Page last updated at 17:54 GMT, Monday, 27 October 2008

Has Osborne sunk yacht story?

Analysis
By Ben Wright
Political correspondent, BBC News

George Osborne has learnt an important political lesson. As he said himself - don't do things that "don't look very good".

And clambering on board the polished deck of a Russian billionaire's luxury yacht with your party's chief fundraiser in tow certainly did not look very good.

George Osborne
Mr Osborne admitted "a mistake" in meetings with Russian billionaire

The shadow chancellor is adamant that a donation was never solicited and none was taken from Oleg Deripaska.

But the two Tories were there and donations were discussed at the villa of his old Oxford pal Nat Rothschild, who brought the whole Corfu caper to light.

If it wasn't for his pique at seeing private holiday conversations crop up in the press, George Osborne's visit to the billionaire's yacht may never have surfaced. But it did.

It did not look good to be discussing donations at all. Mr Deripaska is Russian and foreign nationals have been banned from giving money to British political parties. So why were they even discussing it?

It has taken the furore of Corfu to convince George Osborne to give donors a wide berth in the future.

Heath and Blair

From now on he will not take any part in any discussions about individual donations to the party.

Nor did it look too good to be on the billionaire's yacht in the first place. Of course politicians are free to go on any holiday they choose but the setting (fairly or not) sends a message that the press pore over.

Ted Heath (the son of a carpenter) used to holiday on a yacht but he sailed it himself. Tony Blair used to stay in the homes of the very rich but did not seem to care how it looked - perhaps because Britain was feeling flush at the time.

The highlighting of George Osborne's fraternising with billionaires while Britain rumbles into recession probably makes it harder for the shadow chancellor to convince voters that he feels their pain.

Of course Lord Mandelson was enjoying the hospitality too - and he continues to be buffeted by the waves caused by his visit to the yacht.

But the only detail that most people might remember from this whole saga is that new snap of the insouciant waistcoat-wearing young George posing with his Bullingdon club friends. For that the Conservatives will not be grateful.

The shadow chancellor was never likely to walk the plank over this. His denial of impropriety was firm and no money was taken. But it did raise questions about his political antenna.

By owning up to an error of judgement George Osborne has probably done enough to sink the unhelpful yacht story for good.



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