Leading Article: To mislay one would be careless, Mr Robinson, but seven?

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The Independent Culture
THERE IS no need for Geoffrey Robinson, the Treasury Minister, to resign except that the Prime Minister has said he must. Not in so many words, of course: Tony Blair is rarely as direct as that. But Mr Blair made it clear that his Government would work to higher standards of conduct in public life. "We have to be very careful... that we are purer than pure," he said when he tried to dismiss the boasts of influence-peddling by Peter Mandelson's former assistant, Derek Draper. Those words of Mr Blair's will be thrown back at him again and again.

Today we report that Mr Robinson has overlooked another seven directorships - mislaid them on the way to the Register of Members' Interests in the way the rest of us forget to put sugar and loo cleaner on a shopping list. Obviously, in the Great Scheme of Things, these omissions rank towards the bottom end; certainly in comparison with - to take a random example - the crimes of Augusto Pinochet. Mr Robinson was at the time an opposition backbencher; the directorships were declared publicly at Companies House; they were unpaid; and he divested himself of them six months after a new requirement came into effect that they be registered at the House of Commons.

But each successive move towards more open declaration of the financial interests of MPs and ministers was introduced as a direct result of heavy and moralistic pressure from Labour in opposition. And, far from moderating the high moral tone in government, Mr Blair has sought to maintain it - despite the practical complexities produced by catapulting business leaders straight from their boardrooms into ministerial office.

Mr Robinson was lucky to survive the summer reshuffle. It was acutely embarrassing for the Government to have the beneficiary of a pounds 12m Guernsey trust fund announce plans to tighten the tax regime on the savings funds of those not rich enough to keep their piles offshore.

Observers of a Machiavellian cast of mind thought it might be useful to the Prime Minister to keep Mr Robinson in post, because Gordon Brown had humiliated himself by begging that his ally be spared. That allowed Mr Blair to use the reshuffle to carry out a ruthless cull of several of his overmighty Chancellor's other favourites. But Mr Robinson's ministerial survival does the Government as a whole no good.

There is, of course, no suggestion that he had abused his ministerial position for his - or anyone else's - financial gain. As he said in his own defence as he made his unapologetic apology to the House of Commons two weeks ago, "These shareholdings and directorships were matters of public record. No attempt was made by me at any time to use my position in this House to advance any commercial interest." The same applies to the directorships which we report today.

But he was required to register them in order that we do not simply have to take his word for it that his behaviour has been above board. He is in a position to employ someone to make sure that the declarations he is required to make have been made - the fact that he has not done so suggests that he simply does not care. It shows that, like many business people, he does not understand the concept of accountability. For him, accountability would seem to be a matter of the bottom line. (Not that Mr Robinson's bottom line in government is so impressive either: his main contribution seems to have been to provide the Chancellor with a plush London bolt hole in his penthouse suite at the Grosvenor House hotel.) But accountability is central to the Blairite promise of a new political morality. Normally, an apology, however ill-advisedly insincere, would be enough. But not in a Government that must be - and be seen to be - "purer than pure".

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