Ancient trade in selling titles

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ALLEGATIONS ABOUT the sale of political honours and the buying of political influence are not new. Monarchs down the ages were accused of selling baronetcies to raise cash and David Lloyd George, the Liberal Prime Minister and social reformer, was widely suspected of offering peerages and other honours in return for huge sums of money.

He is said to have remarked: "The sale of honours is the cleanest way of raising money for a political party. The worst of it is you cannot defend it in public."

Prime minsters have often been accused of rewarding their friends in honours lists, most famously in Harold Wilson's resignation list in 1976 - dubbed the notorious "lavender list" as it was written on lavender notepaper by Lady Falkender, his political secretary, an d included Sir Joseph Kagan, maker of Gannex raincoats and Sir James Goldsmith.

There was no suggestion that Wilson sold honours but a new wave of such allegations surfaced in the Tories' 18 years in power after 1979. A string of studies suggested a clear correlation between corporate donations to Conservative Party funds and knighthoods and peerages awarded to the heads of the same companies. The Tories denied the charge, but Labour made hay as the "sleaze factor" became a poweful weapon that helped tarnish the Government's reputation.

The Conservatives accepted a pounds 440,000 gift from Asil Nadir, head of the Polly Peck empire, who hoped the gift would buy him a knighthood. He owed creditors millions of pounds and jumped bail in 1993 when he fled to northern Cyprus to escape trial on 13 charges of fraud and false accounting.

Tony Blair won last year's general election after repeatedly pledging to "clean up" British politics. But in office, Labour quickly found that the boot was on the other foot.