Nailing the Michael Brown smear

by Stephen Tall on November 28, 2007

Iain Dale has, yet again, raised the issue of the £2.4m donation to the Lib Dems from Michael Brown. According to Iain this shows the party hasn’t a leg to stand on when we demand that Labour and the Tories clean up their act. So it’s interesting to compare the arch-Tory blogger’s take with the impartial Electoral Commission’s verdict:

“The Electoral Commission has previously made clear its view that it was reasonable for the Liberal Democrats – based on the information available to them at the time – to regard the donations they received from 5th Avenue Partners Ltd in 2005, totalling just over £2.4m, as permissible.

“It remains the Commission’s view that the Liberal Democrats acted in good faith at that time, and the Commission is not re-opening the question of whether the party or its officers failed to carry out sufficient checks into the permissibility of the donations.”

There is, of course, a separate issue which is still under investigation: was the money that Michael Brown gave to the Lib Dems his to give away. But that has nothing to do with Iain’s repeated smears that the party was somehow dishonest in its handling of the Michael Brown donation.

Accused by Iain Dale. Cleared by the Electoral Commission. I know who I find more credible.

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Whatever happened to Michael Brown? Is he back in jail or sunning it in Spain?

by Jack Monroe on November 28, 2007 at 2:57 pm. Reply #

Based on the information available … there’s the rub. Why did they not get more information given what they knew round the edges.

Clearly you’re right about Dale but the Michael Brown donation reeks to high heaven and there are smaller donations and promised donations and so on that still need some answers.

When Dale was interviewing the Electoral Commission for Doughty I suggested a whole load of questions and policy changes. One of these concerned personal donations and ensuring written contracts, cooling off periods and independent legal and/or financial advice for donors.

That would protect everyone. It’s tagged “protecting vulnerable donors” here. But it would also protect vulnerable recipients and their officers and volunteers.

by Chris Paul on November 28, 2007 at 3:25 pm. Reply #

Before Labour Party apologists start throwing mud at the Liberal Democrats in a pathetic attempt to deflect attention from Mr Abrahams, they should have their eyes directed to the 1980s when the party was almost in the pocket of the gangster capitalist, bully, serial liar and friend of Leonid Brezhnev known as Mr Robert Maxwell.

Did anyone in the Labour Party even question Maxwell’s probity?

Well yes, one or two brave souls in Buckingham did, because, armed with the Board of Trade report, they deselected him and prevented him standing in the February, 1974, General Election.

But when Maxwell bought the Mirror, Labour politicians from Neil Kinnock downwards trooped off to Headington to lick Maxwell’s boots.

Remember the Private Eye cartoon, “His Master’s Voice”? Kinnock was the dog.

by Angus J Huck on November 28, 2007 at 3:41 pm. Reply #

You know full well that is not the whole story. The Electoral Commission said this at the time on the information open to them. Subsequently, it became clear that 5th Avenue Partners were apparently not trading in the Uk. If that proves to be the case – and we await the outcome of the Police inquiry – it is clear it was an impermissible donation. If so, the money will have to be returned. What part of that do you disagree with?

by Iain Dale on November 28, 2007 at 3:50 pm. Reply #

I hate to have to agree with Iain, but he has a point. The fact is the party was outrageously incautious in accepting that money and if the police end up ruling that he didn’t have a right to give away that money, we will pay the price.

Is it that outrageous to suggest that we should have looked before we leapt? If it sounds too good to be true that’s usually because it is.

by James Graham on November 28, 2007 at 4:02 pm. Reply #

Iain:- you keep on claiming that the Liberal Democrats didn’t investigate the donation properly before accepting it. The Electoral Commission decided the party had investigated properly. Why aren’t you willing to admit that this was the case?

