McMental's Revenge: Brown SpAd Will End Press Freedom

With a twist of the knife, the statutory underpinning of the Royal Charter will be put forward in the Lords this afternoon by former Gordon Brown Special Adviser Lord Wilf Stevenson. Loyal Guido readers will remember Stevenson’s role as the Director of Brown’s leadership slush fund the Smith Institute, a position he was forced to resign from after heavy criticism from the Charity Commission. Guido’s sustained campaign to make that happen can be found here.

The Prime Mentalist and his allies are having their revenge for exposure of their dodgy ways.

Smith Institute No Longer a Charity

Touching to see that now Gordon has exited the stage his old slush fund / think-tank / charity is no more. Former Smith Institute boss Wilf Stevenson has at last got his peerage as a reward for being Brown’s long time toady. The charity which even provided a well paid berth for Balls when he first stood for election is now superfluous and has been wound up.

The name lives on as a limited company available as a think-tank-for-hire by big business; organising seminars for pharmaceutical lobbyists, government contractors, supermarket chains and other vested interests aiming to get their hands into taxpayers’ pockets. The glory days of hosting Al Gore meeting Chancellor Gordon a distant memory…

Smith Institute's Deficit and Decline

A co-conspirator points out that the Smith Institute, formerly Gordon Brown’s favourite think-tank/slush fund, hasn’t filed the legally required accounts to the Charity Commission due over three months ago. As regular readers will remember, the organisation was slammed by the Commission in 2008 for its political activity. Essentially it was a front group for Gordon’s leadership bid.

It seems that as the main beneficiary of the Sith’s work has now been consigned to history, the money and activities are drying up. Last year’s accounts showed that they were close to £120,000 in the red – a far cry from those heady days when they could afford to pay Ed Balls £89,000 for writing two pamphlets while in transit from being a Treasury SpAd to becoming an MP. It makes you wonder what devastation the missing accounts might possibly be hiding.

The Smith Institute says it is getting back to Guido… hopefully quicker than they file their accounts.

Gordon's "Fund With No Name"

The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards is taking longer than usual to indicate whether or not he intends to investigate allegations about a second secret slush fund used by Gordon Brown to pay his personal pollster and speech writer Bob Shrum, as revealed in former Labour general-secretary Peter Watt’s book Inside Out.

Usually John Lyon rejects complaints in 48 hours or so if he is not inclined to investigate. Why is the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards taking longer than normal in this case?

  1. It could be that John  Lyon is snowed in with complaints about our troughing political class.*
  2. John  Lyon could be referring to the scathing Charity Commission report into Bob Shrum’s involvement with Gordon’s other slush fund – the Smith Institute – before proceeding.
  3. The Commissioner could be looking for an excuse to not investigate a secret slush fund controlled by the Prime Minister in the sensitive run-up to a general election.

Nevertheless there is prima facie a case to answer, Peter Watt is not some insignificant peripheral figure. The allegation that Gordon Brown kept track of donor’s funds for his own use in an exercise book is not transparent and above board, keeping the details hidden from the person responsible for compliance with the law is just not acceptable and possibly illegal.   Gordon really needs to explain himself, during the last investigation he point-blank refused to answer any questions put to him by the Charity Commission. Where are the records? What is Gordon hiding about the Shrum slush fund? Something smells.

*Harry Cohen is to be fined £65,000 for his fiddles, the socialist fraudster claims it “smacks of class discrimination”.  He should really face criminal charges.

Gordon Reported to Standards Commissioner Over Second Slush "Fund With No Name"

It seems Gordon was not content with just the Smith Institute as his personal play thing and slush fund. Perhaps the most damaging allegation by Peter Watt yet, has been the emergence of Gordon’s secret “fund with no name“. Watt accuses Brown of siphoning donations to the tune of fifty grand a year to his own private polling fund, the only record of which was a tatty old exercise book. How very Gordon.

As regular readers will remember, when the Charity Commission reported that The Smith Institute, despite their many failings in terms of political neutrality were not paying the salary of Gordon’s private yank pollster Bob Shrum, Guido will admit to some confusion as to how Brown had managed to wriggle his way out of this. It now appears that Shrum could well have been paid out of this second, secret “fund with no name.” Whatever this fund was being used for it was breaking the rules for personal benefits that MPs must declare. The rules state that MPs must “provide information of any financial interest or other material benefit which a Member receives which might reasonably be thought by others to influence his or her actions.” Unsurprisingly a complaint has been put in to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards:

Guido reckons there is a very strong case for an investigation into this murky secretive fund.

