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April 16, 2006

Cash For Peerages


Two donors to Tony Blair's flagship education policy project were nominated for peerages because of their support for academy schools, Downing Street admitted yesterday for the first time.

In what will be seen as a clear link between peerages and donations, Number 10's 'citations' explaining the case for putting Sir David Garrard and Barry Townsley in the House of Lords 'prominently' featured their role in helping these inner city schools.

Downing Street sources said the Prime Minister wanted their political support in the Lords for the controversial policy.

Well, that’s all right then. Why didn’t you just say so at the begining? We all thought it was some tawdry exchange of money for honours, cash for peerages.

What you were in fact doing was gerrymandering the political system.

Phew, what a relief!

April 16, 2006 in Scams and Frauds | Permalink


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Er...PM appoints people likely to support him shocker.

Nope, just not getting the 'shocker' part of that.

Posted by: Woof! | Apr 16, 2006 9:22:36 AM

Part - only part - of the public row about honours for money relates to city academies. That part is prominent in the meeja now because of a diversionary manoeuvre by Blair.

A parade of political hacks has come on to the BBC to be interviewed on the Today programme and the like to tell us what a wonderful job city academies are doing for the children of ordinary working people in all those hard pressed urban areas - you can almost hear the violins playing. The implication is: C'mon folks, let's be realistic about this - so what if honours were given in exchange for all those donations to set up city academies. It was such a worthy cause.

There are two local difficulties over the credibility of that line.

Firstly, there are huge question marks about just how worthy the city academies really are. Not long ago, we had this in The Guardian:

"More than half the government's flagship city academies are today named as among the worst schools in the country in new league tables, despite some year-on-year improvement in their pupils' performance in the core subjects in national tests.

"Seven of the 13 semi-independent academies which have been open long enough to provide data for results of the compulsory tests taken by 14-year-olds in English, maths and science appear in the table of the worst 200 state schools in England."

The second local difficulty is that much of the money for honours has absoluely nothing to do with city academies. It is about loans to the Labour party to pay for its 2005 election campaign and donations or loans to particular Labour candidates to pay for their expenses in that and previous elections - candidates such as Patricia Hewitt, the present minister for health and previously the DTI minister.

"THE multi-millionaire businessman at the centre of the 'loans for peerages' scandal helped to bankroll the personal re-election campaign of a senior cabinet minister.

"Sir Gulam Noon, the ready meals tycoon, helped to fund the 2005 general election campaign of Patricia Hewitt, the health secretary, despite having no links to her Leicester constituency.

"Noon was put forward by Tony Blair for a peerage last autumn after also secretly lending £250,000 to the Labour party.

"Downing Street is now coming under pressure to disclose whether Hewitt had any role in putting forward Noon for a peerage.

"Hewitt, previously the trade and industry secretary, said yesterday that she had 'no recollection' of being involved in Noon’s peerage nomination. Her office added that it could find 'no written record' of such a nomination being made."

"A FOURTH wealthy Labour donor is to have his nomination for a peerage blocked after it emerged that he gave a secret loan to the party.

"Sir Gulam Noon, the curry magnate nominated to become a lord by Tony Blair, is the latest name to be dragged into the scandal surrounding Labour’s covert loans.

"Sources close to the Appointments Commission, the body that vets potential peerages, say it is withdrawing its previous endorsement of Noon because neither he nor the party disclosed his loan of up to £250,000."

Clearer now?

Posted by: Bob B | Apr 16, 2006 11:23:34 AM

Doe sanyone have a link to the official Labour party history of Britain and in particular the bit that deals with Rotten Boroughs?

Off the top of my head, I'd guess it doesn't write of them approvingly.


Posted by: The Remittance Man | Apr 16, 2006 1:32:00 PM

Interesting point about the academies: Are they doing badly in the league tables because they're rubbish, or because they don't target exam results (especially in exams that don't yield qualifications)? If the latter, I might be suddenly be more sympathetic to what the govt. have done on this.

Posted by: Marcin | Apr 16, 2006 1:38:24 PM

Marcin - City academies have an excuse. Some have been established in localities recognised as education blackspots where existing local schools have failed and are resistant to various turn-around initiatives. Despite that, sometimes there is strong local opposition to proposals to set up city academies even if the prospect of an academy is immensely popular with some parents.

A popular publicised reason is that academies are not "accountable" to the local education authority/council (LEA) and so not to the pressures of local democracy - this, despite the demonstrable fact that existing LEA managed and hence "accountable" schools have failed. One such example - which I had better not identify - is in a locality in a Labour heartland officially designated an "education priority area" by Harold Wilson's government 1966-70. Not much has changed in nearly 40 years - and it is not a locality with the challenges generated by a multi-ethnic population; quite the reverse, in fact.

LEAs and schools can fail for diverse reasons. Ofsted has made the point many times that education outcomes widely differ in LEAs and schools facing broadly similar challenges in terms of the affluence, social and ethnic diversity of their catchment populations. Surprising as it may seem, there are localities with long traditions of quite dreadful schooling standards where this has not been a recurring issue of any significance in local elections. Only a minority of parents care. In places, there is an unstated perception and consensus that all sorts of nasty outcomes could follow from better schooling - such as better educated school leavers opting to move out of the area through to risking the entrenched political control of local councils. Local schools are deemed good enough by parents who attended those schools when they were younger and recognise no need for any change.

What has changed, of course, is that the knowledge-based economy and globalisation are upon us. Using computers stresses literacy and numeracy skills. Internet search engines aren't much help when users don't know what to search for. This lead to Blair's priority of Education, Education, Education and Blunders' notion as education secretary that a day without another initiative is a day wasted.

It is clear from the public debate that some LEAs and MPs are exceedingly fearful about councils losing control over local schooling. The ostensible reason is that attractive, successful schools will be placed to select their intakes - hence all the pressures about no entry exams at 11 and schools mustn't even interview parents. I suspect the real worries are about the downstream local consequences of raising education standards. Miliband as school standards minister a few years back noticed something quite extraordinary:

"It must be one of the most stunning statistics that we are 20th out of 24 OECD countries for staying-on rates [in education] at 17"

That is amazing when Britain, until recently, had the fourth largest economy in the world - we have just been pushed into fifth place by China!

Believe me, there are councils which recognised decades ago the potency of this formula:

Poor schooling => uncertain job prospects for school leavers => vote Labour

Posted by: Bob B | Apr 16, 2006 4:48:28 PM

RM - Famously, the Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) adamantly opposed the Reform Act of 1832 which made the first attempt at reforming the utterly unrepresentative franchise. In the aftermath of the first Parliamentary election thereafter, he declared of the new MPs: "Bad hats, every one." But then after his first cabinet meeting as prime minister - and this before the Reform Act - he is reported to have said shortly after, " An extraordinary affair. I gave them their orders and they wanted to stay and discuss them."

Unlike some other countries - such as America - there are two persuasive reasons in our national history why ex-generals have made little headway in politics in the history of government here since Wellington. Oliver Cromwell is the first and Wellington the second. Mind you, Attlee was a Major in WW1 although as Churchil once said of him, "He was a modest man but then he had much to be modest about." It's fashionable nowadays to talk down Punch and Judy politics but that goes against the grain of a long Parliamentary tradition.

I think the DPM is still working on what possibilities can be extracted from postal ballots for enhancing the franchise.

Posted by: Bob B | Apr 16, 2006 4:50:11 PM