03 February 2008

Administrative Oversights

Well, well, well. The Standards Commissioner, Jim Dyer, has reported Wendy Alexander to the procurator fiscal over her failure to place her campaign donations in the Register of Interests. Now, she maintains that the Clerks said she didn't have to, as the donations were to the 'Wendy Alexander Campaign'. Dyer disagrees, and the matter is in the hands of the prosecutors now.

She may be right on this one: she may not have broken the letter of the law, and the only clear evidence that she has done so at this stage is the £950 donation from a Jersey businessman. The Fiscal may see things differently though.

However, the whole campaign stinks of evasion: think of all the donations in the higher £900s. Close to the £1,000 limit where they would have to be declared, but not quite there. Money for her and her political activities going to a body with her name, but not, technically, her. Paul Green's donation is indeed the only law broken, but the fact is that the campaign as a whole seems designed to sidestep the rules altogether.

Of course, Jackie Baillie wants Alexander to stay on and try to salvage her reputation, while the Shadow Cabinet is making a point of accosting members of the press to tell them what a wonderful job Wendy Alexander is doing. Let me ask them a simple question: with the Electoral Commission umming and ayeing over what rules she has broken, and her file now on the Fiscal's desk, how can she hold anyone successfully to account, as is her job as Leader of the Opposition?

And Alexander's reaction is political suicide: to compare it to other Leadership campaigns in the SNP, LibDems and Tories. Alex Salmond, Roseanna Cunningham, Mike Russell, Nicola Sturgeon, Fergus Ewing, Christine Grahame, Nicol Stephen and Mike Rumbles all put their hands in their own pockets rather than get the begging bowl out. And mentioning the Tory campaign is idiocy on Alexander's part: like Wendy Alexander, Annabel Goldie was the only candidate in that election and was returned unopposed. Unlike Alexander, Goldie raised no money and spent no money. Why does being the sole candidate in a Labour election require so much money, when you can be the sole candidate in a Tory election for free?

Then there's Andy Kerr, who neglected to mention a £1,000 gift from McDonalds until it was too late. No, it wasn't a free degree, but a trip to the FA Community Shield. However, it should have been registered 30 days after it was received. Kerr was the only one of the group of MSPs who benefitted that failed to do so, missing the deadline by four days. Dyer has passed this on to prosecutors as well.

Now, Kerr has blamed an administrative oversight, which it probably is. However, the last person to use that phrase was Derek Conway, who has been suspended from the Commons, had the Tory Whip withdrawn and is now announcing that he won't seek re-election on account of the fact that he gave his sons Parliamentary money for work which appeared to be limited to poncing about in a fur coat and attending "F*** off, I'm Rich" parties. Conway himself said, "I am not a crook". The last person to say that was Richard Nixon, I think.

Rather difficult times for the Labour Party: Kerr managed to mess up the rules (it does look more like a cock-up than anything more sinister, and he did register it after all, albeit too late), but ended up comparing himself to Conway, who has inadvertantly compared himself to Nixon. And Wendy Alexander seemed to try and evade the rules.

Perhaps I should seek advice from Mr. Higham, the author of that ever-readable blog, Nourishing Obscurity. Don't the Russians have a proverb, comparing the law to a door in the middle of a field? Isn't the idea that you can go through it, but that you can also go around it?

Has Wendy Alexander sought advice from United Russia, Vladimir Putin's political party, perhaps?


Jim said...

Perhaps the most ridiculous aspect of this whole thing is that all of this fancy financial footwork was part of an election campaign that was wholly internal and would not see a single new councillor, MSP or MSP elected.

Bretwalda Edwin-Higham said...

She sounds like a goner.

Ted Harvey said...

There is one similarity between the latest Scottish Labour Party money farce in the rotund shape of Andy Kerr and the ongoing Wendy Alexander. They are both blaming a mixture of 'oversight'... that they later 'put right'.

Hmm. the flimsiness of this posture on Wendy Alexander's part has been well gone over. With Andy Kerr, is it not all just a wee bit stretching credulity too far when it is MacDonalds and the ex Health Minister involved here?

A cynical soul - no, I'll correct that, a concerned citizen - might ponder how Kerr was a Minister and part of a Scottish Executive that often patronisingly lectured us individuals about our poor diet whilst doing lamentably little about the big industrial producers of hugely unhealthy food... and how that might sit badly with him accepting so-called hospitality from an outfit like MacDonalds.

That concerned citizen might then ponder that it would be better and convenient for the Minister to 'forget' and then 'remember' at a more convenient time the enjoyment of the so-called hospitality.

Meantime, there was the frankly risible intervention in London this morning of brother Alexander to add the Clerk (or ‘officials’) of the Scottish Parliament to the list of those to blame for her problems – a piece of semantic manipulation that is falling apart within the hour (the Clerk gave an opinion based on the so-called facts given by Wendy Alexander that turned to be, let’s say, open to other interpretations, moreover it is her and not the Clerk’s responsibility to ensure that donations comply with the law… that of course her own Party brought in).

This ‘blame the Clerk ( or the ‘Officials)’ line has all the appearance of being the latest agreed line, since Wendy Alexander on the Scottish Politics programme seemed unable to do much more than endlessly go on about how she had acted on their advice. Could she make no decisions on the matter herself… and she wants to ‘run’ Scotland? If in power would she just hand decision-making over to ‘officials’

Anonymous said...

Apparently all her bluster about the advice she was given has failed to mention that, at the time she sought the advice, she had already missed the deadline for declaration.