A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Peter Watt

I'm sorry to hear that Peter Watt has had to resign as Labour Party General Secretary.

We were both recruited as constituency organisers at about the same time in 1996 - in fact for a couple of weeks after he started we were based in the same building in Battersea, with Peter as Battersea CLP Organiser and me upstairs working for Anita Pollack MEP.

I think the same of him now as I did then - that he is a serious, highly professional person totally dedicated to the Labour Party.

His swift and dignified resignation is a measure of the principled person he is.

I haven't got a clue how he - or his officers - came to believe the Abrahams donations through third parties were acceptable (in either sense of the word). But I believe him if he says he thought they were.

As for Mr Abrahams I don't think he gets it. The law is designed to make donations to political parties transparent. We wrote it. That means donors have to choose between either publicly making a donation, or if like Mr Abrahams they don't want publicity, giving their money to a charity not a political party or not giving it at all. As it happens he's ended up with far more publicity and of a far worse kind than a transparent and properly declared donation would have involved, and cost a good guy his job, and the party he was trying to help a huge reputational hit.


Anonymous wgm said...

I'd echo these comments about Peter Watt. It's a great shame he had to go but he has done it with dignity and I wish him well.

12:06 am, November 27, 2007

Anonymous Ex-Voter said...

How very uncritical. Oh, come on! Who's he taken a dive for?

At least now we know the actual price of getting planning-permission for a nature-despoiling eyesore of a Business Parc as previously rejected by the Highways Agency: £250,000 in a big fat brown envelope.

4:33 am, November 27, 2007

Blogger Chris Paul said...

Oh, ex-voter, do come on! The man Abrahams is very rich, a long time Labour supporter and a former PPC. He's just a bit of a crazy and stupid by the look of it.

Your anonymous slur and smear re planning consent - which is a semi-judicial function with clear rules and processes - is knocked on its head by the fact that resubmissions and appeals are being granted all the time.

That is how the planning system works. You fail on OPP? You try again until you get it or you give up. You fail on FPP? You try again until you get it or you give up.

Decisions come through, including obviously to supporters of other parties and none, with patient work to resolve planning issues including e.g. traffic. Often by paying for some road re-structuring, new lights or a roundabout under a s106.

And in particular when the previous objections and rulings are dealt with in a professional way.

If you have any evidence that this is not the case then you should step from behind the cloak of anonymity and put it up.

You're wrong about the £250,000 also. It was £600,000 according to Newsnight.

9:49 am, November 27, 2007

Anonymous Peter Kenyon said...

Dear Luke

I find Peter Watt's self professed ignorance completely unbelievable. I have just checked the Party's Legal Handbook.

It says Section 9.2 Thresholds: £200 Value over which all other donations to party units or individuals must be recorded internally, reported to Head Office and the identity of the donor verified. .

This is the advice offered to the likes of you and me - mere mortal volunteers.

Sorry, if either further investigative journalism or the Electoral Commission inquiry shows any minister of the Crown knew about this 'arrangement' I fear for our government, whatever the speculation about going on to 2010.

9:50 am, November 27, 2007

Anonymous Why is my party doing this to itself?! said...

Chris Paul, it takes two to tango.

This cannot all be blamed on Abrahams being a bit "stupid and crazy".

The idea that senior members of the party did not know this was happening, or did not appreciate that it was extremely dodgy, is laughable.

Property developers trying to give anonymous donations to the party of government? Even if there is no evidence of serious corruption, it looks awful.

We cannot deny it. As someone on another blog once remarked, your 'labour of love' sometimes seems a bit like the love of a bunny boiler.

11:04 am, November 27, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

No-one really knows the ins and outs of this whole mess, but Peter Watt's straight-forwardness and integrity over the years he's worked for the party shouldn't be forgotten as a result of this.

Mistakes have clearly been made, and he has lost his job, and his career, because of it.

But this one thing shouldn't take away from the fact that he's been the best Gen Sec for years, got us through the cash-for-honours mess (which wasn't of his making at all), overhauled much of our campaigning (taking it forward online especially) and ran an effective leader/deputy leader contest when no-one said it could be done.

Times are tough at the moment, but a little bit more respect for the party's hard working, and hard-pressed, staff wouldn't go amiss from some of the posters on other blogs. Good on Luke for this post.

