Three unanswered questions for Jon Mendelsohn
- 28 Nov 07, 12:55 PM
David Abrahams’ dramatic call to Jeremy Paxman, in the middle of Newsnight ( watch it here), leaves Labour’s Larry Whitty with some very specific questions to address in his forthcoming inquiry. I was told categorically last night, by a Labour spokesperson, that Jon Mendelsohn had never solicited money from Mr Abrahams since he had become Gordon Brown’s chief fundraiser. Yet within minutes of Newsnight running that Labour response, and Geoff Hoon repeating it, Mr Abrahams was on the phone quoting a letter – he says handwritten, Mendelsohn says typed – from Mr Mendelsohn, which he says was an implicit request for cash.
I came across Mr Mendelsohn’s link to Abrahams while researching the circumstances of the latter’s departure from Labour Friends of Israel. Senior sources in the Labour Party have told me that Mr Abrahams was thrown out of LFI five years ago by Mr Mendelsohn; Mr Abrahams himself confirmed to me last night that he had “fallen out with Jonny Mendelsohn” and told me he was annoyed that Mendelsohn had recently approached him at a dinner, sitting next to him. He suggested the fall-out had been over a cheque he refused to sign; others have suggested LFI were not happy with Mr Abahams' “behaviour”. I was left with the impression by friends of Mr Mendelsohn that there is no love lost between the two men.
Their relationship is relevant for this reason: Mr Mendelsohn comes in, on 3 September 2007, to sweep the Augean stables clean where it comes to Labour’s fundraising efforts. He would certainly have known of Mr Abrahams – a man who he had differed with strongly during the last four years. He would have known of Mr Abrahams' reputation for “Walter Mitty-like” behaviour, as it is being called in the press, including the use of an alias in local government planning documents. So if he comes in, and looks at the major donors, he either knows that Abrahams is the third biggest, via the proxies of Ray Ruddick and Janet Kidd, and the alarm bells start ringing – or he doesn’t.
Today, in a statement, he outlines his version of events:
Peter Watt told him – he does not specify when – of the arrangement by Mr Abrahams to use proxies and assured him it was legal. He nevertheless did not tell Gordon Brown, or members of the NEC about this:
“I did not discuss this with the officers of the National Executive Committee or party leadership but I decided to tell Mr Abrahams that his method of contribution was unacceptable.”
This leads to the letter Mendelsohn says he wrote on Thursday, which arrives yesterday, Tuesday 27 November, requesting a meeting. In the interim, it appears Mr Abrahams asked him if he was to be asked for money, which Mr Mendelsohn blanks by reiterating a bland form of words.
So whatever inference Mr Abrahams took – as he told Newsnight last night he thought he was being asked for money – it was not Mr Mendelsohn’s intention to do so.
However questions remain to be answered about timing. Mr Mendelsohn, for somebody steeped in the communications business, is proving remarkably uncommunicative. He has not answered messages left for him seems intent on speaking through the medium of junior press officers at Labour HQ. So here are some questions we would like to throw at Mr Mendelsohn should anyone bump into him within the Westminster bubble:
1) Why did you ask Mr Abrahams to leave Labour Friends of Israel? There is a public interest in this matter since he was deemed by Labour’s general secretary a suitable donor, and by party officials suitable to be on the front row of Tony Blair’s leaving speech. Was Mr Abrahams’ behaviour in the LFI unsuitable?
2) On what date exactly did Peter Watt tell you about the arrangement? The public interest here is that during September-October Gordon Brown was planning an election. It was your specific job to raise money for that election. If you had found out between taking office and the week of the Conservative Party Conference, in which Gordon Brown was on the point of calling the election, you would have had to choose whether to approach Mr Abrahams or the “phoney” donors for an election donation.
3) Why did you not raise your concerns with the NEC or the party leadership? An examination of the law would have told you that this method of donation was illegal. What were the reasons for deciding not to inform at the very least the party Treasurer?
I am putting these questions to Labour’s press office. In the meantime, keep sending us our info and views on this unfolding story.
By the way, if the name Jon Mendelsohn is sounding familiar to viewers who have momentarily forgotten his role in the Labour cash-for-access scandal exposed by Newsnight irregular Greg Palast in 1998, you can update yourself here.