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

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is require...

Recruitment Genius: Logistics Supervisor

£24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest supplier to the UK'...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate / Junior Software Developer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate/Junior Software Deve...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Store Sales Executive

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An experienced Sales Executive ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Yorkshire Terrier waits to be judged during the Toy and Utility day of the Crufts dog show at the NEC in Birmingham  

There are no winners at Crufts. Dogs deserve better than to suffer and die for a 'beauty' pageant

Mimi Bekhechi
 

Daily catch-up: how come Ed Miliband’s tuition fee ‘cut’ is so popular, then?

John Rentoul
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn