Page last updated at 14:08 GMT, Friday, 5 December 2008

Hain debacle could happen again

Analysis
By David Thompson
Political Correspondent, BBC News

From the beginning, the row over donations to Peter Hain's doomed attempt to become Labour's deputy leader appeared to be about cock-up rather than conspiracy.

Peter Hain
Peter Hain has paid dearly for his deputy leadership bid

At its end, that still seems to be pretty much the case.

The Crown Prosecution Service says there was not enough evidence to bring a criminal case against the former Cabinet minister.

Mr Hain himself admits mistakes were made.

The Electoral Commission says the law regarding donations may need to change, but when - and how - is not entirely clear.

To recap, Mr Hain and his team failed to declare more than 100,000 donated to his deputy leadership campaign in 2007.

He or his team should have told the Electoral Commission about the money - a total of 17 donations in all - within 30 days of them being made.

Confusion

When the issued was referred to the police in January 2008, Mr Hain resigned as Work and Pensions Secretary.

Today, the Crown Prosecution Service said it had been unable to establish exactly who in the Hain campaign team should have been responsible for registering those donations.

Peter Hain is not the only politician to have had serious problems in regard to funding.

From Tony Blair down, how to pay for our politics has led to headaches - and brushes with the law - ever since Labour brought in new rules in 2000 which were, ironically, intended to make the whole process more transparent.

Mr Hain will no doubt be able to rebuild his finances; the dent to his political career may take longer

That has led Mr Hain himself to call for a change in the law, something he says the Electoral Commission also wants, but which, he claims, it is unwilling or unable to bring about.

He says many MPs have lost confidence in the watchdog because of the confusion around this issue.

At present, MPs and political parties face what is either in effect a slap on the wrist if they declare donations late, or the full force of the law.

He suggests there should be something in between - perhaps a fine - rather than a full-blown criminal prosecution.

The whole saga has cost Peter Hain dear - and not just financially.

He was forced to resign his seat at the Cabinet table. He found himself at the centre of a police investigation.

He also suffered the ignominy of coming fifth in a six-horse race he dearly wanted to win.

Mr Hain will no doubt be able to rebuild his finances; the dent to his political career may take longer.

And for as long as uncertainty exists over how all of our politics - not just internal party elections - is funded, politicians of all ranks and parties are likely to find themselves falling foul of the law.



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