'Sleaze-buster' guaranteed a hostile reception

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Indy Politics

Chief Political Correspondent

The so-called "Sleaze-buster General", Sir Gordon Downey, 67, will face deep resentment among MPs on all sides when he takes up his post next Wednesday.

His appointment as Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards deeply angered many MPs because of the size of his salary, pounds 72,500 a year.

As chairman of the House of Commons Commission, Alan Beith, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, had the task of putting Sir Gordon's name forward.

A total of 73 MPs opposed his appointment. Many were Tories but they included senior Liberal Democrats such as the former Liberal leader, Sir David Steel, despite Sir Gordon being described as Liberal Democrat.

Nicholas Winterton, one of the Tory MPs who voted against the appointment, wondered what expertise Sir Gordon had for the job. Hansard, the daily record of the Commons, recorded Labour MP Dennis Skinner's response: "Bugger all."

In fact, Sir Gordon was highly respected as a watchdog on public spending as Comptroller and Auditor General. He served throughout the early Thatcher years, from 1981 to 1987, and became a thorn in the Government's side.

Sir Gordon, a civil servant at the Treasury from 1952 to 1981, served as private secretary to three Chancellors, Butler, Macmillan and Thornycroft, before joining the Think Tank - the Central Policy Review Staff - which was abolished by Baroness Thatcher for "thinking the unthinkable".

Concerned about the waste of taxpayers' money, he helped to create the National Audit Office, by assisting Lord St John of Fawsley in drafting a private member's Bill which set it up. He showed his independence from the Thatcher Government by blazing a trail for the NAO, whose reports go to the Public Accounts Committee.

As someone with a proven record in uncovering fraud, he was regarded by Labour as a natural choice for the task of enforcing the new rules on the disclosure of earnings, and policing the system.

Since his retirement as Auditor General, he has held a number of posts including commissioner of appeals on cases concerning the Association of Futures Brokers and Dealers, and complaints commissioner for the Securities Association and the International Stock Exchange.