Tonight’s Conversation Starter for Mandelson and Balls

Patrick Hennessy tells us that there is an interesting dinner planned for tonight, and that in a new found spirit of peaceful cooperation, bread will be broken by two old enemies. Before the great tribal truce and the summoning of the Dark Lord from over the water by the One-Eyed Son of the Manse, Peter Mandelson and Ed Balls were the most vicious champions of their respective masters; Blair and Brown. Briefing and pouring bile about the enemy camp into the ears of anyone who would listen.

It was at the height of the Blair destabilising cash for honours investigation that Guido was sent a document outlining the use of 11 Downing Street by the Smith Institute and the role of that “charity” in furthering Gordon’s ambitions. The note was passed to Guido by an über-Blairite close to No. 10. This was hardly surprising since No. 10 suspected (rightly) the Brownies were stoking the flames of cash for honours, this was essentially a sleaze counter-attack. The note outlined how Gordon got private polling and personal consultants flown in from the States. How they were paid for by cash-for-access meetings in No. 11 involving Brown and his aides under the auspices of the Smith Institute. Balls himself was paid an £89,000 bung by the Smith Institute and is now under scrutiny with the Tories looking to link this payment and others to the unlawful furtherance of Brown’s political ambitions.

Perhaps tonight, over the appetisers, Ed might want to ask Peter who it is he thinks was the cabinet minister who gave a very similar tip to the Tories?

Gordon’s Slush Fund

The Mail on Sunday this morning is following up on this story. Guido will have more revelations next week…

Electoral Commission Is Investigating Gordon Brown / Smith Institute Slush Fund Allegations

The Sunday Times is reporting that the Electoral Commission is to investigate whether, in breach of electoral law, Ed Balls continued working for Gordon Brown while on the payroll of the Smith Institute charity before becoming an MP.

Regular readers will know that this allgation was a central part of Guido’s campaign against the Sith. Essentially the Smith Institute was a slush fund for Gordon’s ambitions. The Tories are now convinced that Ed Balls continued working for Gordon Brown when he was on the charity’s payroll. They have been trying for six months to ascertain whether or not he continued to have access to the Treasury with a security pass. Guido has other evidence that Ed Balls continued to act as Gordon Brown’s political adviser during th 2004 / 5 period when he was being paid by the charity. Not only Balls but also Tony Pilch, a former SpAd close to Balls, and Bob Shrum during the same over-lapping period were working for the Smith Institute.

According to the Sunday Times “the Tories are submitting a complaint to the Electoral Commission and John Lyon, the parliamentary commissioner for standards. They want Brown to be challenged over whether Balls had a pass.”

Guido understands that the Electoral Commission is already making inquiries, including in the United States, following a complaint made last July (after the Charity Commission report condemned the Smith Institute for partisan activity) by the Sunlight Centre for Open Politics. That letter of complaint (here) focused on the activities of U.S. pollster Bob Shrum. Shrum was paid by the Smith Institute to advise Gordon Brown, these slush payments are a serious breach of electoral law.

Wilf Rumoured to Be Headed to the Downing Street Bunker

The Telegraph is floating the perennial rumour (it has been going around for years) that Wilf Stevenson, the disgraced former head of the Smith Institute, is to go to Downing Street in a policy role.
A couple of years ago when Guido first started exposing the Smith Institute’s links to Gordon Brown – that it was an illegal slush fund for Gordon Brown’s ambitions, acting as his all-but-in-name campaign HQ – a canny observer of Westminster told Guido that “You don’t realise how much of a favour you have done Gordon. If it weren’t for you Wilf would be in Downing Street and he is a walking disaster”. Now he as at a loose end it is more feasible that Wilf could shift to Downing Street, moving from Brown’s policy engine room to join his captain on the ship before it sinks.