11:04 am, November 27, 2007

Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

I agree with Peter, Watt's explaination is simply not plausable, thankfully however by resigning he does not have to answer any questions that embarass the party in his former capacity.
Although I wanted to see McDonnell as leader, I did hope Brown would signal a break from the Blair past and try and keep us on the straight and narrow (certainly were dodgy deals were concerned). It seems daily were are being assulted in the press.
As I said before, we should have had a Nov poll because the economy is set to decline so we will have a couple of rocky months ahead. The stories in the media are likely to get worse because of this and already people are questioning Brown's competance.
What can we do? I don't like New Labour nor the PM, but as a member of the Labour Party I like the tories less. The movement's old maxim applies "Unity is strength" so let us stand united and sail the storm (then ditch Brown - only kidding!).

11:17 am, November 27, 2007

Anonymous Ted Harvey said...

Once again so many people have missed the core issue which lies at the heart of Westminster-based politics. I repeat the following (without apology) most of which I have posted on another blog:

The core issue here is an institutiolised culture of deceipt and sleaze. It can no longer be skimmed over with references to 'spin' or 'creative fund raising'. Even the party that made bold statutory efforts to 'clean-up' politics seems incapable of abiding by it's own strictures.

In an institutionalised 'bad' culture, even the clever and the well-meaning people becoming wrapped up and self-deceiving by what is going on around them at every level.

This is at its worst when the organisationation is a highly committed and focused one (such as a political party or movement).

The outcome is that normally decent people genuinely cannot step out of the institutional mindset and 'see the wood for the trees'.

Institutionalised rascism is a glaring other example - where people do not believe themselves to be racist, and work in an organisation that does not overtly 'mean' to be racist... but the outcome of the way they work and operate is to discriminate on racist grounds.

The bad news for all of the Westminster-based political parties, and not just Labour, is that an institutionalised culture is the very most hardest thing to change. After all, if the normally decent and capable people you want to change, don't even understand or perceive they are doing wrong, and they do not 'mean' to do overt wrong... where do you go from there?

This is a growing crisis for all of UK politics. It is significant and instructive that it took the SNP as a so-called 'fringe' party that is outside the Westminster orbit, to have instigated the whole Honours enquiry thing (that in the end, the Westminster establishment still seems to have neutered meantime).

And the parties want us the taxpayer to subsidise them? Get lost! Instead, levy the MPs' large salaries, self-governed allowances and massive assured pensions for party donations!

11:23 am, November 27, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"His swift and dignified resignation is a measure of the principled person he is."

"His swift and dignified resignation is a measure of the " deep shit he's in. Plus the Labour party

11:30 am, November 27, 2007

Anonymous Ian G said...

Luke, this is absolute rubbish.

If the general secretary and registered treasurer of the Labour Party can’t master a relatively simple piece of electoral law, what hope for all the unpaid volunteers struggling to cope with the mass of legal requirements which have grown up around funding and accounting?

He is supposed to have the benefit of a whole legal department in the next office to call upon, and is allegedly surrounded by conscientious party staff. This isn’t an odd fiver donated at a CLP raffle, it’s the party’s THIRD LARGEST individual donor. I don’t hold Peter Watt entirely responsible, there is clearly a huge systemic failure at the centre of our party.

Peter Watt may have ‘done the right thing’ but he doesn’t have to go out and face voters on the doorstep this weekend...

11:59 am, November 27, 2007

Blogger Merseymike said...

The real problem is that neiother party is really willing to downsize political spending.

Can I suggest a maximum of £5 million yearly, including everything, for any party. The money can come from unions, individuals or whoever. All must be openly declared. But once they reach the 5 mill;ion - spending stops.

If we were serious about stopping corrupt practice on all sides, there is no reason why this couldn't be accepted.

I would also apply TV regulations to newspapers with regard to reportage and bias.

2:41 pm, November 27, 2007

Anonymous David said...


All I can say to your suggestion is look at the US. If you seek to cap funding, parties will seek to find ways around it.

Whatever system is put in place, parties' lawyers and officials will seek to find ways around the rules. Remember how we used to rush to get a last leaflet out before the spending limit started in Council Campaigns? All you do is encourage people to try and avoid the rules.

What price a Federation of Midlands Industry campaign on the evils of IHT or am Association of Plasterers and Plumbers advert on the minimum wage?

I would say if it ain't broke don't fix it, but it is broke but there's no obvious repair manual.

5:08 pm, November 27, 2007

Anonymous Ex Voter said...

Chris Paul,

Squirell-Nutkin has just been on R4 PM show, and would not give an assurance that Abrahams' "donations" were not linked to the reversal of the Highways Agency's previous objection to the scheme.

