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Monday, 25 February, 2002, 10:49 GMT
Labour donor row: Should there be an inquiry?
The leader of the opposition is calling for an inquiry into why the UK Government backed a loan for a leading Indian businessman and Labour party donor so he could buy a steelworks in Romania.
Tony Blair has dismissed the row over his support for Lakshmi Mittal as "garbagegate".
But Iain Duncan Smith said the way the government had handled the disclosures about the loan looked like a "trail of cover-up and deception".
And Plaid Cymru has also criticised the government for backing a foreign competitor when thousands of steelworkers have lost their jobs in south Wales.
As opinion polls suggest the government's reputation is being tarnished by allegations of sleaze, do you think there should be an inquiry into the affair? Or do you think, as Labour say, the whole affair is "a storm in a teacup"?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
How ironic it is to note that when in opposition, "New" Labour didn't seem to be happy unless they could buttonhole a Conservative MP on charges of corruption. Whatever happens over this affair, Blair has made one thing clear. He doesn't want anyone investigating Labour sleaze!
Please No, No, No. The inquiry will end up taking 12 months and £20m to complete only to publish its finding Exonerating the protagonists. I say stuff the inquiry.
I am sure no-one will agree with me here, but this is a good example of normal business sense especially for an up and coming part of the world. We cannot be selfish or try to be self reliant when at the end of the day any person or state wants to better the prospects of the state as a whole.
If there are any rich billionaires reading this, could they please be a bit more selfless and give the Labour party a huge amount of money to make them sort out the railways? After all, voting for them to do this doesn't seem to work.
It would be a shame to allow cynicism to drive good people out of politics, which is what will happen if politicians are always abused. Labour has quite a lot to answer for, in that it started slinging "sleaze" accusations at the last government (who were also pretty honest); but what is needed is for people to back off, and give others credit for good intentions even when mistakes are made, rather than getting into an endless cycle of downward accusations which destroy faith (unfairly) in the democratic process, and risk paving the way for public support for things that are much worse.
Allegations against Mr. Blair may not be wholly unfounded. Demand has come for investigation and it should not be ignored. If Mr. Blair considers blame as false he should volunteer that his conduct be investigated.
All the countries promote the business interests of the companies based in their territory. LNM group which has its HQs in London and pay their Corporate Taxes in UK. So naturally it can expect something in return from the government of the land. Have you all forgotten that capitalism is all about give and take. Moreover the donation was made overboard and there is nothing sleazy about the donation. So focus on things more important and leave LNM and Blair alone.
As long as political parties receive funding from private persons and companies true democracy will remain an impossible dream. What about other donors to other parties? Is the British electorate seriously expected to believe that they expect nothing in return for their contributions, and that this is the only time politicians have acted in favour of donors to their parties' coffers?
Am I the only person who doesn't actually care about this so-called scandal? I will be absolutely appalled if public money is spent on an "inquiry" rather than on some much needed equipment for a hospital.
Please please can we focus on actual issues, rather than something that has no detrimental impact to Britain.
Wasn't it Sir Humphrey who said that the purpose of an inquiry it to exonerate the guilty? Then perhaps they should have one!
I happen to think there is no great issue in this case anyway but if Tony Blair treats the electorate with such contempt he clearly does not understand his position and should be removed from it.
There is no issue here. These endorsement letter activities are commonplace in all democratic governments and individuals cannot be prevented from making political donations. It is a fine line of course. No doubt if we scrutinise all John Major's letters of endorsement we would find some interesting relationships.
This is simply a storm in a teacup. If it were really serious then the Prime Minister would have been forced to visit Britain.
If the Government truly are as squeaky clean as they would like us to believe they are then they have nothing to fear from an enquiry. They may try and suggest that it would be an expensive waste of taxpayers money but so was the Dome, and it never stopped them throwing millions at that. At least the public might actually enjoy such an enquiry, perhaps they could sell tickets and get messrs Mandelson and Vaz to run it?
I especially enjoyed the new definition of a British company. Less than 0.1% of the company's employees are based in Britain and the owner is Indian. That's what £125,000 buys these days.
Paul Shrimpton, UK
Making a £125,000 investment to achieve a £70m payback within 3 months with a further £200m to follow within one year seems a pretty easy way of making a fast and huge return on investment. I calculate the entry level to purchase a labour favour is £30k. I hope the folks who voted for the Government can sleep at night.
