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Tuesday, 12 February, 2002, 17:17 GMT
A question of funding
Labour donor Lakshmi Mittal
Mittal donation is just the latest
Nick Assinder

No sooner has the Enron row subsided than Labour is hit by yet more allegations of cash-for-influence.

These claims - or are they revelations - are starting to come around like ducks at a shooting gallery.

As soon as one is shot down another pops up, quacking loudly and leaving a mess all over the place.

Ministers and Downing Street spokesmen are absolutely adamant there has been no jiggery pokery over the donations from billionaire Lakshmi Mittal.

Enron headquarters in Houston
Enron claims shot down
They were equally robust in their denials that there had been any impropriety over the government's links with Enron.

Before that, of course, there were the Ecclestone and, later, Hinduja affairs.

Spice things up

But the trouble with sleaze allegations is that, unlike other stories, repetition does not weaken them.

In fact, precisely the opposite happens. The more allegations are made, the more a generalised, if inaccurate, impression begins to build.

And throwing the names Peter Mandelson and Keith Vaz into the pot, in what seems almost random fashion, has only served to spice things up.

So it is little wonder that Downing Street, despite its calm exterior, is starting to get into a bit of a flap over the latest claims.

Tony Blair knows only too well the damage that can be done over these sorts of stories - he was forced to address the nation on TV over the Ecclestone 1 million.

And they have a horribly un-New Labour habit of running to their own agenda irrespective of any Downing Street grid.

All about image

Whether there is anything concrete in the latest allegations remains to be seen. But that is almost a side issue.

Like so much in current politics, this is to a large degree about image.

Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone
Ecclestone row hit Blair
And the question is whether voters see Labour as "cleaner than clean" or as mired in sleaze as the previous Tory administration often appeared.

The last thing the prime minister wants is the expression "they are just as bad as the last lot" to gain currency.

So, as with Enron, he is no doubt instructing his officials to be as open and transparent as possible over the dealings with Mr Mittal. Unless there really is something to hide.

Once again, the question this all raises is about the way political parties are financed.

It used to be relatively simple. The Tories were funded by big business and were expected to put its interests first while Labour was bankrolled by the unions and was supposed to bat for their team.

Life is no longer that simple, particularly for Labour which is increasingly looking to business for financing.

And, thanks to these persistent claims, this entire issue of political funding is gradually moving its way up the political agenda.

See also:

12 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Row donation came during election
11 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Blair defends business support
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