Leading article: The nexus of money and property

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The Independent Online

Perhaps every government gets the scandal it deserves. Margaret Thatcher summarily dispatched ministers who crossed her moral line, but nearly came to grief over her son's business activities. John Major launched "Back to basics" and watched as compromised colleagues fell one by one. Now New Labour, for the umpteenth time, is in trouble over money and property.

The old Labour presumptions, of course, were simpler. Private ownership was suspect; the more an individual's property and money exceeded his need, the more reprehensible it was. A good deal of class envy was at work. Someone with two cars, two homes and several bank accounts was deemed to be "not one of us". In the late 20th century, however, with home ownership embraced by one-time council tenants and low tax a matter of international competitiveness, Mr Blair was right to pledge that New Labour would not penalise success.

The difficulty is that, as practised by some of his entourage, this principle sometimes looks more like "greed is good". Only an impression, but impressions count, especially in politics.

Our view is that there is nothing wrong with high pay, so long as it is honestly earned; nothing wrong with a windfall from well-judged investments, and nothing wrong with buying a couple of buy-to-lets or Jags, if you can afford it (though a Prius would be better). The problem arises if voters feel there is one law for an entrenched New Labour elite and another for them, and if the lifestyle of a minister - in so far as they glimpse it - seems in a different world.

Peter Mandelson's home loan, Cherie Blair's Bristol flats, John Prescott's non-payment of council tax, and David Blunkett's extended tenancy in Belgravia have done New Labour no favours. Tessa Jowell's joint mortgage, paid off with money that her husband brought into Britain through obscure byways of the global banking system, is in the same tradition.

Even if, as she claims, Ms Jowell knew nothing about it, it is not only Labour traditionalists who might have questions about a household where large mortgages come and go and the odd £350,000 goes unremarked. There may be no breach of the ministerial code, but there is something that just does not smell right when judged by the experience of most people. If and when New Labour comes to grief, the nexus of money and property will surely feature high in its obituary.

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