Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Property Tycoons That Ken Cosies Up to; Ken's Cronies: Left, Gerald Ronson and His Wife Gail. Ronson Got Planning Permission from the Mayor for the Heron Tower Skyscraper. Above: Irvine Sellar. the Mayor, below, Championed His "Shard of Glass" against Opposition from English Heritage

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Property Tycoons That Ken Cosies Up to; Ken's Cronies: Left, Gerald Ronson and His Wife Gail. Ronson Got Planning Permission from the Mayor for the Heron Tower Skyscraper. Above: Irvine Sellar. the Mayor, below, Championed His "Shard of Glass" against Opposition from English Heritage

Article excerpt

Byline: KEITH DOVKANTS

KEN LIVINGSTONE'S little wheeze for keeping his election campaigndonations secret may be about to unravel. The Election Commission is close to adecision on the Mayor's practice of channelling money through the London LabourParty in a way that makes it virtually impossible to see who is supporting himfinancially.

While the commission initially approved using the party as a conduit for funds,it is now believed to have serious doubts about the scheme. It launched areview after a complaint that followed the disclosure that Ken had taken asecret donation from one of his favourite property developers, Gerald Ronson..

When it was revealed that Ronson was one of Ken's donors, some at City Hallthought they had an answer to one of the most perplexing riddles of Ken'smayoralty, his love-in with property tycoons. The fat cats of London realestate should have been anathema to Ken, a lifelong Left-winger who, to thisday, surrounds himself with a coterie of heavy-duty Trotskyists.

Yet he has befriended arch-capitalists of the property game, feted them andas we shall seechampioned their controversial schemes using public money and the bullyingpowers of his City Hall machine. Ken says he's doing it for London. But afterthe leak about that Gerald Ronson donation many will feel entitled to askwhether Ken's benign planning policy has attracted reciprocal largesse. No oneis suggesting Ken has been lining his pockets. He has never seemed to care forpersonal enrichment.

But he has a passion for power.

Ronson's gift was made to Ken's re-election campaign in 2004. It was a personalcheque made out for [pounds sterling]4,990, a sum one might be forgiven for thinking wascarefully aimed at slipping below the [pounds sterling]5,000 threshold at which donations haveto be declared. A similar amount was given to Ken's 2004 campaign by the Sellarproperty group, it was reported at the weekend.

The firm is run by Irvine Sellar, another of Ken's favourite developers.

Ken campaigned hard for Sellar's controversial Shard of Glass, a 66-storeybuilding designed to be the tallest in the City, although it is yet to bebuilt. Conservationists deplored plans for the 1,000ft high tower, near LondonBridge, and English Heritage described it as a "spike through the heart ofhistoric London". The Government ordered a public inquiry, but planningpermission was ultimately granted.

When these tycoons made donations to Ken's campaign, why did they make outcheques for sums just below the limit at which they would have to be declared?Indeed, there is a whiff of brimstone about Ken's entire fund-raisingoperation.

The "Back Ken" website asks for cheques to be made out to "Ken Livingstonecampaign fund". But the London Labour Party told the Standard it handles allthe cash and declares it as donations, not to Ken but to the party. Thiseffectively stops any attempt to see who is giving money to Ken's campaign.

Ken has unique powers when it comes to planning permission for big projects andit is hardly surprising he has been assiduously courted by key figures in theproperty world. For this reason, many believe transparency over his financialsupporters is crucial.

Trying to slip donations under the wire means, inevitably, some will lookaskance at the efforts Ken made on behalf of people who stand to make a greatdeal of money out of schemes he has backed. Why, for example, did Ken usecouncil-tax payers' money to help the fabulously wealthy Ronson obtain planningpermission for a skyscraper which, more than five years later, is yet to riseabove ground level? The Heron Tower was planned to rival the City's tallestbuildings. It was to break new ground in office design with a concierge-styleentrance, a huge aquarium and Michelin-grade restaurant.

Gerald Ronson declared it Britain's first "six-star" office development.Conservationists declared it a disaster. …

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