Downing Street prize draw leaves Labour in the lurch

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The Independent Online
A SIGHTSEEING trip to Downing Street was offered to Labour supporters as a prize in a fund-raising draw.

The trip was advertised for today but was cancelled amid apparent confusion over whether the Prime Minister's residence had been opened up to visitors.

A Labour spokeswoman claimed that any MP could now take constituents into No 10 under government plans to improve public access, but Downing Street said there was no such facility.

Labour supporters in Liverpool had been invited to pay pounds 40 for a coach trip to the House of Commons, with a buffet lunch and wine included. The proceeds were to go to Fresh Start for Liverpool, a campaign to get Labour re-elected to the city council, and 12 "lucky winners" of a prize draw would be given a tour of Downing Street.

Jane Kennedy, the Liverpool Wavertree MP who organised the event, said she cancelled it when she saw the leaflet advertising the trip because the prize draw idea added by party staff was "not appropriate". She said she believed MPs could take groups inside No 10, though not for party fund- raising. "It was just a mistake ... there was nothing sinister."

A Labour spokeswoman said any constituency MP could take invited guests inside Number 10's state rooms, including the Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker, who wrote to Tony Blair when he heard about the trip, asking when he could take a group from his party.

"He is more than welcome at any time to take Liberal Democrat activists or anybody at all who wants to go into Downing Street," the spokeswoman said. "If he rings up the political office and says he would like to take people round they can organise it. We were clear that we wanted Downing Street to be a lot more accessible ... It is a public building and this is giving it back to the state."

She was contradicted by a Downing Street spokeswoman who said MPs were not entitled to take groups round, but they could take people to have their pictures taken outside the door if they asked the police in advance. "As far as we are concerned no such tour was planned and no such tour would be allowed. It is not permissible to use the premises for party fund-raising," she said.

Mr Baker said the idea was "tacky in the extreme".