THE controversy over Tony Blair’s pre-election donations – £1,000 each to Labour’s 106 key battleground campaigns – rumbles on. Former Islington Council leader Catherine West, who is trying to wrest the Hornsey and Wood Green seat away from Lib Dem Lynne Featherstone was today explaining why her team accepted the money. Her response seemed almost apologetic: “Funding elections against millionaires is expensive.” This follows a ‘bad money’ row in which three Labour parliamentary candidates elsewhere have turned the Blair donations down, a decision slated by the ever-loyal Alastair Campbell, the PM’s former press aide at Downing Street, as ‘attention-seeking’.
It has all led to speculation in these parts as to whether Tulip Siddiq had accepted money from Blair to help her fend off the Tories and Lib Dems in Hampstead and Kilburn, a seat which we are repeatedly told is the closest marginal constituency in the country. It has been assumed by activists from rival parties – and maybe even some Labour members – that the narrow figures around the seat was bound to have made it a contender for Blair’s money list.
But her campaign team confirms this afternoon that ‘not a single penny’ of the Blair cash has been offered to the Labour effort here.
Campaigners won’t groan too much as this immediately spares Tulip, who pushed herself as being on the Brown side of the ol’ Brown-Blair fracture when running for selection and was opposed to the war in Iraq, from getting mixed up in the did they, didn’t they controversy.
And if anybody suggests Blair the Big Man is snubbing her campaign due to her Red Tulip approach to getting selected in the first place, we will no doubt be told that the money was held for constituencies which Labour is trying to gain, rather than defend, however small the majority.
Still, in an election in which every seat counts, the decision to leave Hampstead and Kilburn off the list suggests, in a little way, that Labour may be more confident about Tulip’s chances than the endlessly-repeated 42-vote narrative would have it.