The Met Needs Something to Show for Its Efforts: Now That Michael Howard Has Received the Knock on the Door over Cash for Honours, What Matters Is Whether the Prime Minister Will Be Questioned under Caution by the Police

Article excerpt

The power of patronage has always dazzled politicians who wield it and those who stand to gain from it. Now they are blinking on the other side of their faces, were such a thing physiologically possible.

On Iraq, Tony Blair is bemused that military moaners fail to understand the direction from which their next defence review will come. If we "cut and run" now, he believes, none of his successors will be able to persuade parliament to commit UK forces to fighting operations. Faint-hearted generals should realise that a European-style fate awaits them--the command of a dwindling, poorly resourced force fit only for peacekeeping and back-up, certainly not standing shoulder to shoulder with US troops. Downing Street hopes the silence of the chief of the defence staff shows that at least Sir Jock Stirrup understands the implications.

The consequences of the war have produced political traumas for years to come. A more immediate cause of political heart-fluttering is the ongoing police investigation into loans for honours. The acting deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, John Yates, has been pursuing his inquiries since March. So far, more than 50 witnesses have been questioned, roughly a third of them under caution and three under arrest (all linked to Labour: Lord Levy, Des Smith and Sir Christopher Evans).

This past week's knock on the door of the Rt Hon Michael Howard, QC MP, demonstrates that Yates intends to take his probe all the way to the top. Yates learned the hard way: he must have wished he had interviewed the Queen when she collapsed his prosecution of the royal butler Paul Burrell.

The word is that the Prime Minister himself will be questioned before the end of the year. The only matter to be determined is the terms of such an interview. Howard was afforded the full courtesy of the non-suspect. He was neither cautioned nor arrested, and gave evidence as a witness. "His" peer, Robert Edmiston of Midlands Industrial Council fame, is even now expected to get ennoblement in the next honours list.

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By contrast, the Scotland Yard bush telegraph has been thumping out for months that the PM will be interviewed under caution against self-incrimination--a sign that he could have a charge to answer. Ruth Turner, Blair's director of government relations, was cautioned when she was questioned. Although such a move does not assume guilt, No 10 is extremely anxious that Blair should escape a caution. …