"I was aware of arrangements whereby David Abrahams gave gifts to business associates and a solicitor who were permissible donors and who in turn passed them on to the Labour Party and I believed at the time my reporting obligations had been appropriately complied with."
Those were the words of the General Secretary of the Labour Party, Peter Watt, who resigned tonight. They are also the words of either a liar or an incompetent fool.
It is absolutely inconceivable that as General Secretary he did not know that these donations were impermissible. Bear in mind that his previous job was Head of the Labour Party's Legal & Constitutional Unit.
I have been in his position. I had to declare all donations to the David Davis Leadership Campaign to the Registrar of Members' Interests and to the Electoral Commission. I had never had to do anything like this before and approached it with some degree of trepidation in case one mistake by me could be used against David and his campaign. I made sure I understood every part of my responsibilities. Is Peter Watt really expecting us to believe that he was too incompetent to do the same and understand his legal obligations? He also had legal advice from the Labour Party's solicitors to fall back on.
He says he was "aware of the arrangements". This indicates that he knew it to be irregular, but one can only draw the conclusion that he did not seek further legal advice because he knew what that advice would be.
But there is also a wider question, which is this. Is David Abrahams himself a "permissible donor" and has the Labour Party checked? In Peter Watt's statement on the Labour website the words in bold (see the quote above) certainly imply that Abrahams may not have been a permissible donor. At least it doesn’t make it clear that he is/was. As a property developer it is quite possible that he is tax resident offshore, and therefore probably not registered to vote. So, did the Labour Party check whether Abrahams was a permissible donor, and if he is/was not will they return the donation? and if they did check, which register is he on?
Just trying to help.
UPDATE: LibDem Voice has a potentially explosive exclusive, with a copy of an email sent to all political parties in July outlining the rules regarding second-hand donations. Attached was a draft new edition of the Electoral Commission’s guidance on donations. This is what paragraph 4.29 of the document said:
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.
How could Peter Watt ininterpret that? Or did he not read it? According to LibDem Voice's Mark Pack: "This information was in previous editions of the guidance, and was also (using exactly the same words) in the final version published by the Electoral Commission (and available on their website, see page 19)."
Good work, Mr Pack.
UPDATE: Guido has two big breaking stories on this tonight. He reveals HERE that Harriet Harman's deputy leadership campaign received £5,000 from a close associate of David Abrahams (UPDATE:
So did Hilary Benn Hilary Benn actually turned a donation from Janet Kidd and then accepted a donation - entirely properly - from David Abrahams directly), and also HERE that Abrahams had an intertesting planning application magically unblocked by wee Dougie Alexander. Natch.