Campbell is named in new Blair funding controversy

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The controversy involving Geoffrey Robinson's donations to the Labour Party deepened last night despite a concerted attempt by Downing Street to put an end to the damaging affair.

The controversy involving Geoffrey Robinson's donations to the Labour Party deepened last night despite a concerted attempt by Downing Street to put an end to the damaging affair.

As Alastair Campbell, the Prime Minister's press secretary, was alleged in the House of Commons to have solicited funds from Mr Robinson, the trustees of a secretive trust which funded Tony Blair's private office as Opposition Leader took the unprecedented step of saying that Mr Robinson, the former Paymaster General, did not make a donation to it.

Julian Lewis, the MP for New Forest East, claimed that pressure was 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".

Margaret Beckett, the Leader of the Commons, dismissed the allegations as "increasingly far-fetched" and Mr Campbell later accused the Tory MP of "abusing parliamentary privilege to say something that is entirely untrue".

Mr Robinson, a millionaire businessman, resigned as a Treasury minister last December on the same day as Peter Mandelson quit the cabinet over the £373,000 personal loan he received from Mr Robinson to buy a house in Notting Hill, west London. Mr Robinson is aggrieved that Mr Mandelson is now back in the cabinet and Downing Street fears he will take his revenge on Mr Blair by making embarrassing disclosures in his book, The Unconventional Minister.

Claims by friends of Mr Robinson that he gave £250,000 to the blind trust were widely reported in the press this summer. This week friends suggested he was under pressure from Downing Street to drop plans to disclose details of donations to Labour in his memoirs.

Friends of Mr Robinson said they were "astonished" by the trustees' statement, and warned that he may still make embarrassing revelations about his financial backing for Labour when his memoirs are published in the new year.

Last night Baroness Jay, the Leader of the Lords and one of fund's trustees, issued a statement on their behalf saying: "In the light of the inaccurate stories in the press, we have checked the accounts of the Labour Leader's Office Fund and we can confirm that Geoffrey Robinson did not donate to the fund. We have only taken this exceptional step in this case because of the sustained nature of this misinformation campaign."

Baroness Jay, who was promoted to the Cabinet last year, served as trustee along with two other Labour peers - Lord Rees, the former Home Secretary, and Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, the former print union leader.

Their statement was announced by Downing Street, which said it did not compromise the secrecy surrounding the blind trust, set up to ensure Mr Blair did not know the identity of the donors. Number 10 said: "We have established the negative because serious allegations were made about the propriety of the Government."

But the Tories said the statement raised more questions than it answered. They demanded to know whether the fund received any money from any of Mr Robinson's companies or offshore trusts; whether he paid the salaries of any members of Mr Blair's staff and whether any Blair aides approached him for a donation.

"The statement is unsatisfactory," said Angela Browning, the Tory trade and industry spokeswoman. "At the very least, the full list of donors to the fund must now be published. We want absolute transparency."

Sir Michael Scholar, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Trade and Industry, rejected claims by Mr Robinson's friends that Downing Street wanted to use the existence of two inquiries into his business interests to gag him over his book.

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