Excellent. Wilf’s time as head of a think tank was distinguished only in that it was mired in controversy, was twiced investigated for breaches of the law, was found by the Charity Commission to have broken the law and is now facing the possibility of a third investigation for other breaches of the law by the Electoral Commission. The Smith Institute was not exactly a font of vote winning policies – if it had been any good Brown would not be reduced to desperately nicking Tory policies. If Wilf does move to Downing Street he will only be formalising his role as adviser Gordon. It is somehow fitting that he will be joining his former Smith Institute deputy Konrad Caulkett in Brown’s Downing Street bunker at the end…

Wilf “We Had a Brilliant Report”

Sir Michael White this morning confirms the accuracy of Guido’s exclusive report yesterday. Through gritted teeth the left-wing journalist reported that “right-wing bloggers celebrated what they see as two Brownite scalps”. Too right.

Comical Wilf told Sir Michael that there is nothing to see here, the savaging that the Institute’s trustees got from the Charity Commission was “brilliant”, he told the Telegraph: “The Commission’s report was excellent in every respect and it is only because it was so good that I am able to step down now at this time” and that he always intended to resign as director, presumably Lord Haskel, donor to Brown’s leadership campaign and chairman of the trustees, always planned to resign as well.

Nothing then to do with the direct criticism of the trustees, finding “evidence of unchallenged party political comments being made at Institute events by politicians and also party political comments made by or on behalf of the Institute… combined with the predominant involvement of Labour Party politicians in the Institute’s activity, compromised the Institute’s independence. Bearing in mind the previous engagement between the Commission and the trustees in 2001/02 on this matter, the Commission concluded that the trustees had not safeguarded or adequately supervised the risks posed to the independence and reputation of the Institute… the trustees had allowed the Institute to become exposed to concerns that is supported Government policy and was involved in party political activity inappropriate for a charity”.

Haskel was damned as “not sufficiently engaged to ensure the proper supervision of the charity”.
click to enlarge
Guido doesn’t entirely agree with Iain Dale that the “Institute will cease to be”, it will however cease to be what is was, a slush fund for Gordon Brown. It will become a more normal think-tank, not a partisan vehicle for one politician’s ambitions.

+++ Wilf Stevenson Resigns From Smith Institute ++++++ Lord Haskel Resigns Chairmanship of Trustees +++

Guido has learnt that following the condemnation by the Charity Commission of the trustees of the Smith Institute, Lord Haskel has resigned as chairman of the trustees, Wilf Stevenson has also resigned as director after the unprecedented criticism of the charity for partisanship.

Paul Hackett, a wonk who has written some pamphlets for the Sith, is the “acting director”. The offices are closed and Guido has confirmed that the Smith Institute will no longer be based at the New Statesman’s offices. The rumour in wonk-land has it that the IPPR has taken pity on them and will be giving them space at their offices.

Mission accomplished, Sith in disarray. Guido won.
Don’t forget we also have the prospect of an Electoral Commission investigation into illegal undeclared “donations in kind” by the Smith Institute to Gordon Brown.

Charity Commission Attacks Sith for Spinning Report

According to charity sector specialist magazine Third Sector, Andrew Hind, chief executive of the Charity Commission, has said he is “extremely concerned” that the Smith Institute is misrepresenting the contents of the regulator’s report into the think tank.

The commission reprimanded trustees of the think tank this week for failing to protect the charity from claims that it is supporting the Labour Party.

Paul Myners, deputy chair of the institute, responded by saying the commission was asking trustees to ensure that all speakers were politically neutral and that the regulator had “shown a fundamental lack of understanding of the work that all think tanks undertake”.

But Hind responded: “We are not saying we expect trustees to guarantee that no party political statements will be made. What we are saying is that if you want to have politicians at your event, as a think tank charity you have to ensure that there is balance.

“The trustees are disputing some of the clauses of the report and are alleging that the Charity Commission is naive and doesn’t understand how think tanks operate. But we have had extraordinarily in-depth discussions with them over the past few months.”

At the commission’s open board meeting in Liverpool yesterday, Hind again defended the report and said it would be “a reference point for the future” for other think tanks.

He said: “Not only are there some important findings about the Smith Institute, but there are also some important points of principle for all charity think tanks.”

Dame Suzi Leather, chair of the Charity Commission, said the enquiry had produced “an exemplary report from an independent regulator”.

Guido has been pleasantly surprised with the thoroughness of the Charity Commission report – the way the Sith’s trustees have tried to spin it has demonstrated their unsuitability to be a charity. Paul Myners really ought to resign.