by Mark Pack on November 28, 2007 at 4:09 pm. Reply #

Er, but Iain, the Electoral Commission hasn’t said the donation was impermissible. The last statement from them said that there had been no breach of the rules – but that if new evidence came to light it might reconsider. It hasn’t yet, and the investigative work of the banks and authorities has taken months if not years to unravel Mr Brown’s affairs. Clearly the party could not have have carried out the same level of investigation as these authorities within the time limits, and even the authorities can’t work it out!!
Iain is only raising this again as he wants to try to smear the Lib Dems as accepting dodgy money, trying to link the whole Brown issue in people’s minds with Labour’s deliberate attempts to avoid the rules on fundraising. Iain did the same around the time of the loans for honours scandal. He tries to come across as a reasonable and unbiased commentator – but he’s just another Tory politician trying to put the boot in and promote the Tory cause. Let us never forget that!!

by Grammar Police on November 28, 2007 at 4:12 pm. Reply #


I find two things to disagree with in your comment. Firstly, it contains a self-evident inconsistency. You write that “it became clear” that Brown’s company was “apparently” not trading in the UK. If it’s clear, it doesn’t need to be qualified by the term “apparently”, which implies doubt.

Secondly, the element of doubt you allude to defeats the point you’re trying to make. Both Labour and the Tories have accepted donations despite them immediately appearing to be dubious; Brown’s donation was cleared by the Electoral Commission based on the information which was available at the time. If they change their mind, fair enough, but to imply the Lib Dems were wrong to accept it in the first place is out of order.

by Derek Young on November 28, 2007 at 4:17 pm. Reply #

“The Electoral Commission said this at the time on the information open to them. Subsequently, it became clear that 5th Avenue Partners were apparently not trading in the Uk.”

But that’s the point – subsequent to the event. You can’t make a decision based on information that only becomes available in the future!

The checks that the parties have to undertake are quite minimal – there is no comparision for example with the duties with regard to money laundering. In particular they need to be done within a much shorter timeframe.

In any case there would be huge implications for political parties were liabilities in donations, which had been investigated and cleared by the EC – could then, years later be declared impermissible.

Basically that would mean the parties could never be certain that they wouldn’t be called upon to repay any donation!

by Hywel Morgan on November 28, 2007 at 4:45 pm. Reply #

Let’s just accept that we agree to differ with Iain ’10-6-06′ Dale.

by Martin Land on November 28, 2007 at 5:33 pm. Reply #

The key element in the EC statement above seems to me to be the word “available”. They said the LDs had acted properly on the information available to them at the time – not the information they had at the time, but the information which which the Liberal Democrats could have had at that point.

Clearly it subsequently transpired that there were things the party did not know about – but these were obvious lacunae in their knowledge, that they should have mad an effort to fill, but information they could not reasonably have known existed – “unknown unknowns”, in Rumfeld-speak.

While people may disagree with the actual wisdom of taking this money, the EC seem pretty clear that on the basis of the information which was available to the party at the time, it was legal and not procedurally improper to accept it.

by Jeremy Hargreaves on November 28, 2007 at 7:22 pm. Reply #

The policy of the Liberal Democrats is to support the state funding of political parties. That way, the news will no longer be dominated by stories like this that discredit party politics. In Germany there is nothing like the same level of scandal affecting party donations.
It is not a perfect solution, but compared to the shambles we have at the moment it is the best policy option available.

by Geoffrey Payne on November 28, 2007 at 7:40 pm. Reply #

Tax payer funding does not preclude sleaze and Germany is not immune from party funding scandals – witness the rather sad end to Kohl’s time in office.

A much lower limit on total spending would be much more effective – so long as we can all raise the same amount voluntarily, there is no need for tax payers to fork out.

by tim leunig on November 28, 2007 at 7:54 pm. Reply #

The problem with that is that the rich will continue to have more influence than the poor – something that is not supposed to happen in a democracy.
I am not against voluntary donations, but they should not have a disproportionate influence.
Also I do not think democracy can or should come cheap. Political parties should have enough funds to pay for a viable organisation and for policy research.
The example I gave of Germany is not perfect, but after Kohl things have become a lot better, as far as I know anyway.

by Geoffrey Payne on November 28, 2007 at 9:39 pm. Reply #

Simple solution limit donations AND spending (and not just during elections either)

by Peter1919 on November 28, 2007 at 11:19 pm. Reply #

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