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Wednesday, November 28, 2007 

Mendelsohn becomes Mandelson.

If Gordon Brown has ever looked as impotent as he did at today's prime ministers questions, it was a long time ago. Faced with the barracking from David Cameron and the Tory benches, he employed the Tony Blair defense: say as little as possible in response to what the opposition leader is actually questioning you about, then go on the attack about all their shortcomings from the dawn of time. It made for exasperating viewing, but it got Blair through similar showdowns relatively unscathed. For Brown it simply didn't work: the Tories scented blood, and while one side of the Commons fell about laughing at Vince Cable's relatively weak joke about the prime minister going from Stalin to Mr Bean in record time, the Labour benches were united in gloom.

We then again face the prospect of a police inquiry, and also presumably the possibility of the prime minister's chief fundraiser feeling the long arm of the law in a similar redux. Newsnight couldn't have believed its luck at David Abrahams phoning the BBC minutes after Geoff "Buff" Hoon had denied that Jon Mendelsohn had any knowledge about his donations; Abrahams contradicting his claims and reading out a letter from the very same Jon Mendelsohn he had received earlier in the day that, if anything, suggested he wished to meet Abrahams with a view to further donations was dynamite. Mendelsohn's attempt at an explanation today only raises as many questions as it answers: if Watt had told Mendelsohn about the donations, why didn't he raise the alarm about their illegality instead of meekly accepting Watt's "belief" that they were above board when he apparently wasn't happy about the situation? When was Mendelsohn told? (Newsnight just said it was late September.) Why does the letter, if it was written with an eye to meeting Abrahams and explaining that the system he had set-up was inappropriate, not to say illegal, was it not completely open about that being the reason for the tete-a-tete? Why is there a discrepancy between Abrahams claiming the letter is handwritten and dated 24th of November when Mendelsohn said it was typed and dated the 22nd?

Jack Dromey's position as the Labour party treasurer is looking similarly questionable. Some Blairites, embittered that Dromey made clear he had been bypassed over the loans for peerages scandal and put Blair in the soup, asked whether he ought to have been more questioning in his dealings rather than performing a reprise of Manuel. That now looks more reasonable as once again Dromey is left stating that the donations were "completely concealed". His role seems to extend to looking at the accounts as placed in front of him, signing them off, and err, that's it. Being married to Harriet Harman, performing a similar act after accepting a hidden donation from Abrahams while Brown and Benn had the sense to inquire into the background behind it only strengthens the sentiment that it's time he went.

Unity to an extent tries to put the case for Labour over at Liberal Conspiracy, pointing out that the Tories had recent similar problems with the Midlands Industrial Council being used as a front for donations, and it's also true that the Lib Dems' biggest donor to date is currently in prison for perjury, while even UKIP had to recently forfeit a donation when it turned out the donor had inadvertently been removed from the electoral register, but the there's a "pox on all their houses" argument doesn't really cut it any longer, especially when it's Labour that brought in the current rules which have been so flagrantly breached. As the Guardian leader puts it, "What bit of doing things by the rules does the Labour party not understand?" If there is to be a police investigation, quite apart from the increasing political damage, then Labour has no one but itself to blame.

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