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Your Title, Your Lordship

Fancy being a British Lord, or maybe an Earl? You wear ermine & a silly hat, get treated really well in restaurants and upgraded at the airport. It's all down to political patronage, about who you know in the places that matter.

And it's just got our Prime Minister Tony Blair into a right old pickle. He's been accused of trying to hand out political honours in return for money to fund his last election campaign.

Now this sort of behaviour has been part and parcel of British life for years. David Lloyd George, our Prime Minister after World War One, simplified the issue. He just sold them. You could become a Lord or an Earl by handing over the required amount of cash. But he got found out, and in 1925 a law was passed preventing such heinous behaviour.

Nine years ago, Mr Blair was swept into power on an anti-sleaze ticket promising an honest, clean government. 'I'm a pretty straight kind of guy', he told us. But now he's been caught with his political pants down.

Last year, his party ran out of money when it needed it most -- to fund a massive election campaign. To plug the gap, a scheme was cooked up, where rich, very rich, individuals would be invited to lend money to the party - that's a LOAN, not a donation. The reason? All donations have to be declared, but thanks to a loophole in the law, loans do not.

And there's worse. Several of these millionaires were then nominated by Mr. Blair to be Lords. That's right, large amounts of cash change hands, and blow me down, there was a recommendation for an honour.

Odd coincidence, you might think. And that's what the committee responsible for checking these things thought, and they started saying 'no way Jose' to Mr. Blair. But it all would have stayed undercover, if one of the nominees hadn't got sloppy and asked the committee why they had turned him down.

What was going on? Then other names, other loans, more than a dozen of them, were revealed, and it became as clear as day that some of the country's top businessmen had been secretly bailing out the British Labour Party. A million dollars here, one and a half million there. Yesterday, one of them was forced out of his post as Chairman of a big outsourcing firm with many Government contracts, after what he called these 'spurious' allegations.

Now I have a personal interest in this, because I gave thirty dollars to Labour's fundraising efforts ten years ago, and no one has offered me a thing. But now it's serious. The Police are even looking into it, and Mr. Blair is having to face the same question that brought down the previous administration. What part of 'clean' don't you understand?

By Simon Bates

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