The Centre for Open Politics has summarised the web of close links to Gordon Brown in a single document to go with this graphic:

click to enlarge

Gordon’s Undeclared Donations During the Long Campaign

Last week’s Charity Commission report ruled the Smith Institute was in breach of the laws on political impartiality. Paul Myners whines that the Charity Commission “have shown a fundamental lack of understanding of the work that all think tanks undertake.”* It is Myners and his fellow trustees who have clearly shown a fundamental disregard or lack of understanding for Charity law. A “think tank” is not a legally defined entity, legally the Smith Institute is a registered charity. Other think tanks, such as the similarly named but rather more illustrious Adam Smith Institute think tank, do not seek charitable status. Partisan think tanks should not be able to abuse the tax exemptions available to charities, because charities can reclaim taxes on donations they are legally obliged not to stray in partisan politics.
In the years leading up to Brown seizing the premiership the Smith Institute was functioning as his political secretariat. Whenever he needed something done outside the party structures, the Smith Institute was used. Photo-opportunity with Al Gore needed? Get the Smith Institute to invite him. Want to get the line out to Toynbee and the media fan base? Have the Smith Institute invite them. Want private polling advice? Get Deborah Mattinson to do it for the Institute (didn’t she do well as a result). Gordon wants expensive strategic advice from Bob Shrum? Put Bob on the payroll and slush the money through the Smith Institute…

Herein lies a very difficult problem for Gordon Brown – the Charity Commission has found that the Institute’s Senior Research Fellow, the expensive pollster and strategist Bob Shrum, was unsupervised. The Inquiry could only identify him leading two events in 2006, both of which did not further the Institute’s charitable purpose. So what was he doing for his money between September 2005 – April 2007? He was advising Gordon Brown on strategy and tactics. This service was undeclared to the Electoral Commission and is a breach of Section 50 (2) (f) of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. Following the publication of the Charity Commission report a formal complaint has been put in to the Electoral Commission. Although he has so far refused to respond to questions from the Charity Commission about the Smith Institute, this is not yet over for Gordon Brown. He may have thought the issue closed, but it has opened up a new front.

See also : Flashback : The Smith Institute Exposé

*Faithfully reported, without critical comment, in the Guardian. Paul Myners is also the chairman of the Guardian Media Group.

Flashback : The Smith Institute Exposé

If you are new to the Smith Institute story this January 2007 documentary expo which Iain Dale presented and Guido scripted for broadcast by the old 18 Doughty Street internet TV station gives you the background. This video really did kick off the official Smith Institute investigation. It was whilst filming outside the Charity Commission office that a press officer came out and asked Guido what we were doing. In conversation Guido was told that the reason they hadn’t started an investigation was they had no official complaint! The next day Guido filed his complaint, days later the investigation was announced. It was not too bad an effort for a first time citizen journalist producer…

Some bloke called Crick had a go as well – see here. Hmmm…

The Sith Suffered a Grave Defeat Yesterday

Guido has now had time to fully digest yesterday’s report on the Smith Institute. Some comment from the unpopular wing of the blogosphere shows they don’t seem to have grasped that the Sith were found to have operated illegally nor have they understood the full ramifications of the Charity Commission’s investigative findings:

The Institute failed to implement key elements of the 2002 commitments arising from the first investigation.

The “predominant involvement of Labour Party politicians in the Institute’s activities, compromised the Institute’s independence.”

“Due to the amount and nature of party political content in some of the Institute’s events and publications, the Commission concluded that the Institute’s work was not always as sufficiently balanced and neutral as required under charity law”

“The trustees allowed inappropriate party political comments which were made at events, to be reported word for word… without any commentary, editing, qualification or disclaimer in Institute publications and disseminated to a wider audience”

The language used by the Institute at times “constituted a party political statement inappropriate for the charity. This inevitably compromised the Institute’s independence and reputation”

The Institute “took insufficient steps to regulate inappropriate party political” activities by Senior Research Fellow, Robert Shrum.

Directly criticised the trustees, finding “evidence of unchallenged party political comments being made at Institute events by politicians and also party political comments made by or on behalf of the Institute… combined with the predominant involvement of Labour Party politicians in the Institute’s activity, compromised the Institute’s independence. Bearing in mind the previous engagement between the Commission and the trustees in 2001/02 on this matter, the Commission concluded that the trustees had not safeguarded or adequately supervised the risks posed to the independence and reputation of the Institute”

Found that “the trustees had allowed the Institute to become exposed to concerns that is supported Government policy and was involved in party political activity inappropriate for a charity” and that they were “not sufficiently engaged to ensure the proper supervision of the charity”. The trustees were lambasted throughout the report for failing in their statutory duties to oversee the workings of the charity.

