PM Must Clear out the Donors to Win Back Trust ; to Recover from This Scandal Gordon Brown Must Limit Donations and Increase Public Funding for Political Parties, Says Parliament's Former Sleaze Watchdog

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THE next few weeks should tell us exactly what mettle Gordon Brown is really made of. Has he the capacity to ride above this latest scandal besetting his government and to show the necessary leadership under pressure to produce long-term gain for the country and his party? We should be under no illusion about the scale of the mess he is in. For the past two weeks we have seen the Labour Party demonstrate a monumental incompetence and ignorance of the law which beggars belief. We have had the public wringing of hands of such senior figures from Jack Straw and Harriet Harman to Gordon himself, against a backcloth of Byzantine revelations about the donations to the Labour Party from an obscure North-easterner, David Abrahams. The whole thing would have been rejected as a likely script for Yes, Minister for being too far-fetched.

Who would have thought that, within months of taking office, Gordon Brown would be inviting the police to crawl over the Labour Party machine looking for functionaries to bring charges against for a possible breach of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000? For failing to disclose the true source of political donations is a criminal offence which can attract a fine or imprisonment.

The "cash for honours" police investigation soured the last two years of Tony Blair's premiership. Gordon now faces the prospect of a week-by-week reporting of the processes leading up to possible court action as he desperately tries to restore his political credibility in preparation for the next general election.

During the last six months of my three-year term as chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, I had four meetings with Gordon Brown to highlight what areas of policy he should concentrate upon to help restore trust in politicians. My main emphasis in those discussions was to seek changes in the behaviour of politicians, as it is not codes of conduct which produce changes in public perception but politicians and public officials acting differently to the way they have done in the past.

I was delighted when Mr Brown, in announcing his campaign to become leader of the Labour Party, placed restoring trust in government as his main objective. He quickly followed up with a white paper on "Governance in

Britain" with a string of measures to try to achieve this.

I was even invited to meet with Sir Gus O'Donnell, the Cabinet Secretary, to comment on his proposed measures.

I suggested two changes and one of these the introduction of a Civil Service Act to define relations between ministers and civil servants was included in the White Paper.

Where is this worthy objective now after the Northern Rock fiasco, millions of lost child benefit records and the unlawful donations to the Labour Party? Yet I believe all is not lost for Gordon if he now acts quickly and decisively.

First of all he has to demonstrate that all the skeletons are out of the closet about who did and who did not know about Abrahams's donations through third parties. …