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Last Updated: Friday, 30 November 2007, 17:16 GMT
Martha Kearney's week
By Martha Kearney
Presenter, BBC Radio 4's The World at One

Gordon Brown
Mr Brown has been beset by a series of politcal crises

Not in Gordon Brown's worst nightmare could he have imagined that the police would once more come knocking at Labour's door to investigate illegal donations.

Before he became leader, in private he was furious at how the cash for peerages affair was eroding trust in the government.

Now the man who promised a fresh start in public life is finding his party facing new accusations of sleaze.

The scandal is hitting a government which is already at a low ebb after Northern Rock, the missing discs and the generals' revolt.

Forgive me, if I have missed out any political disasters.


They've been coming thick and fast, confusing to the journalistic brain which hops from one to another.

I am worried that one day on World At One I will announce that there've been 25 million missing cases of bird flu.

The donations story broke in the Mail on Sunday at the beginning of the week and has been gathering momentum and new names almost every day since then.

On Monday we interviewed Margaret Prosser, a Labour peer who was party treasurer for five years.

She is normally ultra-loyal but couldn't believe what had happened.

Lady Prosser told us she was astonished that there'd been no due diligence and that it was just daft for anyone to have accepted donations through a third party.

It emerged later that day this wasn't a case of a failure to check out the donations.

Devastating blow

The Labour Party's general secretary, Peter Watt, the man who is responsible for the party's accounts, had known about the proxy donations but claimed he hadn't realised they were illegal.

Under legislation introduced by this government, if you give money to a political party through an agent, that must be declared.

Mr Watt resigned from his post - a devastating blow for the government.

But the scandal was hitting the Cabinet too with the news that Harriet Harman and Hilary Benn had both accepted donations from David Abrahams for their deputy leadership campaigns. Ms Harman's money had come via one of the proxies, Janet Kidd.

On Tuesday's programme Mr Watt's close friend Philip Gould, the Labour peer and pollster, came on the programme to defend him.

On the verge of tears at one point, Lord Gould said that the official was someone of the utmost integrity who had simply continued an existing arrangement.

Other Labour figures privately expressed incredulity at Mr Watt's actions.

One member of Labour's ruling National Executive told us that the proxy donations had been deliberately kept secret.

After the "cash-for-peerages" affair, officers had been asked several times if there was anything else the committee should be told and were repeatedly reassured there was nothing.


At the prime minister's monthly press conference Gordon Brown attempted to draw a line under the affair by announcing an inquiry and saying that the money - more than 600,000 - would be returned.

He was markedly reluctant to express his full support for deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman.

He paid for that later in the week when Ms Harman's camp revealed later that the Janet Kidd donation had happened after Mr Brown's own campaign manager Chris Leslie put her in touch with them.

There was still more to come as the scandal got ever closer to the prime minister.

The party's chief fundraiser Jon Mendelsohn - a man appointed by Mr Brown - also revealed that he had known about the third party donations.

He was concerned but took Mr Watt's assurance that they were legitimate.

How could someone in his position not known the electoral law or at least gone to check the legislation for himself? Would he not have told his party leader, as the Labour MP Tony Wright suggested?

The most damning phrase of the week came from Vince Cable. The acting Lib Dem leader is an unlikely comedian but his timing was flawless when he said Mr Brown had gone from being "Stalin" to "Mr Bean".

As the former minister Mark Fisher told Shaun Ley on Friday's programme, politicians find it very difficult to recover from ridicule.

There is no doubt much more to be revealed on this story.

Every paper and news programme has fresh "unanswered questions" every day.

The most potent is who else knew?

For Gordon Brown this couldn't have come at a worse time.

His offer to voters when he took over was two fold: competence and trust.

He may not be as charismatic as Tony (remember that poster Not Flash, Just Gordon? How long ago that seems) but he knew how to run things.

That reputation has certainly taken a tumble after a run on a bank and the missing discs.

Now trust has been badly hit too with the donations scandal. At least one consolation must be that his chancellor is in no position to launch a leadership bid.

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