The plot thickens! As you might have guessed the cash for peerages scandal hasn’t disappeared into the night. If anything it’s standing front-and-centre demanding our immediate and unwavering attention. It came to light this week that Tony Blair was question by the police for a second time. The questioning took place at Downing Street last Friday and as with the first interview Blair was treated as a witness. However what is most interesting about the interview – as if it wasn’t exceptionally interesting in-and-of itself – is why we didn’t find out about the second interview this Thursday. The police wanted a media blackout for "operational reasons". This of course raises the question of what these operational questions may have been. However without wishing to speculate, it is worth noting that Tony Blair’s chief fundraiser, Lord Levy, was arrested (for the second time) on Tuesday of this week – before the news blackout was lifted. If it’s a coincidence that the arrest took place before Lord Levy was aware of the second questioning of Tony Blair then it’s a very big one. Of course it’s possible Lord Levy was made privately aware of the second questioning, but then again…
As if scandal at 10 Downing Street wasn’t enough, it came to light this week – although it’s been building for a while – that scandal looks to be alive and kicking 11 Downing Street as well. This week the Charity Commission began an investigation into the Smith Institute (a think-tank and registered charity which defines its purpose as researching the changing relationship between social values and economic imperatives). The reason for this investigation is an apparent breach of the legal requirement that tax-exempt charities are not to get involved in politics. However as the blogger Guido Fawkes has highlighted the links between the Smith Institute and Gordon Brown are all to readily apparent. The Smith Institute has held over 150 events at number 11 Downing Street and indeed even held on after the Charity Commission announced the launch of their investigation! Why is this such a big deal? Well, it raises the worrying question of cash for access. The Smith Institute are known to charge lofty amounts for admission to their events at number 11. Who wouldn’t make the connection between the price of a ticket and the fact the event is in the same building that houses the Chancellor? The coming weeks are sure to produce some interesting. Already it would seem the Charity Commission’s inquiries will produce the alarming result that the Smith Institute didn’t pay anything for the use of number 11. Very worrying indeed.
Scandal aside, the Home Office has proved once more to be a source of headline news. Police arrested nine Muslim men in relation to an alleged plot to kidnap and behead a British Muslim soldier on home leave from Iraq. However following on from this revelation the besieged Home Secretary John Reid has called for an increase in the amount of time terror suspects can be held for questioning by the police. The amount of time terror suspects can be held for questioning was increased last year from seven days to 28. Mr. Reid would like to see that time increased to 90 days. However as one might expect at the Home Office, all might not be as it first appears. The timing of this call may be seen to be an attempt to detract from all the problems the Home Office has been having recently by appearing tough on crime. It is also interesting that John Reid has proposed this increase when the police themselves have not yet come across a situation that requires more than 28 days (including the plot to blow up transatlantic flights). Finally of course there is the issue of civil liberties. Three months is a very long time to be locked up with trial.
What ever happened to the concept of innocent until proven guilty?