View Full Version : Blair: I'm Staying Put And Police Inquiry Will Clear Me Of Any Corruption

07-17-2006, 08:51 AM
Blair: I'm staying put and police inquiry will clear me of any corruption



A DEFIANT Tony Blair yesterday predicted that he will be cleared by a police investigation into Labour's finances and signalled he wants to stay on as Prime Minister for at least another year.

Mr Blair's robust defence of the £14 million the Labour Party raised in secret loans last year follows the arrest last week of his chief fundraiser, Lord Levy. Downing Street nominated four of the lenders for seats in the House of Lords.

Scotland Yard detectives have signalled they plan to interview the Prime Minister and some Labour MPs believe the funding scandal could force him from office within months. Roy Hattersley, the former Labour deputy leader, yesterday said Mr Blair should quit by October over the affair.

But Mr Blair insisted that neither he nor his allies had done anything wrong.

"I don't believe, incidentally, that anybody in the Labour Party has broken the rules in relation to this," Mr Blair said in a BBC interview in St Petersburg, where he is attending the annual G8 summit. Many of Mr Blair's supporters now expect him to step down next spring, perhaps on 1 May, the tenth anniversary of his first election victory.

But asked if he was anticipating attending the G8 summit next year, Mr Blair indicated he expects to be prime minister then and said: "I look forward to next year's G8," he said.

Mr Blair repeatedly refused to answer detailed questions about the police inquiry, but he insisted there was nothing inherently wrong with people who give financial support to political parties also being given peerages.

"There are places in the House of Lords that are reserved for party nominees, for their party supporters, " Mr Blair said.

"It is absurd to say that if someone supports a political party financially... that they should be debarred from being party supporters for those places reserved specifically for party supporters."

The funding row even threatened to embarrass the Prime Minister on the international stage.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian president and host of the G8 summit, used the scandal to needle Mr Blair at a joint press conference when he was asked about standards of democracy in Russia. "There are also other questions, questions let's say about the fight against corruption," Mr Putin said as he stood beside Mr Blair yesterday. "We'd be interested in hearing your experience, including how it applies to Lord Levy."

At home, the Liberal Democrats raised fresh questions about Mr Blair's role in the loans affair after it emerged that the Prime Minister held a meeting with one of the lenders, Sir Gulam Noon, last month.

Sir Gulam last week revealed that a Labour official, said to be Lord Levy, had advised him to conceal his £250,000 loan from an independent panel considering his nomination to the Lords.

"The Prime Minister must now tell the police why he invited a key witness in their corruption inquiry to meet him in Downing Street," said Lord Oakeshott, a Lib Dem member of the Joint Committee on House of Lords Reform.

A YouGov opinion poll published at the weekend says that 69 per cent of the public now regard Labour as "very sleazy and disreputable".

Despite their vulnerability, David Cameron's Conservatives have held back from directly criticising the government.

However the former Conservative leader Sir John Major yesterday went on the attack, arguing that Labour's behaviour has been worse than anything that occurred in the Tory party under his leadership.

"The question of sleaze and mud was originally invented by the Labour Party who threw it at the Conservative Party to damage us politically," Sir John said. "What goes around comes around."

• Gas supply squabbles between Russia and Europe are set to continue after yesterday's failure to agree a common energy policy among the G8 group of industrialised nations.

Despite making energy security its top priority for the summit, Russia, the host nation, failed to hammer out a deal with its EU customers after marathon talks.