Sleaze 5


This gentleman is Bennie Abrahams, father of David Abrahams aka David Martin, Labour’s “property developer” peculiar donor, whose ability to get planning permission for major developments in areas next to the A1 where development is banned, is of course in no way related to his secret donations to New Labour.

Bennie Abrahams was a Labour Councillor in Newcastle for decades including throughout the 1960s, when he was one of T Dan Smith’s men in what was perhaps the most famously corrupt local government in British history, with the Poulson scandal only a chip off the tip of a very large iceberg. David inherited most of his massive property portfolio from the beautiful Bennie whose relationship with T Dan Smith was unlikely to have been unhelpful to the development of those property interests.

It is particularly interesting to me as I met T Dan Smith, as a small child, in our house in Peterlee. I am not sure if I also met Poulson. My father had a gaming business, Cam Automatics of Seaham Harbour, operating in Newcastle and throughout the North East, and he had to “keep happy” the Labour Party bigwigs who controlled all the various licensing bodies, including Newcastle City Council. He told me that Get Carter was an absolutely accurate portrayal of the atmosphere of those times, of the complex interlinking between all types of organised crime and local government, and of the levels of violence often involved.

It may have a smoother face now, but I learnt in standing for election in Blackburn that the corruption, both financial and procedural, arising from long term Labour domination of councils is as hard-nosed and vicious as ever. Scotland has countered this by introducing proportional representation for local elections, effectively eliminating one party mini-states. England is of course a comparatively benighted country.

As our political parties have become ever more monolithic, with huge staffs and huge advertising budgets, they have also all become less popular, with party memberships and voting turnout both tumbling. These two developments are linked. The major political parties are no longer groups of people working for a common belief, but large corporations attempting to get their hands on the levers of power for the enormous personal benefit this brings to those who control them. The local campaign and efforts of local people in a constituency, on the whole, is now drowned out by the massive national advertising and coverage of huge, expensively glitzy rallies.

The answer is to cap donations, from companies, individuals and trade unions, at £10,000 a year, and for parties simply to shed their armies of spinners and researchers, and dispense with control of every billboard in the country at election time. A candidate in a constituency election has “strict liability* for offences like bribery and treating. He has no defence of ignorance if someone from his campaign does it. Similarly any donation offences should be of strict liability, with Party Leader, Chairman and Treasurer all liable to three years imprisonment for any offence.

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5 thoughts on “Sleaze

  • Suhayl Saadi

    I agree entirely. Of course, both the big parties are – and have been for a long time – replete with corruption. I make this observation, that almost from the moment Gordon Brown came to power, there has been one internal crisis after another, beginning, of course, with the mysterious, apparently amateurish Glasgow Airport four-wheel-drive conflagration, moving through the crumbling of Northern Rock, the strange 'loss' of those two disks from HMCR, the weird, patently illogical and unpopular insistence on 56-day detention and now this – as though corruption in politics were something new that no-one knew about before. Craig illustrates the point well when he depicts local govt in the 1960s in the North-East. I'm not being an apologist for this govt (too much blood shed, apart form anything else), but one wonders whether someone, somewhere, has decided that they want Brown out and Cameron in and has therefore set in train a set of destabilising tactics across a broad spectrum to firstly shift the govt's focus to security, a traditionally weak and divisive area for Labour and where they end up tying themselves and everyone else up in knots, and then hit Brown where he is perceived (within the terms defined by the nodes of information power) as having been strong – on the economy and on money matters in general. "A double whammy," to re-quote the irritating phrase made famous by Chris Patten during the election campaign of 1992. I'm not shedding tears over it, I'm merely suggesting the possibility. But then, in a sense, over the years the govt has made its own bed… they reap only a small part of what they have sown.

  • HeavyLight

    "The answer is to cap donations, from companies, individuals and trade unions, at £10,000 a year"

    I'm curious how you came up with that figure.

    It's my opinion that companies and unions (and all the other 'unincorporated' organisations) shouldn't be allowed to fund political parties at all.

    And to stop wealthy individuals exerting more influence than those on benefits, the limit should be set very low.

    Once that's in place, I'd like to see MPs paid the average wage for their constituency (plus all legitimate expenses in doing the job of representing the electors).

    Guess I must be an extremist, eh?


    @Suhayl: Chris Patten's "double whammy" (the poll tax) became a triple when it lost him his Bath seat!

  • ruth

    I think Suhayl Saadi has a point. I've often wondered if the government are just puppets who enact decisions of a another body. From another perspective NuLabour have been in power for a long time and power corrupts or maybe they are steeped in such deep corruption in other matters that illegal practices in 'superficial' activities such as party funding are the norm.

  • gerardmulholland

    The giant objection to the private funding of political parties and of individual politicians and of particular political campaigns is, of course, corruption – put simply, the rich can and do bribe parties and individual politicians to do their bidding and can swamp the public with expensive and sophisticated campaigning techniques that are better defined as mass brainwashing . State funding of parties, of individual politicians and of Referendum or other political campaigns has only one justification – to limit that corruption. But there is one giant objection to the State funding of parties, of politicians or of campaigns – why should taxpayers be forced to pay through the nose for parties that they deplore? I would have thought that the answer would lie in banning all private, corporate or collective political contributions (with severe penalties for abuse) and substitute a Personal Political Levy on the Income Tax form. Each adult who wishes to give £5 of their tax to a particular political Party, to a politician or to a political cause says so. The gift comes out of your normally assessed income tax. If you don't earn enough to pay tax, it is paid on your behalf as a Benefit for those below the tax threshold.

    If UKs 40+ million taxpayers finance their choices this way, that's £200,000,000 to finance political life in UK, divided between the parties etc. as the individual citizens themselves decide. Wouldn't that be a democratic way of dealing with the problem?

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