1990s >> 1998 >> no-1130-october-1998

Paying the Piper

Roy Jenkins was a Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer who was fond of good food and fine wines and elegant houses but who was always ready to denounce us for any tendency towards what he saw as extravagance. So in between his visits to the posher restaurants and country homes he would threaten us about the consequences of wage rises above the miserly level set by him. This all went to build up his reputation as a brilliantly successful Chancellor.

His first attempt to get into parliament was in late 1944, when he was one of the two main contestants for the Labour candidacy in Aston, Birmingham. Jenkins lost-according to the successful contender this was because when they were at Birmingham for the selection Jenkins stayed at the Queens Hotel, which was famous for its extravagant chandeliers while the winner put up at the house of the local party secretary-a back-to-back house with an outside lavatory.

As far as Jenkins goes, the rest is history but we may wonder what became of that secretary. If he is still alive, has he kept his enthusiasm for the Labour Party, in spite of all he must have seen of their failure to change capitalism as they promised and the deceit they practised to justify that failure? If he is dead, what does he think of New Labour? Of the Blair dictatorship within the party? Of the grovelling toadies who have abandoned what they once called their principles in the hope of pleasing their leader? Does he turn in a back-to-back grave somewhere, at the knowledge of Blair’s wealthy cronies, people whose money has bought them an entry into Number Ten, perhaps a seat in the House of Lords, certainly favours for their investments?


An important element in the creation of New Labour was the move away from the unions, to re-assure the voters that never again would there be a Winter of Discontent. But of course this would leave a big hole in the party’s finances; they have been spending money at about £8 million a year and the last election cost them £13.7 million. This was where all those years of doing the Prawn Cocktail Circuit, of cosying up to City bigwigs, of ironing out the doubts of wealthy capitalists that Blair’s Labour would not look after their interests, paid off. That hole in the balance sheet has been substantially filled by cash from a large monied band of what are evasively known as sponsors.

Leading the way in these is Lord Levy, fundraiser supreme, who has induced all manner of industrialists, investors, entrepreneurs, pop stars and the like to cough up for Labour. Levy is himself a millionaire whose money was made in the music trade. Among the people he persuaded to “sponsor” the Labour Party was Lord Sainsbury-ennobled by Blair-who needs no introduction especially to the millions who trail through his supermarkets day-after-day under the impression that this is where Good Food Costs Less, even if it does contribute to the £411 million profit the firm made during the last half-year. The Sainsburys are said to be the richest family in the country, worth about £3,300 million. So they could easily afford their contribution to New Labour, estimated at £3 million over three years. The company have suddenly discovered, after all that time, that such gifts break their “ethical guidelines”-according to a spokesman ” . . . could easily be interpreted as a political donation . . .” as if it were ever possible to interpret them in any other way. So Sainsbury plc no longer give to the Labour Party.

Then there is the matter less well known Lakshanu Mittal, who is big in steel-like his father before him. Mittal is in the habit of buying steel mills all over the world; he is worth about £2,000 million which makes him about the third richest person in England. Another lesser known (for the present at any rate) donator is Robert Earl, who represents a lot that is most grisly about Blair’s Britain as he substantially owns a lot of restaurants including the Planet Hollywood chain. Earl’s wealth is put at $450 million; the £1 million he gave the Labour Party came in handy because it replaced the money the party had to return, shamefaced, to Bernie Ecclestone of tobacco-ads on Formula One cars fame.


Among the converts to Blair’s brand of Tory policies is Alan Sugar, who is now famous less as the founder of an electronics and computer empire than as the chairman of Tottenham Hotspur. Sugar has wide-ranging investments and is estimated to be worth £221 million; he is thought to have given £100,000 to New Labour. He was once a firm supporter of Margaret Thatcher, who is now a firm supporter of Tony Blair so we can see that Sugar has not really changed his view of politics; indeed he didn’t have to.

New Labour recently published a list of people and companies who had given them more than £5,000. There are 134 of them-pop stars, publishers, property tycoons, advertising people, industrialists. It is a fair bet that at the most a very small number of them gave their money because they thought this would help change society for the better. The rest-the people and firms who took a more realistic view, who knew what they were spending their money on-want to promote the Labour Party because they know that at present it is the party which best represents their interests in Britain. This means they know it is the party which best protects their wealth and their standing in society and which will keep up the system where one class lives a life of opulent chandeliers while the majority effectively makes do.


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