Oh, wouldn’t it be luvverly if press barons (and wannabe press barons) ceased making donations to political parties? And, oh, wouldn’t it be even luvverlier if they kicked the habit of donating not just a few grand but the editorial independence of their newspapers.
The sequence of events surrounding Richard Desmond’s contribution to Labour’s re-election fund is truly satirical. At the previous election, he had given £5,000 to the Tories. (Well, the man does love parties).
Now the Express owner, he offered the Government party free ad space. They cheekily begged for the cash instead.
Great big softie that he is, he wrote them a cheque for £100,000. And Labour, great big softies that they are, bought not only that much space in the Expresses but £25,000 more.
Alas, it would transpire that the cheque had coincided with the Government considering whether Desmond’s purchase of Express Newspapers from Lord Hollick’s conglomerate ought to be stalled for a Department of Trade investigation.
When then Trade Secretary Stephen Byers reported that the Office of Fair Trading recommended waving the deal through, was the Government returning Desmond’s favour?
The world will continue to wonder. But was not the man who had been done the greatest favour long-time Labour groupie Clive Hollick? He was desperate to get rid of the Express, having disaffected its readership by switching to Labour after a true-blue century. If a sale were blocked by the Government, he would lose his cash-in-hand buyer.
Of course, those politicians who asked Desmond for actual money rather than ad space might have calculated that, were the takeover to be frustrated, he wouldn’t have any ad space to donate.
Labour managed to avoid revealing Desmond’s gift, even to its national executive. When the cheque hit the fan, press and TV and radio reminded the nation that Desmond also publishes skinmags and owns pay-TV’s Fantasy Channel (10.20 Dildo Dan, 12.10 Dirty Rotten Shaggers).
"A nasty smell," said The Guardian. "Labour’s latest donor demeans the party."
Good publicity for the Government? No. Good publicity for the Labour Party? No. Good publicity for the Expresses? No.
The Prime Minister is left putting his fingers in his ears to shut out the screeching of the back-benchers. And Desmond? He is left with the inner glow that goes with generous giving (and glows even warmer when done by stealth).