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Friday, 12 April, 2002, 12:00 GMT 13:00 UK
A charitable donation to Labour's critics
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By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

Labour's general secretary and former hard-leftie David Triesman already finds himself regularly abused by former comrades for his drift to the right.

But even they might be dismayed to discover just how eager he has become to embrace capitalism and all its works.

TV characters Smashie and Nicey did a lot of work for 'charidee'
Future Labour donors?
A few days ago he was pitched into the headlines for an assault on the BBC's Today programme - how could he! - for suggesting it dealt with all politicians as if they were consummate liars out to line their own pockets.

This assault came in an interview for Labour's self-styled "progressive magazine", imaginatively entitled Progress.

Tax breaks

But the interview also contains a ringing endorsement of the "generous donors" who regularly hand over large sums of cash to keep the Labour party afloat.

None of them have ever: "put anything to me that I would consider improper," he told the magazine.

He went on: "I think that people who give money to political parties, generally speaking, make it possible for democratic parties to do the work that they have to do to sustain a democratic society."

But here comes the jaw dropper: "Most of their gifts are made in very much the same light as the money they give to charities.

"I think, far from being sleazy, it is arguable that it should have the same tax breaks associated with it as charitable giving."

Of course - only the likes of the Today programme would sink so low as to suspect corporate donors of harbouring ulterior motives.

Hacks travelling with the prime minister on his visit to see George Bush in Texas were more than a little miffed to discover the accommodation organised for them by Downing Street was more than two hours away from the president's ranch.

Britney Spears
Britney: "squeaky-clean"
This was unavoidable, we were told, because all the other hotels in the area were either fully booked or could not take such a large party.

The accommodation itself was adequate, the sort of small town motel that always crops up in American road movies - Badlands leaps to mind.

But eyebrows were raised at the number of zimmer frames lying around the place and the fact that all the food appeared designed to be eaten with a spoon.

Beauty pageant

There was a simple explanation. The motel was an overflow facility for a local hospital.

As if that wasn't bad enough, it was then discovered that the prime minister's right hand man Alastair Campbell had been booked into the relatively luxurious local Hilton.

And, thanks to an extraordinary coincidence, the place was also hosting a beauty pageant - Miss Pickup Truck 2002 or something similar.

Bearing in mind Ali's public support for squeaky-clean US songstress Britney Spears, it's surprising he could keep his mind on the job.

President Bush clearly gets fed up with constantly facing questions about his father - particularly in relation to his dad's "unfinished business" with Saddam Hussein.

George Bush
Mr Bush will always be a president
So he has developed a disarming way of batting aside such inquiries.

Quizzed on his father's policy during the press conference with Tony Blair he simply declared: "I don't know. I can't remember that far back."

Confusingly, Tony Blair met two presidents Bush during his brief stay in Texas.

Thatcher forever

Thanks to the US tradition, former presidents keep their title even after they have left office, so both George senior and his son George W are known as Mr President.

Shortly after Margaret Thatcher was toppled, her formidable press secretary Bernard Ingham mischievously suggested to me that Britain should adopt a similar practice and create the position of prime minister emeritus.

If he had had his way, we would still be calling her Prime Minister Thatcher.

Come to think of it, there are some on the Tory backbenches who still do.

The Yanks certainly seem to love Tony Blair and he always gets a hero's welcome when he crosses the Atlantic.

President Bush told the end-of-summit press conference that one of the reasons he admired Mr Blair was because he did not need focus groups or opinion polls to tell him what is wrong and right.

And more than one member of the audience at Mr Blair's speech in Texas expressed delight at his "straight talking."

Yes, this is Tony Blair the prime minister they are talking about.

A number of backbench Labour rebels were dismayed when they turned up to hear Tony Blair addressing a meeting of the parliamentary party in the Commons last Wednesday.

The likes of Peter Kilfoyle and Alan Simpson, who are leading the opposition to military action against Iraq, found the room was so packed they could not get in.

The whisper quickly went around that the whips had been rounding up loyalist MPs to pack the meeting in an attempt to water down the expected attacks on the prime minister for his gung-ho stance.

Just to ensure the room was uncomfortably full they also, allegedly, reminded MPs of the rule that allows them to take their advisers into PLP meetings.

Unsurprisingly, the trick rather backfired on them.


Mr Kilfoyle was already angry at Mr Blair for his support of President Bush.

After finding himself shut out of the meeting he boiled over into furious mode.

And, instead of venting his fury at Mr Blair in the relative privacy of the PLP meeting, he instead exploded under the full glare of the TV cameras during Prime Minister's Question Time a couple of hours later.

Whips nil, backbench rebels one.

Margaret Thatcher's former aide Charles Powell is well known for calling himself Charles Pole - although quite why he does this no one has ever properly explained.

So it was probably no surprise that he tied himself in knots on radio the other day when talking about US secretary of state Colin (pronounced Coelin) Powell.

He managed to rename the secretary Coelin Pole.


If you have any political gossip or information on what our MPs are up to, e-mail Nick Assinder (all mails will be treated as confidential).

See also:

10 Apr 02 | UK Politics
Blair faces MPs' anger over Iraq
07 Apr 02 | Americas
Speaking as one
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