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An appalling bind

Nick Robinson | 11:26 UK time, Friday, 17 November 2006

"You go where the evidence takes you." So says Scotland Yard's Assistant Commissioner John Yates, the head of the 'cash for honours' investigation. His inquiries began wide, taking in politicians from all the main parties, but they'll end within weeks, focussed on one party, and one man - the occupant of No 10.

It's ironic that yesterday's letter to MPs - which denied that the police were leaking stories - has fuelled so many headlines. Friends of 'Yates of the Yard' insist though that he's damned if he does, and damned if he doesn't. Pursuing Tony Blair is dangerous, but not pursuing him, and being accused of a whitewash, could be more dangerous still.

The police seem to have realised that they simply could not justify not interviewing the PM - that that would fuel those who said it wasn't a serious inquiry. Now having said that, I am told that Blair has not been contacted, nor has his solicitor, to set a time or a place for an interview - though that is expected to happen. Nor indeed, contrary to some media reports, has Blair's chief of staff Jonathan Powell been reinterviewed by the police under caution - and nor indeed does he have a date for that.

It seems to me that the political world and the police are in the most appalling bind. The police have to be seen to be asking every question, interviewing every witness, and taking as long as it takes. In the meantime, the politicians simply cannot answer those allegations. So this goes on and on, with nudges and hints and winks, while we in the public will not know if anything is actually wrong for many, many months to come - almost certainly not until Tony Blair has left Downing Street.


  • 1.
  • At 01:24 PM on 17 Nov 2006,
  • Dave Small wrote:

"Whiter than white". Where these not the words of the man who was going to clear plictics of sleaze!

He may well be interviewed, but will the case be brought to court by the Attorney General. I think not!

  • 2.
  • At 01:48 PM on 17 Nov 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

Nick, isn't there a clear case here for the police to make crystal clear how and why they are interviewing people?

If, as has been suggested by Scotland Yard, Labour ministers are being interviewed 'in the same way as you'd interview witnesses to a car crash', you'd expect them to establish first that there had indeed been a 'car crash' before the interviews took place. Anything else is farcical.

If the approach is to establish whether loans were made available for peerages *by* interviewing (looking for inconsistencies in accounts, chasing up details, cross-questioning 'witnesses') that suggests we are far further behind than Yates is implying in his letter.

I can't help but think we'd all be better served with a straight statement of what the police think they are doing.

  • 3.
  • At 02:14 PM on 17 Nov 2006,
  • nigel wheatcroft wrote:

The longer the enquiry takes,the public will have an even greater disrespect for politicians as they try to wriggle out of the investigation.Also the longer it takes may show that the police are either trying to find the truth or waiting for Blair to leave office without seeming to be pushed out by their questions.

  • 4.
  • At 02:18 PM on 17 Nov 2006,
  • Brian Tomkinson, Bolton,UK wrote:

This is not an appalling bind at all it is the due process of law. No-one should be above the law including politicians and the Prime Minister.

  • 5.
  • At 02:52 PM on 17 Nov 2006,
  • Gareth wrote:

There cannot be a single person in the country who believes that honours are not sold by politicians. It is what honours are for. They are there to give the pm an additional carrot to get people to do what he wants them to do. The problem is that they only have value if everybody pretends that they are awarded solely for merit. If everybody publicly acknowledged that they are little more than an ego-stroke to rich social climbers, then the pm would lose his ability to get these people to do his bidding. This game is understood by the awarders, awardees, media and the vast majority of the public who take it all with a pinch of salt. The police are best to leave well alone, rather than to waste their time and moeny spoiling the fun. What's the point?

  • 6.
  • At 02:53 PM on 17 Nov 2006,
  • Elizabeth O'Hare wrote:

As far as I am aware no minister or prime minster or anyone working on their behalf has immunity from criminal investigation and or prosecution. For those of you not involved in the legal profession what is happening is standard practice.

Tony Blair will in due course be interviewed under caution (for his own protection and to preserve the integrity of any potential prosecution.) He like those working for and or on his behalf and or on behalf of the Labour Party will have the benefit of independent legal advice (hopefully paid out of their own pockets-if not I for one will want to know why not). Thereafter the case will go to the CPS and or the AG. Until then there is nothing more that can usefully be said.