Terrible timing, innit? The planning-system about to be "simplified" [i.e. centralised and placed in the hands of an appointed Quango], just in time for a wave of unpopular large projects [i.e. nuclear power stations] and at a time when financial links between piggy politicians and their Big Capital paymaters are being uncovered.

The LA may be LD now, but what about pre-2004, when the Local Plan was drawn up?

The figure of £250,000 was correct with the information available at that time, and was the amount reported as being given prior to the HA overturning it's previous objection to the project. However, yes, as you point out, more fronts for Abrahams have come to light since.

A "cloak of anonymity" is useful when you're just a humble ex-voter whose snout is not close enough to the trough to be able to take on a multi-aliased Abrahams in court.

6:06 pm, November 27, 2007

Blogger Merseymike said...

I'm not accepting 'looking to the US' as an excuse. It can be done but it takes some actual political will to do so.
The US values freedom of expression above all so there are no perceived problems with large scale expenditure. I don't wish to further travel down that path.

It can be done, but there will have to be sanctions that bite. Parties must be stopped from 'finding ways around it' by creating legislation which doesn't have those loopholes. Like the very things you mention. They are easily covered by taking an absolute hard line - and the parties wouldn't like it one bit.

That's why I doubt they will go down this path, and why it appears that Labour want to restrict Tory donations and vice versa. But they COULD do it.

7:57 pm, November 27, 2007

Blogger Benjamin said...

His swift and dignified resignation is a measure of the principled person he is.

Not pushed then? Perish the thought.

I haven't got a clue how he - or his officers - came to believe the Abrahams donations through third parties were acceptable (in either sense of the word). But I believe him if he says he thought they were.

If you "haven't a clue" how come assume he's so principled. If he thought the donations were okay, that presumably means he is less principled than you think.

Watt is aware of both the letter and the spirit of the legislation.

There's a whole history of Labour trying to circumvent party funding legislation, rules and transparency - even if the rules are set by themselves.

1:02 am, November 28, 2007

Blogger Benjamin said...

Its amazing how partisan people (this applies to Tories and Lib Dems too) say: "well, I knew the chap way back, we shared a few drinks, we worked together, blah, blah, blah, and he's a very principled person".

As if these sort of folksy anecdotes can somehow obscure the facts. Completely naive.

1:11 am, November 28, 2007

Blogger Benjamin said...

According to the BBC:

"David Abrahams gave more than £400,000 through associates, claiming he wanted to avoid publicity. Mr Watt told a meeting of officers of Labour’s National Executive Committee that he had known about the arrangement. But he added that he had not known it might be illegal."

On 21 July 2006 an email was sent to key figures in all the political parties, including Peter Watt, and attached was a draft of the Electoral Commission's guidance on donations, stating:

"If the original source of the donation is someone other than the individual or organisation that transfers the donation to the party, the individual or organisation making the transfer is acting as an agent for the original donor. Where a person acts as an agent in making a donation, they must ensure that the party is given all the relevant information as listed at paragraph 5.4 (s. 54 (6)). Transferring a donation to an agent rather than directly to a party must not be used as an attempt to evade the controls on permissibility and transparency."

The rules were well known for some time.

2:45 am, November 28, 2007

Anonymous Dismayed said...

It's a bit rich trying to blame Abrahams where the legal duty quite clearly also rests on the recipient of the donation.

As things come out it is perfectly obvious the situation should never have arisen, were it not for the desperate need for cash.

12:37 pm, November 28, 2007

Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

According to the Newsnight report last night many in the party (including cabinet members) knew about Abraham's ploy of donating money to us via a third party. Any attempt to say that Watt was only aware is just a lie.
By the way did anyone see the Abrahams interview on Newsnight? It was very interesting!

3:48 pm, November 28, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

While the Labour Government is fighting for it's political life...Compass ponders 'the intellectual and political demise of New Labour'. They should fXXX off and back the Liberal fXXXing Democrats where they'd be happier in permanent opposition.


5:12 pm, November 28, 2007

Anonymous lord london fields lido said...

Well, I would be shocked at anyone in politics not being familiar with PPERA, but then I seem to remember a constituency Labour party in what we shall term the "Greater Hackney Area" getting a wrist slapping for failing to file accounts despite exceeding the threshold... it's obviously common in the Labour party to just pretend the law doesn't exist when it suits you. You know, cash for peerages, Miranda Grell, the Iraq war, need I continue?

