Charity to be investigated over 'Gordon Brown links'

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Indy Politics

The Charity Commission is to investigate a complaint by the Conservative Party about the charitable status of an economic think-tank with links to Gordon Brown.

The Smith Institute, set up to commemorate the former Labour leader John Smith, who died in 1994, has held events at 11 Downing Street and briefly employed Ed Balls, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury. Its director, Wilf Stevenson, is a long-standing friend of the Chancellor.

The Tories have questioned the institute's status as a tax-exempt charity, which bars it from involvement in politics. Chris Grayling, a member of the Shadow Cabinet, wrote to the commission after reports relating to a seminar organised last year by SI Events Ltd - a wholly-owned subsidiary of the institute - and addressed by Bob Shrum, the former US Democrat campaign strategist. Mr Shrum reportedly told the meeting that David Cameron's attempt to relaunch the Conservatives appeared to be modelled on George Bush's successful campaign for the US presidency in 2000 and argued that Labour should brand him "an empty opportunist who will do anything to win".

In a statement, the commission said the decision to open an inquiry into the institute was taken "in the light of new information we have received which raises concerns about some of the charity's work". It added: "The scope of the inquiry is to determine whether the Smith Institute is both established and operating as a charity advancing the education of the public in the field of study and research into the economy of the United Kingdom."

A spokesman for the Smith Institute said: "We welcome the Charity Commission's decision to formalise its current discussions with the Smith Institute under Section 8 of the Charities Act. We have co-operated fully with the commission since we received a letter from them on 1 December 2006, and will continue to do so."

He added that the Trustees had been "vigilant in ensuring the Smith Institute had complied with guidelines set out by the Charity Commission".