Still had ongoing concerns “over the Institute’s frequency of use of 11 Downing Street and over the review and monitoring of the impartiality of its educational programmes”.

Found “a number of instances where the balance and neutrality of the Institute’s work were compromised by a party political association… Sufficient steps had not been taken to identify or manage the perception that the Institute was unacceptably linked to and supported the Labour Party or that it inappropriately promoted Government policy… it is understandable how the perception arose that the Institute was focussed on or was connected to the then Chancellor of the Exchequer”.

This is a good result and Guido feels totally vindicated in making his complaint. The Commission has formally found the Institute in breach of the laws on political neutrality – anyone interested now knows what really went on. The Institute has been forced to restructure, with an audit committee. It has also closed down the subsidiary company S.I. Events Limited, which was used to launder money from corporations seeking regulatory favours and to invoice the Treasury for seminars. A formal oversight structure was ordered to be put in place with tight controls and it has been told to appoint known Tory and LibDem supporters to the board. It is now on probation and must report back on the implementation of the changes as ordered in six months. The Commission will take a second look next year.

Guido doesn’t think we will be hearing any more speeches on how to beat Cameron and the LibDems at Smith Institute events in the future…

Gordon Brown Refused to Answer Inquiry Questions

One footnote from the Charity Commission report into Gordon Brown’s Smith Institute is positively Nixonian.

You have the right to remain silent but….

Labour are spinning that the report clears Gordon of any links to the Institute. Which is complete bollocks. The Treasury Minister John Healey welcomed attendees to Number 11 in December 2004 thus:

“I am a last-minute substitute for Gordon Brown, so I would like, on his behalf, to welcome you all to Number 11 Downing Street. I know, looking around, some of you are quite regular attendees of Smith Institute seminars, and you will know you get a letter from Wilf Stevenson before each one explaining that you are invited to Number 11 by Kind permission of the Chancellor. I have to say, this series of seminars in particular is being held not so much by the kind permission of the Chancellor, but by his absolute insistence that they take place. He is unable to be with us now, but he will want to know exactly what has been said in the discussion when I see him earlier this morning. Many of you, including and perhaps especially the panel here, have known Gordon for a long time”

The Centre for Open Politics has summarised the web of close links to Gordon Brown in a single document.

click to enlarge

Smith Institute Report

Guido is digesting the lengthy Charity Commission report. The Smith Institute has been found guilty of charge after charge first highlighted on this blog.

Back with fuller comment soon.

UPDATE : There seem to be some errors of fact which Guido will be highlighting.

+++ Charity Commission Smith Institute Report Tomorrow +++

Civil Service Swerves Jacqui’s 42 Days Speech Under Investigation Smith Institute Serves Speech

Guido drew attention yesterday to the Smith Institute giving a platform for Jacqui Smith to sell the 42 days policy. The Smith Institute is, as a tax-exempt charity, restricted from getting involved in politics or in matters not compatible with its charitable objectives. It is currently under investigation for a second time for breaches of the Charities Act.

So what was it doing last night? Any claim that the speech given by Jacqui Smith was non-political and made in her capacity as a government minister should be dismissed. Guido understands that senior civil servants ruled that it was a political speech – hence it was not reported or distributed via the official Government News Network or spun by civil service press officers. Quite correct and proper, she was after all making the case for a politically controversial policy.

So the speech was distributed only by the Labour Party’s press office. Which raises the question – what was the legally non-partisan Smith Institute doing getting involved in this controversial area a few days ahead of a close run vote, which theoretically could turn into a confidence vote for Gordon Brown? Another example of blatantly partisan politicking from the Smith Institute.

Smith Institute Used to Sell 42 Days

Gordon Brown is in a lot of trouble over 42 days, his attachment to this Blairite legacy policy has become a trial of strength. Jacqui Smith is going round selling the policy to sceptical Labour backbenchers and implacable opposition.
Strange that tomorrow evening of all days, in the middle of this effort to sell this most politically controversial security policy, Jacqui Smith is giving a speech on the issue to a Smith Institute invited audience.[…] Read the rest

+ READ MORE +



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