Michael Brown and the Lib Dems: the bits the Telegraph missed out

by Stephen Tall on September 11, 2011

Today’s Telegraph splashes with the story, Revealed: secret new life of fugitive Lib Dem donor, devoting its first three pages to the tale of Michael Brown’s new life on the run in a Caribbean hideout.

Michael Brown, as our readers will not need reminding, donated £2.4m to the party just before the 2005 general election. His subsequent arrest and conviction on several counts of fraud have been an embarrassment to the Lib Dems ever since.

The Telegraph’s story is, shock horror, a little partial, though. Take this paragraph: ‘The Liberal Democrats have steadfastly resisted all attempts to force them to repay Brown’s donations. They insist they received the money in good faith from his British firm.’ Which is half-true.

What the Telegraph skates over is that there have been two investigations by the Electoral Commission into the party’s decision to accept Michael Brown’s donation, in 2006 and again in 2009.

On each occasion, the Commission cleared the party of wrong-doing, ruling that ‘it remains the Commission’s view that the Liberal Democrats acted in good faith,’ and that sufficient checks were carried out by the party and its officers. Let’s remember, it took a lengthy investigation by the Serious Fraud Office to find evidence to convict Mr Brown. Let’s also remember that there were plenty of wealthy businesspeople happy to hand over their cash to Mr Brown in the hope of turning a profit; presumably they too trusted him.

None of this balance is offered by the Telegraph; but then it is perhaps the most Lib Dem-hating paper of all, and has form with unsubstantiated smears targeting Nick Clegg and the party.

I therefore take with a pinch of salt the paper’s unsourced suggestion that ‘it is understood that the Electoral Commission may soon reopen the case.’ The Telegraph has hinted at this before, stating in June that the parliamentary ombudsman would decide by the end of the month whether to order the Commission to investigate the donation for a third time. No news yet.

The reality is that we all know the Michael Brown story has damaged the party, its reputation for integrity, even though it is the Lib Dems who have consistently campaign to clean-up the corrosive influence of big money in British politics on which both Labour and the Tories are dependent.