Could covert recordings rule Miliband out of the race?
The Sunday Times has published further transcripts of the conversations between the city academies fundraiser, Des Smith and its reporter who was posing as an intermediary.
The paper, which back in January first broke the “cash for honours” scandal, reveals that Smith recommended that the second favourite to become the next Labour leader, David Miliband, should be should be tagetted. At the time the Miliband price was 7/1. It’s now eased to 13/1.
This is from the report this morning “…Des Smith, who is also a London headmaster, told an undercover reporter posing as the businessmanâ€™s adviser that he would line up Miliband, a former schools minister, to ask for his backing for an honour.
â€œIâ€™ll introduce him [the businessman] to David Miliband and say, â€˜Knighthood? This is the manâ€™,â€ said Smith in a meeting with the reporter. He added that he would recommend to the businessman: â€œLetâ€™s go for Miliband.â€ The ministerâ€™s relationship with Smith will be of interest to police officers investigating allegations that honours were offered in exchange for the funding of city academies. The inquiry is already probing secret loans made to Labour by businessmen who were also nominated for peerages.
In another previously unreported recording, Smith talked of â€œsome of the people we deal withâ€ who have sought to sponsor academies: â€œI say . . . â€˜Do we need these peopleâ€™? . . . â€˜Do we need their money?â€™ . . . Because what theyâ€™re looking for (is a) knighthood or some kind of preference. They think, â€˜Iâ€™ll get an OBE or a CBEâ€™.â€
Quite whether Smith had any linkage with Miliband is not clear but at the time the young cabinet minister was being strongly tipped as the person best placed to take on Brown for the Labour leadership. Reading the report an explanation might be that Smith was just trying to impress the person he thought was the representative of the donor.
Aside from this the sentiment amongst punters has been moving away from Miliband in the last few weeks. Gordon Brown’s position, now at 0.36/1, just looks impregnable – the only issue being when the hand-over will take place.
On a personal note my day job is as an educational fundraiser and for six years I was Director of Development at Oxford – where a number of colleges were targeted by the Sunday Times using similar covert techniques to see if it was possible to “buy” a place. The job involves entering into dialogues all the time about prospective donations and I have been shocked at the naivety of Smith’s approach – even though he was the victim of entrapment.
Smith could have made the point in a safe way by saying something like “what is really pleasing for all of us who want to see the academies develop and succeed is how a number of benefactors have been recognised in the honours list”.
As a general rule, too, conversations like the one that Smith got into where an apparent donation appeared out of the blue rarely lead to gifts being forthcoming. Usually the big danger is not about set-ups but impostors who like the idea of talking big numbers and are looking for attention. On one occasion someone got a good dinner out of me by suggesting that he could solve all that university’s problems with $3bn. In another case I was offered more than a million pounds over the phone and while the caller talking a net search of his post-code revealed that the value of houses in his street averaged just Â£75,000.