Tony Blair's Labour Party releases names of secret lenders

Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labour Party on Monday released the names of 12 supporters who secretly lent almost 14 million pounds (US$25 million; Ђ20 million) to the party as part of a fundraising strategy that is prompting intense criticism.

As the head of Britain's judiciary said that parties will have to disclose all future loans they receive, the government tried to go on the offensive politically, demanding that the opposition Conservatives also publish a list of anyone who has lent them money.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, sought to capitalize on the political woes the loans have caused Blair since they became public last week.

Current campaign finance laws require only that gifts, not loans, to political parties be made public. Nonetheless, Blair has come under heavy criticism for keeping the loans secret even from other senior Labour officials, including the party's treasurer and the deputy prime minister.

Blair nominated at least three of the Labour lenders  health care chain founder Chai Patel, financier Barry Townsley and property developer David Garrard to the House of Lords, prompting allegations that he sold seats in Parliament's upper house.

The men all lent the party 1 million pounds (US$1.8 million; Ђ1.4 million) or more.

Blair denies critics' allegations that he made the nominations in exchange for loans, saying the nominees had all been well-qualified.

Conservative leader David Cameron called for new rules on party funding, saying all loans other than those from commercial institutions should be banned and donations from individuals, unions, companies and institutions should be capped at 50,000 pounds (US$88,000; Ђ70,000).

He also said officials should consider reducing the number of lawmakers in the House of Commons and capping each party's general election spending at 15 million pounds (US$26 million; Ђ21 million).

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, said "people are very concerned about funding of political parties right across the political spectrum."

"That's why ... we are going to make it compulsory for all political parties to disclose any loans they get," he told the British Broadcasting Corp.

Falconer said the new rules would be incorporated in a bill currently going through Parliament, reports AP.


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