Blair press chief accused of soliciting Robinson cash

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The Prime Minister's press secretary was accused in the Commons today of the "improper soliciting" of £250,000 for Mr Blair's office from former Paymaster General Geoffrey Robinson before the General Election.

The Prime Minister's press secretary was accused in the Commons today of the "improper soliciting" of £250,000 for Mr Blair's office from former Paymaster General Geoffrey Robinson before the General Election.

The allegation against Alastair Campbell was made by Tory Julian Lewis, MP for New Forest East, who claimed 10 Downing St had put pressure on Mr Robinson not to include the damning claims in his soon to be published memoirs, An Unconventional Minister.

But Commons Leader Margaret Beckett said she was not aware of any such "concrete information" and dismissed the claims as "increasingly far-fetched".

Downing St yesterday denied that anybody connected with No 10 had sought to encourage Mr Robinson to tone down the book, and said the ex-minister was not regarded as "a pariah".

The Prime Minister's spokesman insisted it would be both improper and impossible for anybody connected with the Government to threaten Mr Robinson with the consequences of a Department of Trade inquiry into his affairs if the book proved hostile to Mr Blair.

The move followed newspaper reports that Mr Robinson, whose £373,000 home loan to Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson ended both ministers' careers last year before Mr Mandelson's return to the Cabinet this month, had said he "felt threatened" by Downing Street insiders.

The claim was that Government insiders had hinted two current DTI inquiries into Mr Robinson's business dealings might go badly for him as a result of the alleged contents of his memoirs.

Raising the issue under parliamentary privilege during questions on forthcoming Commons business, Dr Lewis asked Mrs Beckett: "Will you try to arrange for the Prime Minister to come to the House next week to explain what action he is taking about a very serious matter, namely the pressure being placed on Mr Robinson by members of the Prime Minister's office not to refer in his memoirs to the improper soliciting before the election of £250,000 from him for the funding of the Prime Minister's private office.

"Is not the seriousness of these allegations added to by the fact that the person who made that solicitation before the election is now the Prime Minister's press secretary?"

Mrs Beckett replied: "I am not aware of any such concrete information.

"Consequently I think there is no point in any suggestion that Mr Blair should come and refer in this House to reports that appear in the press - some of which I must say sound increasingly far-fetched."

Any new information in Mr Robinson's forthcoming book could centre on the funding of the "blind trust" which paid for Mr Blair's office in Opposition.

If the Prime Minister's close advisers knew who had paid for it - for example Mr Robinson - the claim is that that would have breached the rules under which it was set up.

But Mr Blair's spokesman said yesterday: "It's well known that Geoffrey gave money to the Labour Party and there's no reason whatever that he shouldn't have done.

"I have no idea who put money into the blind trust."

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