8:07 pm, November 28, 2007

Anonymous lord london fields lido said...

Actually, yes, I need to continue - I forgot the Data Protection Act where the HMRC is concerned.

8:08 pm, November 28, 2007

Anonymous jules holland said...

At least you could believe Tony Blair's lies. You can't say the same about Gordon Brown's.

8:12 pm, November 28, 2007

Anonymous lord london fields lido said...

Now now, Jules - they're not just Gordon Brown's lies - they're the whole Labour party's lies.

8:16 pm, November 28, 2007

Anonymous Compassite said...

"While the Labour Government is fighting for it's political life...Compass ponders 'the intellectual and political demise of New Labour"

Yeah, this is all the fault of Compass isn't it? If only they'd shut up and do what they're told like all the honest and upstanding officials in the Labour Party, clearly we wouldn't be in this messs...

9:57 am, November 29, 2007

Blogger Merseymike said...

I think the point is that the New labour government is reaping the seeds it sowed - the adoration of the rich, the entrepreneur, the tone of New labour which has not sat easily with many of us who, unlike you, Luke, can see that there are aspects of NL: which are simply Not Labour.
The failure to control spiralling expenditure on political campaigns is indicative of this. Shouldn't a social democratic party want to spend less on this sort of thing? Wouldn't the electorate agree?

11:44 am, November 29, 2007

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...


Isn't Compass run by the Neal Lawson, the former business partner of Labour's chief fundraiser Johnny Mendelson in lobbying company LLM and presumably still a friend of his? I'm not sure Compass is very qualified to intervene in this current issue.


I never realised it was a tenet of democratic socialism not to spend money on trying to get a democratic socialist government elected.

11:52 am, November 29, 2007

Blogger Ravi Gopaul said...

Mike, Abraham was going to be a candidate for us in 1991, when we were in essence left of New Labour (by my analysis true Labour). I simply cannot accept your analysis that rich people cannot support a democratic socialist party.
There I am sure you never thought someone who is "hard of left", as Comrade Akehurst would call me, would say that!
Rich people can back us, I just want the burden of tax to be on their shoulders and not on low to mid earning workers (like me!!!!)

2:09 pm, November 29, 2007

Blogger Merseymike said...

Ravi ; of course, I agree. But surely we would expect the rich people who support us to be willing to pay higher taxes to promote social democratic values? I think you would agree. But that hasn't always been the message I have heard in recent years.

Luke: I really don't think you get it. There is something very wrong with a system where levels of expenditure have effectively gone through the roof, meaning that parties - all parties - have to go to greater lengths to procure funds.

I do think there needs to be a downsizing. I cannot see any good reason not to support this. Spending some money, yes - but not the amounts to which expenditure has climbed. Look at the outcome!

And I do think that the adoration that Blair and others showed to the rich helped to create the current climate - which Labour is now suffering for. Labour now appears as sleazy and corrupt as the Tories used to. Well done.

4:26 pm, November 29, 2007

Blogger E10 Rifle said...

"I never realised it was a tenet of democratic socialism not to spend money on trying to get a democratic socialist government elected."

It isn't, necessarily, but it might help if that government started behaving in ways that might more easily be described as "democratic", let alone "socialist".

5:21 pm, November 29, 2007

Anonymous Ted Harvey said...

Luke I thought that your intial lack of follow-through on this thread was maybe a sensible and prudent realisation that you had thumped a hornets' nest and best not to add to it in view of the responses.

However you then came out with a really quite pointless and obtuse further contribution.

I have to then agree with merseymike, "You really don't get it", and repeat my own earlier observation, "This is a growing crisis for all of UK politics".

It's very definately not something for responding to with some piffle about this or that personality or about Compass versus the rest. In the context of the gravity of this crisis all that comes across as shallow spin and subterfuge - you can do better. Some deeper and longer term contemplation might be called for.

5:36 pm, November 29, 2007

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

My "lack of follow-through" is actually because I am snowed under at work and trying to gain a seat from the Tories in the council by-election I am Agent for.

6:02 pm, November 29, 2007

Blogger Doctor Dunc said...

It's very worrying. I spent a couple of days defending this (at least to some extent) - suggesting that nobody's intentions were off, and it was being scrutinised and suspected more than it might otherwise have been because of the cash for peerages stuff. But the thing keeps growing and I think we have to signal that we're prepared to be self-critical and make the necessary reforms.

