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Andy McSmith's Diary: Another fine mess caused by political donations


Members of Tony Blair’s political fan club did not disappear when their champion, David Miliband, lost the contest for the Labour leadership. They remained grouped around a think-tank called Progress, bankrolled by Lord Sainsbury, who was the party’s biggest individual donor in the Blair years.

Leaders of the big unions do not care for Progress. Paul Kenny, the head of the GMB union, was threatening to deploy his union’s block vote to have Progress banned from the Labour Party. An internal document by Unite identified the struggle against Progress as a battle for “Labour’s soul”.

So there will be glee in union offices at the news that Progress has been fined £6,000 by the Electoral Commission because it unknowingly accepted money from Lord Sainsbury when he was not on the electoral register. That is illegal. The campaign group Movement for Change was caught out in the same way and fined £5,500.

The publication of the latest batch of political donations, received in the last quarter of 2013, produced the usual ding-dong, with the Tory chairman, Grant Shapps, berating Ed Miliband for being dependent on union money, while Labour’s shadow Cabinet Office minister, Michael Dugher, focused on the number of big donors to the Conservative Party who have wined and dined with David Cameron.

Neither side mentioned that the figures included the biggest political bequest left in someone’s will in history. It was £769,227 bequeathed to the Tories by Mrs Violet Baker, from Birmingham, whose surviving relatives are furious. She was from a Labour-voting family, and her relatives claim that she had no strong political opinions but left her money to the Tories out of spite.

Throwing cold water

In Hampstead, in London, the actor Robert Powell has joined a residents’ protest against a plan to introduce £15m-worth of new flood defences, by increasing the height of the banks between the ponds on Hampstead Heath. “I am bewildered by any suggestions the ponds are unsafe. They have been here for 300 years and there has not been one incident,” he complained. Robert Powell played the title role in the 1977 film Jesus of Nazareth. He probably thinks water is stuff you walk on.

It never rains for Cameron

Immediately before David Cameron’s appearance on Radio Devon today, listeners were treated to a track by the band Wet Wet Wet. Most appropriate.

Not paying court

Nick Clegg is still refusing to reinstate Lord Rennard, the former Liberal Democrat accused of sexual harassment, and Lord Rennard, who denies the accusations, is still threatening to take the matter to court. Hence this comment from Labour’s shadow leader of the House, Angela Eagle: “I understand that Lord Rennard is trying to sue the Liberal Democrats so that he is allowed to rejoin the party. He must be the only person in the whole country who would take legal action to become a Liberal Democrat.”

Coming soon…

Le Figaro announces that a forthcoming Paris exhibition will feature a fauteuil de volupté, a contraption that enables couples to copulate comfortably in any position imaginable, even if the man is carrying surplus blubber. According to the blurb, it was used by “Édouard VII, prince de Galles et fils de la reine Victoria”. So why is it not on display in Buckingham Palace?

Next week is not only the school half-term; MPs also have a week off, and so this column will take a week’s break, too. Back the week after