The mystery of Blair's £250,000

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair was accused last night of trying to cover up donations to his private office by Geoffrey Robinson after the millionaire former minister claimed that he had secretly given money to it.

Tony Blair was accused last night of trying to cover up donations to his private office by Geoffrey Robinson after the millionaire former minister claimed that he had secretly given money to it.

Mr Robinson's declaration flatly contradicted a claim by the trustees of the fund, which financed his office as Leader of the Opposition, who said a year ago they had never received donations from Mr Robinson.

His claim undermined an attempt by Downing Street to limit the damage from his book, The Unconventional Minister, which is published this week. The Independent revealed a year ago that Mr Robinson was under pressure from Downing Street to drop plans to include in his memoirs details of a £250,000 donation to Mr Blair's private office.

At the time, Baroness Jay of Paddington, Leader of the Lords, issued a statement on behalf of the trustees saying: "In 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."

Mr Robinson's book says that he financed research for Gordon Brown, then shadow Chancellor. "As a wealthy businessman, I could afford it and I was happy to support the political offices of Gordon and Tony as well, just as I had for Neil Kinnock and John Smith."

Asked about the trustees' statement, Mr Robinson said: "I don't know what they are saying. I know that I have given successively to the offices of the Labour Party leaders and to the Chancellor and for research."

Lady Jay was sticking by the statement last night. A Labour spokesman said: "The only donations Geoffrey Robinson made were general donations to the Labour Party. He did not donate any money to Tony Blair's private office."

The Tory Opposition asked Elizabeth Filkin, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, to investigate the discrepancy between Mr Robinson's claim and the statement issued last year by Lady Jay.

Tonight, William Hague will tell a meeting of Tories that the revelations amount to "evidence of a new cover-up, with New Labour's Crony-in-Chief, Geoffrey Robinson, saying that he did give money to Tony Blair's blind trust in flat contradiction to trustee Baroness Jay". He will urge Mr Blair to declare who was telling the truth.

The Tory leader will say: "When the Labour Government was formed in 1997, it was Tony Blair who rushed to reward the man who allegedly donated to his private office and lent him his holiday home with the senior job of Paymaster General."

Mr Hague will attack Mr Blair's administration as "a rotten Government" that is "permanently stained by infighting, deceit, spin and cronyism".

The Tories demanded that the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee reopen its inquiry into Peter Mandelson's conduct over his £373,000 home loan from Mr Robinson, whose book claims that Mr Mandelson sought financial help over a dinner in 1996 and followed this up with a 9am telephone call the next morning.

But Mr Robinson adopted a softer line when he described the dinner conversation on BBC Radio 4 yesterday. "I said, 'Well look, I am in a good financial position. I might be able to help if that's what you want."

Nick Clarke, the interviewer, said: "That sounds a bit like an offer to me." Mr Robinson replied: "Perhaps it was. But I wasn't forcing the money on him. I wasn't trying to say, 'You've got to do this,' which is the impression he is trying to create."

Downing Street dismissed the latest claims by Mr Robinson as "pretty flat froth" and appeared to endorse Mr Mandelson's version of events, saying he had given the facts to the Commons committee.

But the controversy showed little sign of dying down. In today's newspaper serialisation of the book, Mr Robinson claims that Mr Mandelson sought to overturn the Cabinet's cautious policy on the single currency drawn up by Mr Brown and bounce the Government into early entry. He describes Mr Mandelson as a "destabilising element" who created conflict between Mr Blair and Mr Brown.

Diane Abbott, Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, said: "As long as he [Mandelson] is in government, we are going to have this poison bubbling to the surface."

Lord Sawyer, Labour's former general secretary, urged Mr Blair and Mr Brown to demand an end to the "continuous war" among their rival camps.

He warned that the damaging revelations were giving the impression that the Government was no different to any other, and that "politicians at the top are on the make".