How LWT's men funded Tony: They were wealthy media figures. They met in Mapledene Road, Hackney. Soon afterwards, the Blair campaign had pounds 88,000

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The Independent Online
AT THE beginning of June a group of about 10 Labour supporters, some rich and famous, others prosperous but obscure, met in a Victorian home in Hackney, east London, to pledge their money to the politician they wanted to become the next prime minister.

Melvyn Bragg, the broadcaster and novelist, and Ken Follett, the thriller writer, joined television executives, political consultants and left-leaning businessmen to come to the aid of Tony Blair's leadership campaign. They had been called to Mapledene Road, an oasis of gentility in the run- down borough of Hackney, by Barry Cox, the director of corporate affairs at London Weekend Television, who took time off work to help run Mr Blair's campaign.

Contributions were promised and tasks assigned to those who could approach friends and ask them to support Mr Blair. Very few of those they approached said no.

The pounds 88,000 Mr Cox collected has now brought acid comments from members of the Labour Party's National Executive Committee and led to a change in party rules. But none of Mr Blair's friends sees anything to be ashamed of.

'I can confirm there was a meeting at my house,' Mr Cox said yesterday. 'A small group of us wanted to help. Tony needed offices and wanted to go round all the regions and meet as many people as possible. All these things cost money and, put it this way, it wasn't difficult to raise the money.'

David Puttnam, the film producer, was not at the meeting but promised money after being contacted by Mr Cox.

'Barry explained that there was not time for a normal fund- raising campaign,' he said. 'Speed was of the essence. I was more than happy to contribute. I'd met Tony at meetings before the last election and found him to be utterly in synch with the times. He's the leader the country needs.'

Mr Bragg said: 'We decided at the time not to go public, but if details are coming out now, I don't mind. If I'm going to called a Labour luvvie well so be it. It's quite flattering at my age.'

None of those at the meeting would say how much they had given. But it is clear that Mr Blair was able to tap into the huge profits made by Labour- supporting executives at LWT. Fifty-four managers were allowed to invest pounds 3m in 1989 as part of the company's campaign to retain its franchise. In August 1993, when a pay-out was triggered, their shares were worth pounds 70m.

Three men associated with the Mapledene Road group made fortunes. Mr Cox's shares were worth pounds 1.6m last year. The stake of Mr Bragg, LWT's arts controller, had risen to pounds 2.87m. Greg Dyke, the former chief executive of LWT, and a contributor to the Blair campaign, had a paper fortune of pounds 6.87m.

Mr Blair is an old friend of Mr Cox. Ten years ago, he lived next door to him in Hackney before moving to the more up- market London borough of Islington and the two were activists together in the Hackney South Labour Party.

Mr Follett - 'the Jeffrey Archer of the left' - has earned millions from his thriller-writing. Earlier this year he received a pounds 6.9m advance for his next two novels. He lives in at one of the smartest addresses in Chelsea, and drives a red Bentley convertible.

Not everyone at the meeting was a celebrity or rich. Jon Norton, a Labour-supporting banker, who lives with Mo Mowlam, a Blair supporter in the shadow cabinet, was there to advise on tactics. So too was Jon Craig, a business consultant who lives close to Mr Cox.

Mr Bragg said that unlike businessmen who contribute to the Conservative Party, no one at the meeting was expecting honours for supporting Mr Blair. 'I don't want to be pious, but no one is in this for the gongs,' he said. 'I would be absolutely delighted if we abolished the honours system. You just laugh when you see the kind of people who get rewarded. In fact one of the things that appeals to me about Tony Blair is that he is proposing to abolish the House of Lords.'

Mr Bragg said his involvement in the fund-raising campaign had been straightforward.

'Barry Cox came and made out his case to us. He told us what it would cost to run a campaign round the country and asked if we could contribute. I thought all the Labour candidates were good, but decided that Tony Blair was the best man to lead our party to recovery and help the massive constituency of the under- privileged.'

(Photographs omitted)