Leading article: A scandal that reaches the very heart of power

Share

The latest instalment of the cash-for-peerages saga is the most dramatic yet. In one sense, the arrest of Lord Levy under the 1925 Sale of Honours Act might have been expected. Everything that has emerged since the scandal came to light has pointed to his central involvement in soliciting loans for the Labour Party. And the revelation this week by Sir Gulam Noon that it was Lord Levy who instructed him not to disclose his loan to the House of Lords Appointments Commission should have been evidence that the net was closing.

But yesterday's news that Lord Levy had been detained by the Metropolitan Police was shocking nonetheless. It is, after all, not every day that one of the Prime Minister's closest confidants is arrested. And let no one be in any doubt about how close these two men are. Lord Levy is often described as Tony Blair's "tennis partner". But he was also the Labour Party's chief fund-raiser and the Prime Minister's personal envoy to the Middle East - a post that he retains to this day. Lord Levy is someone that the Prime Minister sanctioned to act on his behalf in Britain and abroad. It is small wonder that he once felt able to describe himself and the Prime Minister as "like brothers".

The suspicion must be that, after yesterday, this cosy arrangement will not survive. Downing Street initially refused to comment on the arrest on the grounds that the alleged sale of honours was a "party matter", presumably on the basis that the loans were paid to Labour to fight the 2005 general election, and not to the Government. After all his years of loyal service, Lord Levy might have hoped for a more supportive response.

Yet this Trappist response from Downing Street was not only unsupportive, it was grossly inadequate. Mr Blair, as well as being Prime Minister, is leader of the Labour Party. It is ridiculous to say that he has no responsibility for overseeing the finances of the party he leads. Much though he might like to, Mr Blair cannot distance himself from this affair. If Lord Levy is eventually charged with selling honours, there will inevitably be questions about whose authority he was acting on. He might claim that he was a free agent. Then again, he might not. According to such a scenario, it is not impossible that Lord Levy might decide he no longer has any obligation to protect anyone.

Whether or not charges are to follow, however, we already know enough about the Labour loans affair to conclude that it was a sleazy and disreputable business. Why else would these transactions be kept secret, not just from the general public but from the Labour Party treasurer, Jack Dromey? And even if it turns out that there was no agreement to confer peerages in return for hefty loans, the Government has no defence against the charge that it shamelessly tried to circumvent its own rules governing the transparency of political donations. This latest development merely adds to the impression of a government that - from the Ecclestone affair to John Prescott's Colorado adventure - has trampled all over its leader's early pledge to be "purer than pure" in office.

There has been much talk of late within Westminster of what the Government must do to "renew" itself in office. That is usually assumed to be a question of policy. But it has now taken on an unmistakably more serious dimension. The question has become how Labour can regain its moral authority and its reputation for probity. It is increasingly difficult to see how this can happen without the departure of the man who, for nine years, has presided over all these scandals and who saw fit to endow Lord Levy with such patronage.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Manager (infrastructure, upgrades, rollouts)

£38000 - £45000 Per Annum + excellent benefits package: Clearwater People Solu...

MI Analyst and SQL Developer (SQL, SSAS, SSRS)

£28000 - £32500 Per Annum + 28 days holiday, pension, discounts and more: Clea...

Creative Content Executive (writer, social media, website)

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum + 25 days holiday and bonus: Clearwater People Solut...

Systems & Data Lead – Oxfordshire – Permanent – Up to £24k

£20000 - £24000 Per Annum 28 days holiday, free parking, pension: Clearwater P...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

August catch-up: second languages, the secret of love and is it all right to call someone stupid?

John Rentoul
High and mighty: Edinburgh Castle and city skyline  

i Editor's Letter: We're coming to Edinburgh

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?