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Tuesday, April 29, 2008 

Political biographies and Lord Levy.

In a world in which ever more thoughts are expelled, and the written to the read ratio drops accordingly, it's curious how the book publishers continue to inflict ever greater crimes against literature on the public at large, even when it seems apparent that it will be simply impossible to recur the original outlay in sealing the deal and providing the advance when the contents are likely to be of interest to only the dullest, most anal and self-hating of individuals.

My point could be about the cross-spectrum of banality provided by sports stars, the cacophony of crying from the misery memoir writers, the vacuousness of self-absorbed celebrities who describe themselves as journalists for writing a column about being a professional clothes horse and beach-dweller, but at least the aforementioned three are guaranteed to sell more than a couple of copies. The same can't be said for the political memoir, no longer confined to those who reach the very top and stay there, and just might have something to contribute towards history, but to the increasing number of acolytes that also make the grade. In recent weeks we've been treated to John Prescott admitting that he was putting his hand down more than the one orifice we've already been alerted to and Jonathan Powell, one of Blair's chief adviser's reminiscing over the Northern Ireland peace talks, a worthy subject for sure but not one which really told us anything new.

The collective nadir appeared to have been reached with the self-indulgent diaries of David Blunkett, who had nothing whatsoever to say but decided instead to wallow in his own misery. There's nothing especially wrong with doing that, but his justifications and blaming of all his woes on everyone other than himself, especially when he played the media for all it was worth and continues to do so rightly rankled, and the book was the biggest and most deserving of flops.

With the memory of that in mind, it's hard to fathom exactly what Simon and Schuster were thinking in giving Michael Levy, aka Lord Levy, the chance to write his autobiography and, more pertinently, his own account of the "cash for peerages" scandal. Never the most sympathetic of figures, especially when he and others resorted to claims of anti-Semitism because of the level of criticism and speculation directed towards him, he has the added problem of despite being Labour's chief fundraiser under Blair of by no means being one of the former prime minister's chief confidants. Even the title sticks in the throat, almost mockingly titled "A Question of Honour".

The excerpts from the Mail on Sunday's serialisation may not represent the overall tone, but it seems as if in lieu of actual juicy material, Levy has decided to take his revenge not just on those he felt were out to get him because of his connection with Blair, but also the Blairs himself and his apparent cooling towards them, whether because he felt Downing Street didn't provide enough support in his hour of need or not. Levy relates anecdotes about Blair receiving long massages from Carole Caplin, of Cherie's conflict with Anji Hunter, and his eventual disappointment with Blair "just being in it for himself", as though Levy himself also wasn't. It also wasn't his idea to seek loans and he didn't want to do so, but was pushed into doing so by Blair, Matt Carter and Alan Milburn. Doubtless the offering of a "K or a P" was also not his idea, but someone else's also.

The main vindictive streak though is certainly left for Gordon Brown and others sensed to have slighted him, with him quoting Blair calling Brown a liar and viewing him as duplicitous, both qualities which we know for certain neither Blair nor Levy have. He also suggests that Brown did know about the loans, something that we know almost for certain that he did not. Similarly questionable is his claim that Jack Dromey, Labour's treasurer went public with his concerns over the loans after they were first revealed in a bid to damage Blair and shore up Brown, which if true would have been inflicting a wound on the party as a whole, not just Blair, something that Brown, would had so many opportunities to wield the knife but never did so was loth to do. The biggest wound though is undoubtedly Blair's other suggested conversation with Levy which suggested that he didn't believe that Brown could win against Cameron, something denied by Blair's camp. For those allegations to come at the same time as Brown is in such difficulties, even if they are mostly of his own making and just a few days before the local elections makes it all the damaging and all the less forgiveable for someone already fabulously wealthy to be once again cashing in as he did so often in the past for others.

The Guardian's leader on Levy's comments finishes by saying that Levy isn't the problem but that the funding system is. That lets both Levy and Blair completely off the hook. Levy didn't have to go along with Blair's urgings to get loans, even if that was the case. It omits any responsibility on either of their behalf for the curious coincidence of four of those who had made loans subsequently being nominated to receive a peerage. The Crown Prosecution Service may have decided that there wasn't enough evidence for anyone to be charged under the ancient act brought in after Lloyd George's selling of honours, but that hardly clears him or Blair of impropriety in full. Levy's behaviour undeniably brought the whole system into disrepute, creating a stench of corruption that will only be dispersed when all parties agree to a system, a deal currently being blocked by the Conservatives wanting to destroy Labour's link with the unions, a move that would force it to rely on the very individuals who got it in such a mess in the first place. His profiting from his role is the scandal is typical of both a man and a party which has become just as shameless in pursuit of power and wealth as all those before them.

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