It's a bit rich of Benjamin to say that "there's a whole history of Labour trying to circumvent party funding legislation, rules and transparency" when most of the this legislation was brought in by a Labour government after a much longer history of sleaze and corruption by Tories. I accept that the fact that it's our own legislation makes it all the more tragic and ironic, but people need to have a historical perspective on these things, and 'a whole history' normally implies more than two or three years!

Peter did the right thing resigning, and I have to say I found him considerably more impressive than one or two of his predecessors, so it's unfortunate. But it was necessary.

8:53 pm, November 29, 2007

Anonymous Ted Harvey said...

But doctor dunc the very fact that as you say, "most of the this legislation was brought in by a Labour government after a much longer history of sleaze and corruption by Tories"... surely makes it all the worse that "there's a whole history of Labour trying to circumvent party funding legislation, rules and transparency" !!!

This is a whole movement just digging itself deeper and deeper in the mire. Where is the sense of context, of gravitas or even just plain facing the facts?

9:08 pm, November 29, 2007

Blogger Merseymike said...

To be a bit more positive, Caroline Flint was refreshingly honest on this evenings Question Time.

Lets bite the bullet. A cap on total spending - and one low enough to mean that we will not need to crawl to rich benefactors.

if Labour don't do this, then I think they will appear fatally compromised.

12:22 am, November 30, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think a cap on spending is a good idea - and there should be an annual limit on local expenditure. If only to stop a single multi-millionaire getting the Labour Party into more debt by forcing us to match his spending in South East marginals.

But we need to be careful about what limits we set, and I don't think the limit could be much lower than is currently being spent.

People who argue for radical downsizing often think that most campaign expenditure is being spent on billboards etc, whereas most of our campaign expenditure goes on staff, and probably print is next.

So there are three reasons why I'd argue for limits not that different to the amount currently being spent.

One is that the spending limit needs to be high enough that mass membership parties (like ours) can drastically outspend small parties like UKIP and the BNP.

The second reason is that with a press mainly hostile to Labour we need high spending to ensure we get our message out. We're not just up against the Tories, we're up against lots of the media as well. So we need to spend lots to make sure our message get through.

Thirdly turnout is more important to us than to any other party. Election spending (particularly on staff) raises turnout so if we drastically cut spending limits we would expect a lower turnout and therefore a lower Labour vote.

tim f

1:26 pm, November 30, 2007

Blogger Merseymike said...

f we keep the figure as it is now, then it will mean:
1. continued reliance on the unions, which is likely to be blocked by the Tories if they get in next time
2. continued scrambling around for money from rich individuals with a repeat of what we have already seen or at least a threat of it.
3. continued scepticism from the public, and particularly Labour supporters. To an extent, Tories don't much care about financial exploitation - its what they stand for! But Labour voters aren't impressed.

We have won elections with a hostile press before. In any case, much of the press tends to back the team it thinks will win. If the Sun switches sides it will be because they think Cameron will win. I think that there needs to be similar rules applying to the press as the broadcast media in any case.

4:07 pm, November 30, 2007

Blogger Doctor Dunc said...

Ted - I certainy am not taking this lightly (as I hope this Labour Home article demonstrates) - I share your serious concerns, just think we should be quick to defend our Party from party-political point-scoring, while turning a very serious scrutinising eye on ourselves at the same time.

4:31 pm, November 30, 2007

Blogger Benjamin said...

Isn't Compass run by the Neal Lawson, the former business partner of Labour's chief fundraiser Johnny Mendelson in lobbying company LLM and presumably still a friend of his? I'm not sure Compass is very qualified to intervene in this current issue.

A smear by association in the style of Joseph McCarthy. So Neal Lawson knows Mendelson, was in business relationship, so that means Compass is somehow undermined in its criticism? That's such a sad way of conducting debate, Luke. Smear and counter smear.

12:12 am, December 01, 2007

Blogger Doctor Dunc said...

Actually, I do feel Neal Lawson has undermined Compass from day one and I repeat my suggestion that the group should kick him out. How can anyone believe him to be a born-again leftie and democrat and read the quotations attributed to him (in full support of Mr. Mendelsohn) from the Cash for Access crisis of 98?

Now Brown's leader, Compass are an a irrelevance while Lawson remains at the helm (sorry, Chris and others, I put my hard hat on fast...)

4:59 pm, December 02, 2007

Blogger Doctor Dunc said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:00 pm, December 02, 2007

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