Please do not prejudice this important and expensive criminal investigation by too much talk.

What's all the fuss about?

  • 7.
  • At 03:12 PM on 17 Nov 2006,
  • David wrote:

Having read the letter, I have to salute Yates. That letter shows some elan. Nobody sane would want his job, and I wish him all the good fortune in making it through.

On the other hand, the best thing that politicians can do about this is SHUT UP. I don't often think that, but this needs to be resolved by the Police. If I thought PC Plod was on the case, I might react differently, but Yates clearly has some skills.

Just a thought, but is TB holding onto office until this all gets tidied up. Without his office, perhaps there would be more appetite to prosecute him or his allies if there was evidence of wrong doing.

That said, I doubt they were foolish enough to actually leave evidence of these things happening.

  • 9.
  • At 03:39 PM on 17 Nov 2006,
  • R S Loch wrote:

'So this goes on and on, with nudges and hints and winks, while we in the public will not know if anything is actually wrong for many, many months to come - almost certainly not until Tony Blair has left Downing Street'

Isn't it your job to find these things out Nick not play the 'we in the public' card? If not which other BBC reporter should be investigating it?

  • 10.
  • At 04:01 PM on 17 Nov 2006,
  • Andrew wrote:

'The police have to be seen to be asking every question, interviewing every witness' - that's their job isn't it?
Why should the fact that the interviewee is the PM make any difference?
Or are you trying to imply that the PM's not guilty of an offence and that he's only being considered for interview to avoid claims of a whitewash.
Even with your privileged insight and high-ranking contacts, you're not in a position to judge the merits of the potential case against Him.

  • 11.
  • At 04:18 PM on 17 Nov 2006,
  • Ray B wrote:

We in the public may not know for certain if anything is actually wrong for many, many months to come. But we who can see through the plausible spiel of snake-oil salesmen; we who can spot a wrong ‘un despite wide-eyed protestations of honesty and integrity; we whose instincts served us so dependably in rejecting the 45-minute WMD calumny; we have a pretty good idea whether anything is actually wrong or not, Mr Robinson.

  • 12.
  • At 04:34 PM on 17 Nov 2006,
  • Tim Wilkinson wrote:

What do you mean 'pursuing Blair is dangerous' and 'the police seem to have realised they simply could not justify not interviewing the PM'? What do you think this whole investigation has been leading up to?

As soon as Levy was arrested it was clear that police intended, quite properly, to investigate this complaint as they would any other.

I'm afraid you are still in denial about this business. I'm just thankful that the media's fatalistic attitude of deference and self-fulfilling overestimation of Teflon Tony isn't shared by Yates.

At last Blair faces an investigation whose remit and personnel he didn't select.

Hutton claimed it would not be 'appropriate' to recall Blair for cross-examination because 'certain allegations would be put to him and there would be headlines' - as if that should be any of his concern.

And a Butler insider reported that it wasn't Butler's job to bring down the government. No, but it was his job not to be swayed one way or the other by the possibility that the government might be brought down when its conduct was revealed.

Can you not see how outrageously corrupt this attitude is? Heartfelt thanks to Yates for doing what lesser men are not only too timid to do, but seemingly too corruptly compliant to even perceive as their clear duty.

The press and the (post-Kelly) BBC bear responsibility too for their supine attitude to Blair and his excesses.

  • 13.
  • At 04:38 PM on 17 Nov 2006,
  • John Farmer wrote:

The best bit about Nick's article is the last line:'not until Tony Blair has left Downing Sreet'.
I can't read those words often enough.

Tony Blair - High Needs for Control, Inclusion and Friendship

All the things we might want from a Prime Minister. At the same time besides having these particular needs we want a Prime minister who is imbued with integrity and with ethics. All these qualities in the positive are quite useful if one is Prime Minister

However when there is something a little shady and a little towards the white lie department, people who need control, inclusion and friendship often find that if there is anything unsavoury brewing, they will inevitably be drawn into the swamp, right in up to their necks.

What we need from a Prime Minister is someone who is a realist too, and a strategist and tactical player, knowing when to have control or no control, inclusion or exclusion, friendship or acquaintance.

