Incompetence is a Lie and No Defence

The excuse we are expected to swallow by Peter Watt is that he made an innocent mistake, he didn’t realise that using intermediaries to make donations was illegal. We are implicitly expected to believe that he didn’t think that money laundering donations was unethical either.

Before Peter Watt became general-secretary of the Labour party he was the party’s director of finance and compliance, a position which made him directly responsible for making sure the Labour party acted within the law. He had to be familiar with the law, it was his job. Indeed we now know that he was emailed by Rachel Savage at the Electoral Commission in July and explicitly told

If the original source of the donation is someone other than the individual or organisation that transfers the donation to the party, the individual or organisation making the transfer is acting as an agent for the original donor. Where a person acts as an agent in making a donation, they must ensure that the party is given all the relevant information as listed at paragraph 5.4 (s. 54 (6)). Transferring a donation to an agent rather than directly to a party must not be used as an attempt to evade the controls on permissibility and transparency.

Yet yesterday Peter Watt claimed:

“I was advised that, unbeknown to me, there were additional reporting requirements. Once I discovered this error, I immediately notified the officers of the NEC. I take full responsibility for the Labour Party’s reporting obligations.”

Unbeknown to him? He was explicitly reminded of his obligations, he must have know that the whole purpose of the legislation is to ensure that we have a democracy where we can see who is funding politicians and draw our own conclusions. Whatever the details of the donations, the principle of transparency has always been clear. Even when big party backers like Ashcroft and Sainsbury make donations through subsidiary companies they are meticulously transparent. There is absolutely no way Peter Watt could have been unaware of this fundamental legal tenet.

Clearly this was a deliberate attempt to camouflage donations from a property developer – why? Secret donations are against the law, there is no privacy permitted for donors, nor should there be. The law is clear, claiming ignorance of it when you are the official responsible for ensuring compliance with it won’t do. Peter Watt and Martin Abrahams should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

The penalties on summary conviction: statutory maximum of 6 months, or on indictment up to 1 year. It is way past time that crooked politicians tasted porridge and the law showed some teeth.




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