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27 March 2006

My baby has turned into a monster

Jon Norton, who married Mo Mowlam, is ashamed to admit he helped set Labour on the road to today's f

By Jon Norton

Back in the Eighties, I worked with the Labour Party to raise money from sources other than trade unions and members’ subscriptions. This was the beginning of a process that has culminated in the loans-for-peerages scandal.

At the time, I wanted to help the party, but now I am ashamed that I had anything to do with setting this corrupt practice in train. The baby we created then has turned into a monster.

Techniques changed, and we needed to change. Commercial advertising became part of the game and a growing professionalism emerged. The campaign Neil Kinnock ran in 1987 was supremely slick, more so than our opponents’, even though we lost the election itself. It became clear that we were going to need more money to fight future battles, so I became involved with Ken Follett, the multimillionaire novelist, in setting up the Thousand Club. By today’s standards, this was tame – the idea was to find 1,000 people who would each give the party £1,000 a year. We knew some of our supporters could afford that, and much more besides, and we needed a structure through which we could encourage them to help. Several people at the top were concerned. The idea of a Labour Party cavorting with “rich” middle-class supporters was deemed risqué. Certain rules were stipulated. Fundraising should not be seen to give individuals undue influence. Although more money had to be found, integrity had to be preserved. John Smith, in particular, felt uncomfortable with it, but was persuaded to continue when he came to power.

As we grew in confidence, as the money came in and we survived our first big fundraising dinner in the West End, with seats sold for £500 each and a good press, people began to think that these events were not only money-spinners but were good public relations. Yes, we supported our core vote, but the message was that we could work with other parts of the economy including the affluent, and importantly the City.

As well as fundraising for the party and working in the City, I became involved with, and eventually married, Mo Mowlam. Mo was one of two MPs (the other was Peter Kilfoyle) who signed Tony Blair’s nomination papers for the leadership of the party. She went on to co-lead his election campaign.

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After her time in Northern Ireland and the historic Good Friday Agreement, she was brought back to London to serve as the minister for the Cabinet Office, only to resign at the 2001 election, disillusioned with where the government was going. In August last year she died, even more despondent about Labour’s direction. The war in Iraq was a large part of this, but not the only cause. I believe the revelations about party funding in recent weeks would have caused her outrage.

From the careful fundraising techniques that we instituted in the late Eighties, the Blair government has adopted an approach that no one would have believed possible. Lord Levy took our fundraising efforts and expanded them to a point where Blair was more dependent on billionaires than he was on our traditional funding sources. Labour has simply been hijacked.

I am sure that Blair sees nothing wrong in this. He believes in power, and if more money was needed to win the last election than was readily available, he would have had no problem in finding a loophole in the rules established by his own government. The idea of integrity and the dangers of undue influence have been sacrificed. But we did win three elections. I wonder what the voters now think about that.

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