that might have entailed. Fact: Labour's General Secretary, Margaret McDonagh went to work for Mr Desmond after the election.

Whenever Labour is challenged over donations - most recently over the head of a firm which won a contract for smallpox vaccine from the Department of Health - the answer is always the same: we are the party that introduced transparency into the funding of political parties. Today's statement was typical: "The Labour Party has taken the lead when it comes to greater openness and transparency in party funding, after 18 years of secrecy under the Tories. "The Labour Party has voluntarily declared all donations of more than 5,000 since 1995, long before any other political party. This donation will appear in our annual report in the usual way."

Michael Pinto-Duschinsky is an academic who is soon to publish a book about political donations...he tells the programme whether or not Labour's claims to be whiter than white are justified.

Derek Botham was Managing Editor of Richard Desmond's portfolio of pornographic magazines and now publishes his own "top shelf" periodicals. He told us that this latest affair was not embarassing to the government, as it was another donation from a legitimate business person.

Helen Jackson is a backbench Labour MP. We asked her whether is it acceptable for the Government to say you must trust us.

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Michael Pinto-Duschinsky:
"The timing of the donation was crucial"
Derek Botham
"It is just another donation from a legitimate businessman"
Helen Jackson:
"We have to be open about our donations"
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