I would like to see an enquiry, but the government only holds enquiries when it doesn't want an answer. The present foot & mouth enquiry proves my point, the Brigadier in charge of cleaning up the mess, who obviously must have useful information is NOT being asked to give evidence.
It's good that in these times of international intervention, sanctions and trials, the government and people in England should be reminded that their political system is not immune from corruption.
The subject of sleaze within this government has a new chapter each week. What is most concerning is that the trail of intrigue goes right to the very top. If Blair has nothing to hide, will he stop hiding behind his official spokesman, his chief of staff, Downing Street spokesman and anyone else who will stand in front of the camera for him. Here is a man who is meant to be accountable to the British people, yet the only time we hear him speak is when he hasn't managed to avoid Prime Minister's questions. If Blair tells us the date we should all check our newspapers!
Surely if we're not careful we'll end up with a government as much in the pocket of business as the US administration. This sleaze can only be stopped by public-funding-only election campaigns.
It is easy for IDS and co to claim a cover-up when there is no evidence that there is anything to cover up. Perhaps the row was created by a consortium of enquirers who wish to keep themselves on the gravy train.
It's a pity that New Labour and Tony Blair could not support Corus in Wales and prevent thousands of jobs being lost as well as communities such as Ebbw Vale being destroyed. Bring back the Tories; at least with them we knew that they were the enemy of the working classes
Andrew Steele, Nepal
If it's true that Mittal was one of Keith Vaz's main sponsors, then could this case be the explanation as to why Blair treated Vaz so leniently in his previous corruption scandal?
Why bother with an inquiry? This government, like its predecessor, is a bunch of self-serving liars, cheats and crooks.
Any inquiry would just be a waste of more taxpayers' money, since it would whitewash anyone in the government who had anything to do with this affair.
On radio this morning Peter Hain, minister for er... Europe, supported the Mittal deal by saying: "Would you rather a French company won the Romanian deal?". Yes, Mr Hain, I would rather a French company won over an Indian company, and you in your position should also.
Even if this isn't a case of political donations buying access then there is something seriously amiss with the Mittal case.
Why was the British government lobbying to assist a Romanian steelworks when there is already excess steelmaking capacity in Europe?
And why was the British government aiding a company that is lobbying the US government to impose tariffs on European steel exports to the US?
Neither of these questions have been answered. Until they are, people are entitled to think the worst of Blair and his government.
I am tired of a Government who claimed it would be sleaze free, well it is not! At best we have a government, led by a prime minister who cares more about what the rest of the world and Europe in particular think of him. At worst, we have a government who are corrupt to the core, full of their own self interest, in the pockets of whoever contributes to party funds, even if they have nothing to do with British interests. It is time Tony Blair remembered his primary job is governing the United Kingdom, and ensuring prosperity here. Yes there should be an inquiry, if Mr Blair is happy that nothing untoward has happened, he has nothing to fear from an open inquiry where all correspondence in this matter is published.
I'd like to see an inquiry into the reason why we keep needing all these inquiries.
If they are necessary then the question marks constantly hanging over the government's integrity and fitness for the job need to be robustly examined and dealt with. If they are not necessary then somebody should be made accountable for the time and money squandered on resolving imaginary issues.
The need for an inquiry is not only needed, it's essential - to discover the level of corruption that this Government has resorted to. Only this time, let's ensure that the inquiry is led by a party-neutral observer, not a Labour ally such as Peter Mandelson.
Not only should there be an inquiry but also related changes in the law. It's outrageous that any non-British national or business should be donating money to any British political party and thereby interfering with our domestic politics.
I would like an inquiry in this matter, if only to understand why our PM would support a mostly foreign company, which is a competitor with regard to our steel industry.
Philip Arnold, UK
Surely there are just two questions which need to be addressed. 1, What is there in this for the taxpayer in general and 2, What is there in this for the Labour Party in particular?
Of course there should be an inquiry. This affects the international reputation of my country. You would think that a government which has so many spin doctors would understand the need for their wide international public image to be seen as trustworthy! If the UK government stoops to devious, underhand tactics and is not to be trusted then world affairs have come to a VERY low point.
Nobody has given a satisfactory answer to the Question - "Why did the British Ambassador in Romania promote Mittal's interests in the first place?"
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