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Monday, 21 October, 2002, 17:10 GMT 18:10 UK
Labour battle sleaze claims
Professor John Curtice
Prof Curtice said mistakes were the result of oversight


Labour came to power in 1997 determined to avoid the allegations of sleaze that dogged the last UK Conservative government.

Over the last ten days Labour in Scotland has learnt once again how difficult that can be.

It all started with what seemed like no more than a minor local difficulty.


It appears personal animosities that date back to Mr McConnell's selection as the local MSP have not been settled

Prof John Curtice
It was reported that up to 11,000 might be missing from the accounts of the constituency party of the First Minister, Jack McConnell.

There was no suggestion that the First Minister himself was in any way involved.

But only a year ago, Jack McConnell's predecessor, Henry McLeish, had been forced to resign because he got into a 'muddle' about his constituency office accounts.

The media could hardly be forgiven for asking whether history was about to repeat itself.

Jack McConnell's constituency office
The row centres on the constituency accounts
In any event, the media was evidently helped in its search for further dirt by people from inside Jack McConnell's own Motherwell & Wishaw Labour party.

It appears personal animosities that date back to Mr McConnell's selection as the local MSP have evidently still not been settled.

So we learnt of a fundraising 'Red Rose' dinner attended by a drugs baron.

Of a constituency 'development' account that paid for Mr McConnell's personal assistant to stay at one of Edinburgh's finest hotels - and then gave 200 to his leadership campaign in 2000.

And, what is more, that the personal assistant in question was a signatory to that 'development' account.

Difficult saga

None of this is illegal. But it gives Labour's opponents the opportunity to question Mr McConnell's judgement.

It also lets them raise once more allegations of a cosy complacency about the way that Labour in Scotland conducts its affairs.

But the story has not rested there.

It was discovered that Motherwell Labour party have indeed apparently broken the law - by failing to declare to the Electoral Commission a donation of over a 1,000 from the ISTC trade union.

And then Labour was forced to admit that three other constituency parties had apparently fallen foul of the same regulation.

Noone has suggested anybody has deliberately tried to break the law.

Jack McConnell
Parts of the media target McConnell
Almost undoubtedly these mistakes were the result of oversight as amateur local party treasurers come to grips with a law that has only been in force for 18 months.

But it has meant that what was once just an embarrassment for Mr McConnell has now become a difficult saga for Labour as a whole.

Apparently the party is unable to abide by a law on party finance that Labour itself put on the statute book in order to clean up politics.

Little wonder its opponents ask whether a party that cannot run its own affairs can be trusted to run the country.

Meanwhile, some sections of the media evidently still have Mr McConnell in their sights.

One Sunday newspaper has claimed that he failed to declare properly a donation to his 1999 election campaign, thereby breaching the rules of the Scottish Parliament on the declaration of interests.

Taking the perception of sleaze out of politics is, it seems, a thankless task.

Creating tight new rules on party finance and on the declaration of MPs' interests can simply mean that it is more likely that parties and politicians fall foul of the law - even when they have no intention of doing so.

Meanwhile those who pass such laws invite themselves to be judged by ever higher moral standards that they are perhaps almost inevitably going to be found to breach.

Little wonder then that, despite Labour's best efforts over the last five years, we still trust our politicians so little.

See also:

20 Oct 02 | Scotland
19 Oct 02 | Scotland
18 Oct 02 | Scotland
18 Oct 02 | Scotland
16 Oct 02 | Scotland
15 Oct 02 | Scotland
15 Oct 02 | Scotland
14 Oct 02 | Scotland
13 Oct 02 | Scotland
11 Oct 02 | Scotland
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