Leading article: Simple truths about deceit , cheats, backhanders

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The Independent Online
"Daddy, who is Mr Neil Hamilton?"

"He is a liar and a cheat, my child. Let his fate be a lesson to you."

"What is his fate? Have they put him somewhere nasty?"

"Not exactly. He has Mr Brian Mawhinney's full support, which can't be very pleasant, but he is still a Member of Parliament."

"So how do we know he is such a bad man?"

"Because the Guardian says so. It has explained how Mr Hamilton used to go to the offices of Mohamed Al Fayed in Park Lane, London, to pick up lots of cash in envelopes; and how he stayed in the Ritz Hotel in Paris, which Mr Fayed owns, and didn't have to pay the bill; and how he got shopping vouchers for Harrods department store, which Mr Fayed owns; and how he used to get more money from Ian Greer, who was a friend of Mr Fayed; and how lots of other MPs were getting money from..."

"But Daddy, Daddy, how does the Guardian know all this?"

"Because Mr Fayed told it so and, when Mr Hamilton sued for libel, Mr Fayed's secretary and security man and ex-personal assistant all confirmed the story."

"This Mr Fayed sounds a very kind and generous man. I'm not surprised he wanted everybody to know."

"Don't be silly, child. Mr Fayed wanted Mr Hamilton and other MPs to help him. He wanted the Department of Trade and Industry to suppress or water down a very damning report about how he came to take over Harrods and he also wanted British citizenship. Really, he was trying to bribe people."

"I see. And now Mr Fayed has decided to own up and admit that he was doing wrong. Just like you tell me to do, Daddy."

"No, no. You keep missing the point. Mr Fayed didn't get what he wanted and now he's very angry. He thinks he's done the Government and its ministers lots of favours and this is his revenge for their failure to do anything for him in return."

"So is the Guardian saying that Mr Fayed was wrong to pay the bribes or that the Tories were wrong to take them or that the Tories were wrong to give him nothing in return?"

"Why don't you go and watch a video nasty?"

"No, please, Daddy, I want to know. I think the Guardian is on Mr Fayed's side."

"Certainly not. The Guardian is on the side of truth, justice and probity - and do stop pulling those funny faces, child. This is an extremely serious matter. The Guardian has listed the names of 21 Tory MPs who received donations from Mr Greer to their 1987 election campaign funds. It printed their pictures, too. Oh, and it also named two Labour MPs and one Liberal Democrat, but its library didn't seem to have their pictures."

"Was it against the law for them to take this money?"

"No, as it happens. Nor was it against parliamentary rules. But you can't trust people who are giving you money even when you don't necessarily know they are giving it to you. You can't be too careful. You should ask questions."

"So, if anybody offers an MP money for an election campaign, the MP should always ask the person what he wants in return?"

"That's right ... I mean, no ... Oh, I don't know. The trouble is that there seems to be hardly anybody in the House of Commons, not even Tony Blair, who hasn't had something from Mr Greer at some time, even if it was only a free flight to give a lecture."

"Well at least we know Mr Hamilton was a bad man. The Government must be taking it all very seriously."

"It certainly is. It has asked Sir Gordon Downey to investigate the Hamilton case."

"Is he a policeman? Can he lock people up? Has he got a squad of ace detectives ready?"

"No. He is a 68-year-old former civil servant who fills the office of Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. He has no independent power to call witnesses or evidence and has just two part-time secretaries helping him."

"Hmm. Daddy, can you remind me of the difference between right and wrong?"

"Oh, just go away and play, child."