New book says Blair lied over Bernie donation

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Chancellor Gordon Brown are said to have lied about the £1 million donation made by Formula 1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone to the Labour party, according to a new book by the Observer newspaper's chief political commentator

New book says Blair lied over Bernie donation

The book, Servants of the People by Andrew Rawnsley, is being serialised in the Daily Mail this week. Today's (Tuesday) extract reveals how Blair and Brown both allegedly attempted to cover up Ecclestone's donation when plans were revealed to exempt Formula 1 from EU bans on tobacco sponsorship.

As questions began to be asked about Ecclestone's relationship with the Labour Party in November 1997, the Chancellor said of the donation and its size: "I've not been told and I certainly don't know what the truth is," on the Today programme on BBC radio. According to Rawnsley, however, Brown later said to aides: "I lied, I lied. My credibility will be in shreds. I lied. If this gets out, I'll be destroyed."

A strategy is said to have been devised in order to limit the damage from the scandal and a letter was sent seeking the advice of Lord Neill, the commissioner for standards in public life. According to Rawnsley the letter failed to mention the size of the donation.

It was Ecclestone who finally revealed the size of the £1 million donation, creating a period of turmoil for the then only six-month old government. The extract describes the Prime Minister's nerve as 'shredded' and Rawnsley says Blair said to a friend: "This is the end, they'll get me for this."

An attempt to end the crisis culminated in a television interview with Blair. According to Rawnsley, the Prime Minister misled the public and the letter to Lord Neill was written only after the press began to take an interest.

The timing of this latest scandal could not be worse for Labour, with confidence in the party waning after the recent petrol crisis. An opinion poll in today's Guardian reveals that Labour has fallen behind the Conservatives in the opinion polls for the first time in eight years.

The resurfacing of interest in Ecclestone's donation comes in the wake of developments surrounding the ban of tobacco sponsorship, following new moves by the World Health Organisation.

Although Labour's U-turn on tobacco sponsorship in 1997 gave motorsport an initial reprieve in the UK until 2006, the European Union's ban which is due to come into force in 2006 is expected to be repealed anyway. What is more, latest moves from the World Health Organisation are expected to create a legally-binding world-wide ban on tobacco advertising and will supersede both national government policy and the EU ban.

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