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Titles For Sale

Psst! Do you fancy being Lord UptotheMinute or Baron Thingummybob, with servants bowing at your beck and call, a splendid red robe trimmed with the finest ermine fur and a seat in the senior House of the British Parliament? This sort of honour is only given to very special people.

You cannot buy a title. That would be absolutely wrong. It is just a peculiar coincidence that so many generous political donors to Tony Blair's British Labour Party have since been turned into fancy Members of the House of Lords. But the police do not like coincidences. For more than a year, they have been sniffing about in Downing Street. Mr. Blair's chief fundraiser has been hauled in for questioning. Mr. Blair's chief of staff is under the spotlight too. Even Mr. Blair himself has been grilled a couple of times. It is all getting far too close for comfort.

In this country, of course, you are innocent until proved guilty. So that chief fund-raiser, Lord Levy, spends a lot of time these days protesting - through his lawyers - how innocent he is and objecting to trial by media. While another, more junior, member of Mr. Blair's team is reported to be tearful and distraught at the same media attention. Her Mother, who now lives in your country, was interviewed sympathetically by a London newspaper last week. I have no idea how they got her number.

Suffice to say there is devious briefing and counter-briefing going on about this whole sordid business at a very high level. But the fallout is hugely damaging. The reputation of Tony Blair is at an all time low. Irrespective of the truth, many people now believe it is quite likely that honors were, literally, sold.

And the prospect of criminal proceedings cannot be ruled out. Could any of Mr Blair's closest aides actually end up in prison? All of which has proved critically bruising to the reputation of the House of Lords itself. Nobody wants to be offered an honour now. It looks like a kickback. So the Government is contemplating the most extreme reform ever to restore public confidence. In future their Noble Lordships might have to stand for election. And we all know about Democracy! That doesn't come cheap either!
By Ed Boyle