Sunday, October 29, 2006


It won't be a merry Christmas at Cowley Street this year as Scrooge looks likely to take up residence. As foretold here some weeks ago, the Electoral Commission are about to decide whether the Liberal Democrats should repay the £2.4 million donation from the convicted perjurer Michael Brown. I don't see how they can avoid it - I suspect the public hint from the Electoral Commission is to prod the party into returning the money of its own volition to save an embarrassing and expensive trip to court.

But where to find the cash? Naturally, the clutch of millionaires currently warming their backsides on parliamentary benches beneath the gangway (Featherstone, Hemming and Huhne - amongst others) may find themselves being approached for a small donation. The Rowntree Foundation have helped out with the little matter of £2 million, although their small print says that it can't be used to repay the loan (although I suppose it could be used to replace other sources of funding that had to be diverted into repayments). The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd is an interesting beast - it regularly gives six-figure donations to the Liberal Democrats. It does make other smaller donations to anti-fascist and Labour groups, but the LDs get a huge chunk of funding - not surprising given that the board is stuffed full of Liberal Democrats. I guess they don't want that cap on individual donations quite yet, then?

Despite the dark clouds on the horizon, the party's press people still pump out the increasingly desperate view that
Our independent auditors, having seen legal advice, have been satisfied that we do not need to make any provision for repayment of these funds.
And poor old Jock Coats wheels himself out as the sole defender of the LibDem faith on Iain Dales's blog, claiming that the reopening of the case is against natural justice.

The problem isn't whether the party did adequate checks into the background of the donor - they may well have been the victims of a con themselves and rather more victims of their own desperate need for a cash injection in the final days before a General Election, but whether the donor was legally able to give that money. The party is itself safe from prosecution (unless there's some really good evidence hiding out there), but the donation itself did not come from a legal source.

It will have to be repaid, or the law will be a laughing stock.

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