Mark Steel: The Gulam Noon curry paste Labour Party

The tiny clique of postmen and teachers can no longer bully the ordinary billionaire
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The Independent Online

If it's true, as the Labour Party assures us, that these loans from businessmen came with no obligation to provide favours in return, this is fantastic news. Because it appears none of the money has been paid back. So maybe this system of lending will be made available to everyone. You'll borrow your lump sum, then instead of a rude letter from the bank you'll get one that says: "Dear Sir, at close of business on 9 March you hadn't paid back a single penny in four years, leaving your outstanding balance as two million pounds. Well, whatever, in your own time. Hope you enjoyed the Seychelles, love, Lord Sainsbury."

Maybe some of them sent Blair a letter that said: "Dear Mr T Bloar, CONGRATULATIONS!!!! You yes YOU have been specially chosen to receive our super payment-free loan worth ONE MILLION POUNDS!!!!!! Either tick the box marked 'No I don't like free money, mate', or the box marked 'YES I WOULD LIKE A MILLION POUNDS FOR NOTHING, LORD BRAMBLEBY OF WHEREVER YOU FANCY'."

One question to arise must be that if Labour wanted no more than a loan on normal terms, why didn't they go to a bank? It's a strange line of thought that goes: "We need to borrow a few million quid. Let's ask the bloke who runs a company that makes curry paste." Maybe this is one of those things Blair gets the wrong way round, and whenever Cherie sends him out for some tandoori sauce, he queues up at the local branch of the Alliance and Leicester.

This episode shows how successful Blair has been in making the Labour Party independent of the trade unions, who represented such "narrow interests" in modern Britain, and dependent on a far broader section of society - multi-millionaires. Until Blair, this beleaguered group had hardly anyone to represent them, as out of the two major political parties they controlled a mere one of them. But thanks to Tony, the tiny clique of postmen and teachers and firefighters and nurses who used to have a say in the Labour Party can no longer bully the ordinary common billionaire.

So he should go further and issue a price list. Company chairmen should be sent a glossy brochure: "Why not treat yourself to a Peerage De-Luxe? For two million pounds you'll be entitled to a robe that drags an extra five feet along the ground and to a seat right behind Melvyn Bragg. But if you're just starting out as a millionaire, you can opt for our standard no-frills peerage, making you Lord of Clacton or somewhere like that. The main thing to remember is - You can afford to become a Lord."

Whatever strategy he chooses, Blair will have no shame because he worships wealth. He doesn't believe it's possible to fund hospitals or schools or a transport system without enabling big business to make a fortune out of them, so there's no reason why he should imagine there's any better way to fund a political party than by dealing in favours with the rich. Maybe he'll try to solve the funding problem by leasing the Labour Party out to Balfour Beatty under a Private Finance Initiative. Obviously this will only entitle the company to a nominal say in the running of the party, with three or four nominal cabinet posts for board members and the freedom to write occasional speeches such as the Budget. The party could also exploit potential profit-making activities such as sponsorship, each year being called something different such as The Gulam Noon curry paste Labour Party.

That has to be more convincing than the current line, which is to declare that all this secret financing only goes to show the system doesn't work and needs reforming. Imagine if anyone else tried that, so teenagers in court said: "The fact I was caught nicking motors and joyriding them round a council estate before setting fire to them merely goes to show the current system isn't working and needs to be thoroughly reviewed, your honour."

Perhaps the worst part of this story is if you suggested these businessmen should be taxed by the amounts they "donated", to fund the services Blair claims to care about, you'd invite howling and screaming about outdated envy, stifling aspirations, unbearable burdens on business, etc. Yet they seem to feel it's small change for whatever it is it buys them. So the punishment for New Labour should be that for the next year they have to raise money in the same way normal people have to when they're desperate. Peter Hain should spend the evenings selling dish-cloths, Blair could make claims on his travel insurance, saying Putin swiped his watch and camera, and Prescott should offer to be a guinea pig for scientific experiments, sparking a constitutional crisis when he blocks up the whole of the House of Commons because he's ballooned to three times his normal size.

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