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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 November 2007, 17:01 GMT
Downing St deletes donations row
Most of the mentions of donations have been removed

Want to read how Gordon Brown responded to tough questions on the donations row currently engulfing the Labour Party?

If yes, don't bother visiting the official Downing Street website.

Civil servants have removed all mention at this week's PM press conference of David Abrahams, Jon Mendelsohn and other players in this complex drama.

Downing Street has defended the practice - citing a rule that forbids using "official resources" for party political purposes.

Official transcript

Viewers watching live TV coverage of Tuesday's press conference would have seen Mr Brown open proceedings with an unprompted statement, acknowledging that senior Labour party officials may have behaved unlawfully in accepting secret donations from property developer David Abrahams.

"I want to start by saying that what has happened where political donations have not been lawfully declared is completely unacceptable, cannot be justified in any way and this behaviour should never happen again in future," he told assembled journalists.

If they (civil servants) leave the material in, they get criticised for acting politically. But if they take it out they are accused of censorship.
Peter Riddell, Times journalist

But click on the official transcript on the Number 10 website and all that visitors will find is: "Prime Minister: [party political content]".

Similarly, the first question to Mr Brown asked whether he knew David Abrahams - "Did he know he was one of the Labour party's biggest donors, and if not, why not?"

Again, the exchange appears as Question: [party political content]; followed by Prime Minister: [party political content].

Official code

And so it continues down through the transcript: a total of 18 questions about the donations story, plus Mr Brown's responses, have been fully or partially deleted and replaced by the words: "party political content."

Downing Street denies there is anything sinister about the apparent censorship.

They quote a section of the official Civil Service Code - rules that govern the political impartiality of civil servants.

Paragraph 14 states: "You must not...use official resources for party political purposes."

Said a spokesman: "We always remove party political content. This is in keeping with official practice. People would question us if we left party-political matter on a government website."

Accused of censorship

However, the policy has the effect of leaving in the dark members of the public who want to read all of Mr Brown's actual words on the donations story.

They must depend on newspaper reports for edited extracts. (Visitors to the BBC News website can watch the full conference as a downloadable video.)

The Times political journalist Peter Riddell described the situation as "daft".

Gordon Brown
Visitors to the No.10 website will find very few mention of donations

"As it happens I wasn't able to attend the press conference on Tuesday, and now I find I can't read the full transcript," he said.

He added: "As it happens I do have some sympathy with the civil servants who did this.

"If they leave the material in, they get criticised for acting politically. But if they take it out they are accused of censorship."

He called for the deleted sections of future press conferences to appear elsewhere - perhaps on the Labour Party's official site.

MP Tony Wright said: "I can see the problem: it is difficult for civil servants to maintain propriety. Perhaps the political sections should appear somewhere else."

A spokesman for the Labour party confirmed there were no plans to publish transcripts of future Prime Ministerial press conferences.



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