Friday, March 03, 2006

An inquiry that's needed...

THE TORIES are not the best placed to talk about sleaze, given the record of the past Thatcher and Major governments, but that doesn’t mean their call for a public inquiry into the Jowell affair should be ignored.
Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell’s husband David Mills, an international lawyer who works for Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, is accused of taking a £344,000 bribe from Berlusconi in return for providing false witness in court for his client. This, Mills denies.
While her husband’s business has nothing to do with her, the Sunday Times claims that Jowell signed a document to facilitate the transfer of this money to Britain.
According to the paper there is a link between a loan application she signed on the couple’s house and the money that Italian prosecutors allege was a bribe. This loan was then reportedly paid off some weeks later allegedly using money Mills received from Italy. Jowell categorically denies it was paid off with Berlusconi’s money. “I agreed that we would take out a loan on our house. That is not unusual, it’s not improper, and it’s certainly not illegal,” she told the media on Sunday. That being the case there should be no problem in meeting the Tory demand for an independent inquiry to see if the Labour politician has breached the ministerial code of conduct.

...and a panel that’s not

THE DISGRACEFUL suspension of Ken Livingstone as Mayor of London by the obscure and unelected Adjudication Panel of England has been frozen for the time being. But the verdict of this body, on behalf of the Standards Board for England, was unjust, inconsistent and plainly disproportionate to Livingstone’s alleged offence.
Last year a Tory Brent councillor was brought before the board for saying “Jews run everything in Britain and practically run America”. But while the board accepted that he had “expressed a controversial opinion that offended a member of the public”, no action was taken because this London Tory councillor had not committed “a criminal offence” nor had his remarks put “individuals or groups at risk”.
It’s a different tune when it comes to the Labour Mayor of London.
Livingstone claims that the London Evening Standard has pursued a 25-year vendetta against him. That’s not surprising as the paper is a consistent supporter of the Tory party. But celebrities and politicians must expect the attention of the paparazzi whether they like it or not. The Standard reporter who door-stepped a party at midnight to catch Livingstone off-guard was doing his job. Equally Livingstone was entitled to tell him where to get off.
Comparing the reporter, who is Jewish, to a German war criminal and a “kapo”, a term the Nazis used for Jewish collaborators in the concentration camps, was as offensive as it was intended to be. But it clearly wasn’t racist or anti-semitic – a fact the Board of Deputies of British Jews, who made the complaint, recognise.
Nevertheless the three-strong panel asked to consider their complaint, deemed that Livingstone’s conduct was “unnecessarily insensitive and offensive” and had brought his office into disrepute, ruling that the Mayor should be suspended from office for a month.
Livingstone has quite rightly vowed to appeal and take this case through the courts if the decision is not rescinded. Though the panel has the powers to punish those it decides have breached the standards code, the Mayor points out that the code itself is going to be amended by the Government to restrict it “only to matters which would be regarded as unlawful”.
Ken Livingstone has been a forthright opponent of racism and fascism throughout his political life. No one seriously believes this incident was no more than a storm in a tea-cup inflated by those who seek to discredit the Mayor and the London Labour Party.
The suspension, which cuts across the democratic rights of Londoners who voted Livingstone in, must be dropped.