Ties that bind Labour to Formula One
It came full circle last night. After days of declining to comment on whether Bernie Ecclestone had given money into the party coffers, Labour suddenly announced it was handing back a "more than pounds 5,000" to the Formula One chief. It was taking "swift action", said a party spokesman following advice from the new chairman of the Standards Committee, Sir Patrick Neill.
The timing of the announcement had a bit more to it than merely "swift action". The publicising of the return of the money came when Labour knew the media would be concentrating overwhelmingly on the Louise Woodward case. As one of the party's spin doctors said, it was "a nice night for a slight tactical withdrawal".
Labour's general secretary, Tom Sawyer, had written to Sir Patrick last week seeking his advice. He responded yesterday that although criticism of the donation itself would be wrong, it should be returned in order to avoid the appearance of undue influence on policy.
The donation had been made this year, before the general election, and would have appeared in next year's party accounts as it was more than pounds 5,000. Mr Ecclestone said he had never sought any favours in return for his money.
There are ties that bind Formula One racing to Labour, and they have become sources of contention following the perceived U-turn by the Government on tobacco sponsorship.
In the run-up to the election and after victory, Labour had stated it was adamantly against tobacco advertising in sport. But all that changed after a meeting on 16 October at Downing Street between the Prime Minister and senior members of the racing lobby. Mr Blair was accompanied by officials; no other ministers were present.
What was not known at the time was that the three members of the racing delegation all had links with the Labour Party. The meeting had been organised by David Ward, the director-general of the Federation Internationale D'Automobile, and chief researcher in the past to former Labour leader John Smith. Accompanying him was Max Mosley, the president of FIA and the driving force in the battle to keep tobacco sponsorship for Formula One. He was also a prominent Labour supporter, and had given around pounds 5,000 to Labour funds. And then there was Mr Eccleston, a former major contributor to the Conservatives, some estimate to the tune of pounds 10m over the years, who had switched to funding Labour just before the election.
That meeting, according to sources, was crucial in making Mr Blair change his mind about tobacco sponsorship. However, it was Tessa Jowell who wrote to the EU on behalf of the Government urging Formula One to be made an exemption.
Ms Jowell's husband David Mills, a lawyer, was until recently a director of the Formula One company Benetton Formula. He still does legal work for the company, and, it was revealed yesterday, is intending to go into business with Flavio Briatore, the former head of Benetton Formula.
- 1 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 2 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
- 3 The 'sex selfie stick' lets you FaceTime the inside of a vagina
- 4 Why you're almost certainly more like your father than your mother
Mark Zuckerberg: Facebook CEO's one simple test for who to hire
Bali nine: Welcome to 'Execution Island' – the Indonesian holiday resort where foreigners are sent to die
'A girl is more responsible for rape than a boy': The statement that shocked the world... except India
The 'sex selfie stick' lets you FaceTime the inside of a vagina
Saudi Arabia executions now at 'unprecedented rate' after kingdom kills four more in two days
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Nigel Farage promises Ukip will not 'stigmatise' would-be migrants – and says he wants 'everyone to speak the same language'
Ex-head of MI6: 'We shouldn't kid ourselves that Russia is on a path to democracy'
Most people think legal tax avoidance is just as wrong as illegal tax evasion, poll suggests
£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...
£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...
£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...
£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...