When Tony Blair decided to ask a newspaper owner, who also happens to be a pornographer, for cash to bolster Labour Party funds, surely even he could have predicted the reaction of other newspapers. The Express has no bigger enemy than the Mail, so its headline came as no surprise.
What was the story, though? Was it that Labour had accepted money from a man involved in porn, or was it a bribe to get the government to approve Richard Desmond's takeover of the Express? Most papers went with the bribe line because it involved a certain Stephen Byers.
That the Department of Trade and Industry's decision on Desmond had nothing to do with Byers did not stop the media implying otherwise. You can always make the accusation at the top of the story and then bury the facts in paragraph 47, which is what the Sunday papers did. Once Byers told David Frost the facts on television, the only real alternative was to attack the donation on the porno line.
The fact is that as long as Labour continues to accept cash from dodgy businessmen, it will be accused of sleaze. It could revert to relying on the unions for most of its cash, but Blair would rather rob a bank than do that.
Why doesn't the party set up an NEC committee to vet all donations, then? I can't believe anyone outside Blair's office would think it a good idea to accept cash off a pornographer, no matter how desperate they were.
The reason Blair doesn't want to involve anyone outside his inner circle in party funding is precisely because no one else would approve of some of the donations. Expect plenty more stories about Labour sleaze, then.