What we have is someone struggling to keep a grip, caught in an almighty bind and fielding as best they can all questions and answering in the broadest terms and not specifically.

The Ministerial silence behind him is deafening. The media are just waiting to expose him, and nobody feels content with how things are right now.

When the first amongst equals holds on tight as if life depends and reputation is lost, then we know there is little time left to exit, sooner with some credibility? Or just escape without facing a cautious conversation with “Knackerer” of the yard. If it were not career threatening, Yates must have real job satisfaction right now, I fear he too will not wear this too well.

As Prime Ministers come and go, Sir Robin Day and his remarks “ what is it like to be a here today, gone tomorrow (I Know it was John Nott)Prime Minister?” I doubt Blair cares that much as all has gone the way of most things he has done, into his personal book of Doom, made ready for Judgment Day and his maker. After all he suggests that is the only entity which will judge him, as we obviously don‘t count.

  • 15.
  • At 07:22 PM on 17 Nov 2006,
  • Geoff Taylor wrote:

An allegation has been made. An investigation is ongoing. If that enquiry makes its way to Downing Street then so be it. The office of Prime Minister will only be sullied if the investigation is impeded in any way... say, for instance, by claiming that publicity might prejudice any trial.

Absolutely to comment 13:
'not until Tony Blair has left Downing Sreet'.
I can't read those words often enough.
If not for the sake of the country, but for his own sake and ultimate peace of mind, there is no way that Tony Blair can redeem the wrongs made and what appear deceptions over the years. I would like to be wrong, the evidence seems overwhelming to the contrary, but I know only what we public find out after the fact, as usual like mushrooms kept in the dark and fed on ....

  • 17.
  • At 11:01 PM on 17 Nov 2006,
  • steve palmer wrote:

I might be proved wrong, but it seems unlikely that a case could be proved beyond reasonable doubt that honours were sold. Surely you would need documentary evidence (a letter from X promising Y a peerage if they make a financial contribution) which would be so stupid a thing to do that I can't see any politician doing it.

The important issue for me is why in a 21st Democracy, patronage rather than democracy can determine in part who becomes a legislator. The composition of the House of Lords needs to be discussed along with it's powers - an all elected chamber can work providing there are properly defined limits on what power the H of L has. The underlying issue is the lack of a written constitution

  • 18.
  • At 09:47 AM on 18 Nov 2006,
  • Joe wrote:

If it is proved that the PM and others have a case to answer on the question of titles for cash will the spin doctors who no doubt will put up an stout defence argument of Ministers etc at No10 [using all the underhand skills they acquired over Iraq and Dr Kelly] be in line with the prospect of being charged with pervading the course of justice ? I hope that they are warned that only the truth and the whole truth will be acceptable.Am I being too naive to suggest that politicans & advisers should try too retrieve some integrity.My thoughts are that Teflon Tone will leave office early next year untouch by the law but covered in shame.

  • 19.
  • At 02:28 PM on 18 Nov 2006,
  • Jamal Abu Zikri wrote:

Even if he slightly overstated things to make his case, broadly speaking Gareth's comments are surely unarguable. Come on Nick, why don't you make a similar point on the national news. The honours system is organised hypocrisy and you know it!


  • 20.
  • At 05:18 PM on 18 Nov 2006,
  • John Scotcher wrote:

For the leader of a perty which came to power on the back of an anti-sleaze campaign, Blair is a poor example for anyone. We've been lied to over Iraq and misled a hundred times over the spending of Government money, not to mention the disgraceful way in which the Upper House - ultimate protector of our freedoms - has been destroyed, without any meaningful attempt to put a real succesor in its place.

Mr Blair and his party deserve everything they get as a result of the cash for peerages enquiry.

  • 21.
  • At 06:01 PM on 18 Nov 2006,
  • Stephen wrote:

After reading some of the posts, above all I can say is try not be so naive. I think Nick Robinson hit it on the head when he about the Police and the Politicians being in a bind.
Although you can almost see Tony Blair ducking and diving, bobing and weaving trying every trick in the book and then some to get out of this mess that he has got himself into.
As for those whom say wait for the enquiry to finish and see what it says. I will be very suprised indeed anything concrete comes out of this. I.e. Tony having to stand trial, that will never happen (UNFORTUNATELY).

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