Top 10 most shocking Labour party scandals

Cash for access, MPs’ expenses, egg pelting and more…

In Britain, we love a political scandal. Sleaze, corruption and hypocrisy maintain public interest in the political sphere in a way that debate over policies will never quite match.

It might be argued that revelations of politicians’ acts of moral turpitude are essential - a yardstick by which we can measure ourselves and our political system, and a reminder to those with power that they are not above scrutiny.  

No large political party has managed to avoid having to deal with uncomfortable issues at one time or another, and the Labour party is no exception. Indeed, Labour can rival major contenders such as UKIP and the Tories when it comes to scandalous behaviour.

We take a filthy trawl through some of the party’s most compromising moments:

1. Formula 1 and cigarettes, 1997

In the year Tony Blair steered his party to a landslide electoral victory, Labour soon managed to become ensnarled in a scandal involving a £1m donation from Formula 1 Boss Bernie Ecclestone. The large sum of money began to raise eyebrows when the incoming government changed its policy to allow Formula 1 to continue being sponsored by tobacco manufacturers. When the scandal came to light, the party reversed its policy and returned the donation.

2. Mandelson’s loan, 1998

Peter Mandelson had barely been a member of Blair’s cabinet before he was forced to resign. Mandelson kicked up a storm after it emerged that he’d taken an interest-free personal loan of £373,000 from fellow Labour MP Geoffrey Robinson to help buy a house in Notting Hill in 1996. This wasn’t a problem in itself; however, Robinson was the subject of an inquiry into his business dealings by Mandelson’s department. Mandelson later said that he’d not taken part in any decisions directly relating to Robinson, and he had also failed to register the loan with the Register of Members’ Interests. After coming under pressure from Blair, Mandelson resigned his position on 23rd December 1998. Robinson was also forced to resign. Not such a Merry Christmas after all.

3. Ron Davis’s mad moment, 1998

Meanwhile, Welsh Labour MP Ron Davies was busy making life difficult for himself, and stood down from his position as Secretary of State for Wales after a “moment of madness”, during which he was mugged at knifepoint when he picked up a man on Clapham Common and took him for a meal.

4. Prescott I, 2001

During the 2001 election campaign, John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister and a former amateur boxer, delivered a deft punch to the face of farmer Craig Evans who had thrown an egg at him.

5. Burying bad news, 2001

Later that year, and on the same day as the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre in New York, Labour spin doctor Jo Moore made a catastrophic error of judgement and wrote an email to a press officer suggesting it was a good day to bury bad news. “It’s now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury,” she wrote. “Councillors’ expenses?” A story about councillors’ expenses subsequently appeared. When the email emerged publicly a month later, Moore made a public apology for the insensitivity. But the following year, another email appeared suggesting Moore had tried a similarly crass tactic again, a mistake for which she was force to resign.

6. Jowellgate, 2003

Labour Tessa Jowell

2003 was the year of “Jowellgate”, named after the financial brouhaha that engulfed Tessa Jowell, Labour’s secretary of state for culture, media and sport. The scandal arose when her husband David Mills, a lawyer, was alleged to have corruptly received £340,000 from the bunga-bunga loving Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Mills was subsequently investigated in Italy for money laundering and alleged tax fraud. Jowell was investigated over the allegations against her husband due to a potential clash between her personal life and ministerial duties. Tony Blair, a political ally of Berlusconi, eventually cleared her of any wrongdoing.

7. Prescott II, 2006

Labour John Prescott

John Prescott

In 2006 it emerged that Prescott had been having an affair with his diary secretary Tracy Temple between 2002 and 2004. The affair, and Prescott’s entertainment of Temple at Dorneywood, his official residency, raised questions about use of public finances.

8. Cash for influence scandal I, 2009

Four Labour party life peers with names not dissimilar to Harry Potter villains were the subject of a scandal that saw them become the first peers in 367 years to be suspended from the house. Lord Snape, Lord Moonie, Lord Taylor of Blackburn and Lord Truscott were exposed by Sunday Times journalists to be offering to help make amendments to legislation in return for up to £120,000.

The House of Lords privileges committee found that Lords Moonie, Truscott and Blackburn had all breached the House’s code of conduct, but that Lord Snape had not.

9. MPs expenses scandal, 2009

From 8th May 2009, the Daily Telegraph began publishing daily instalments of leaked documents providing the shocking details of MPs expenses claims. Labour MPs were well represented in the naughty list. Indeed, of the six MPs that were eventually convicted for false accounting and other expenses abuse, all were from the Labour party.

Some of the Labour Party’s members’ most ridiculous claims at the tax-payers’ expense include:

Prescott III: John Prescott’s £312 claim for fitting mock Tudor beams to his constituency home, and for two new toilet seats in as many years, according to the Telegraph.

David Miliband allegedly claimed for gardening expenses and nearly £30,000 in repairs, decorations, and furnishings his family home in South Shields. 

Margaret Moran claimed £22,500 for treating dry rot at her third home in Southampton, and later argued that MPs need a London home, a constituency home and a third home for family life. She later agreed to repay the sum, saying she understood her constituents’ anger.

Quentin Davis, who defected to the Labour party when Gordon Brown became Prime Minister, claimed £10,000 for window repairs at his second home, an 18th century mansion.

10. Cash for influence scandal II, 2010

Labour Geoff Hoon

Geoff Hoon

Three former Labour cabinet members managed to get themselves into hot water after they were secretly filmed by Channel 4’s Dispatches journalists admitting to using their positions to influence government policy in return for cash. Geoff Hoon, Stephen Byers and Patricia Hewitt were all interviewed along with other MPs. Some of the most memorable recorded comments include Byers describing himself as “a cab for hire” and Hoon saying he wanted to make “some real money”. Hoon was banned from Parliament for five years and Byers for two years.

Beyond 2010 – The Miliband years

Labour ed Miliband

Not so much a political scandal as a fraternal one, Ed Miliband became a late runner in the Labour leadership race, challenging his brother David to lead the opposition government. The plucky upstart garnered the support of influential unions and sealed his victory. Relations between them are reportedly very frosty.

Since then, Miliband has steered clear of major controversy, but did make people groan with despair when, during a 2011 public sector strike over cuts, Miliband repeated himself like a crazy robot to ITV’s Damon Green who was interviewing him for television.

Here’s the clip in its full mechanised glory. Enjoy.

Now read:

10 most controversial Tory scandals

Readers' comments (2)

  • Anonymous

    The biggest New Labour scandal was the illegal invasion of Iraq based on the lies told by Blair and Campbell.

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  • I seem to recall that after the Labour party lost the general election Gordon Brown still signed a treaty with the EU before David Cameron could confirm the take over by the conservative/lib dem coalition committing

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