Ties that bind Labour to Formula One

As sleaze allegations grow against the Government over tobacco sponsorship of the sport, Kim Sengupta examines the ties that bind Labour to the motor racing establishment.

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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map