Leading article: Help us with our inquiries, Mr Blair

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The Independent Online

The Prime Minister will no doubt say today that he cannot comment on the suggestion that he tried to sell peerages. As we report, that did not prevent him meeting Sir Gulam Noon, one of the millionaire lenders he unsuccessfully nominated to the House of Lords. It can only be assumed that one of Tony Blair's purposes was to try to minimise the political damage caused by the affair.

The ongoing police investigation should not be used as an excuse to avoid legitimate questions. The important facts are well known, because they have been reported - especially by The Independent on Sunday. The purpose of the inquiry is to establish whether anyone has been foolish enough to cross the line from the simply reprehensible to the unlawful, by breaking the 1925 Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act, which bans the sale of peerages.

We know that, with Mr Blair's approval, millions of pounds were raised in secret loans for Labour's election campaign last year - exploiting a loophole in another law. Many of those millions were raised with the possibility in mind that the lenders would be raised to the peerage. This connection was probably never made explicit. It is, as Mr Blair's tiny band of defenders point out, how British governments have long conducted themselves.

The Prime Minister was therefore in the hypocritical position of trying to get round the very safeguards of the new, cleaner politics for which he tried to claim credit. Not only did he avoid the requirement to disclose donations by having Lord Levy encourage people to make loans instead, but he sought to keep this information from the independent commission he set up to vet nominations to the House of Lords.

One question that Tony Blair needs to answer, not just to police officers but to the nation, is how Labour's chief fundraiser came to be advising the party's donors on filling in the forms needed for nomination to the peerage. If the Prime Minister nominated Sir Gulam, Chai Patel, Barry Townsley and Sir David Garrard to the House of Lords for reasons independent of their financial generosity to his party, why was Lord Levy involved?

At some point, either as part of the police investigation or afterwards, Mr Blair will have both to explain and apologise. It might as well be today.

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