Leading article: Holes in the accounts

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It would take a heart of stone not to smile at the plight of Gordon Brown and those others left to bale out the Labour Party ship. Tonight's fundraising dinner at Wembley promises to be a rather desperate affair, after last year's event, held in the first flush of the Brown era, which the party describes as "the most successful fundraiser in Labour's history". The contrast is equally stark with the days – how long ago they seem now – when Michael Levy simply had to touch an arm and murmur Tony Blair's name for the million-pound cheques to be forthcoming.

This year's auction has at least attracted some publicity for the newsworthiness of some of the lots. Be a character in Alastair Campbell's new novel. A specially commissioned Antony Gormley work of art. A swim with Little Britain star David Walliams. Tea with Nancy Dell'Olio at Claridges. Perhaps the most piquant, though, is the chance to play tennis with Tony Blair.

Was it not Mr Blair that got Labour into the financial mess that it is in today? Have his tennis sessions with Lord Levy not gone down in history as the original cause of the party's present overdraft? For whatever Mr Brown's responsibility for the political pickle in which he finds himself, the wider party knows that Mr Blair is to blame for its indebtedness.

Not since Louis XV has a ruler been so reckless about the state of the machine that he bequeathed to his successors. Mr Blair took £14m in secret loans before the last election, having no idea how they would be repaid and wilfully careless of the implications if he were found out. Those implications included the loans-for-peerages investigation that embarrassed him and his office, and which tarnished the reputations of several of the lenders, making them much less likely to roll over their loans.

Had Mr Brown been able to sustain last summer's honeymoon in the opinion polls, he might have been able to begin to repair the situation. As it is, the holes in Labour's accounts now look as mournful as any roadworks begun and then abandoned for a year.

It would take a heart of stone, therefore, not to feel also a twinge of sympathy for Mr Brown's plight. But our sympathy is all that Labour deserve. What the party should not have is any more public money. Mr Blair's excesses do not make a case for greater public subsidy. There is no democratic reason why the two largest parties should spend £20m on an election campaign. Indeed, it might be quite refreshing to see a party trying to run a general election on a shoestring, forced to use the internet creatively, and as the impoverished voice of people who know the value of money. In the current mood, it does not look as though Labour will have a choice.

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