Friday, 18 July 2014

In the Brown and nasty again

Rather sooner than I predicted, fraudster Michael Brown is back in the news again. The Parliamentary Ombudsman has criticised the Electoral Commission for accepting that Charles Kennedy acted in good faith in taking £2.4m (or £2.8m or £3m depending on which newspaper report you read). However, the dispute between the two bodies could well come before parliament to resolve, so we can expect ample bad publicity when the Commons reassemble - coincidentally a week or so before federal conference is to meet in Glasgow. Brown's extradition coincided with the start of postal voting in the 2012 local elections, where both Conservatives and Labour wanted Liberal Democrats to do badly. In the event, both coalition parties were at their lowest ebb at that time anyway (don't I know it) so the Brown effect was not noticeable. I did however comment at the time that Brown would probably be paroled at the start of the 2015 general election.

This is another case of the top brass getting the party into a mess through a failure to consult before taking a major decision. Perhaps if the offer of a big donation had not been made so close to the general election campaign, the leadership would have taken more people into their confidence. Faced with the large contributions made by big business to Blair's government, plus something from the trade unions, they clearly bit Brown's hand off. The deal was done by the time the news leaked out to the wider membership that a commodities trader had bankrolled the Charles Kennedy poster campaign. Note that there was no suspicion that Brown was any more crooked than the average run of City operators at this stage, but even so my recollection was of widespread indignation that the party should have stooped to what we had been criticising others for over many years. If put to a vote, I feel sure the donation would have been rejected.

As to Brown's credibility, I should point out that he took in many high-flying rich people, most notably Martin Edwards, the former owner of Manchester United, consistently in the world's top ten richest football clubs.

The impression that the Liberal Democrat treasurer is sitting on millions courtesy of Brown should also be corrected. All Brown's donation was spent in the 2005 election campaign, most of it on posters of Charles Kennedy. Those calling for the money to be returned should perhaps address JC Decaux and their ilk first.
Or maybe the West Indies and the England & Wales cricket boards should give back the money used to sponsor the Sir Allen Stanford cricket competitions between 2006 and 2008.

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