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Jack Cunningham, accused by the Sunday Times of corruption, is welcomed back into the Labour Party

Jack CunninghamReaders will not be surprised to hear that Lord Cunningham of Felling, aka “Nuclear Jack” on account of his long and profitable relationship with the nuclear industry during his period as a Labour MP and minister, has been welcomed back into the Labour Party in spite of the accusation against him of corruption by the Sunday Times (£). Jack was suspended from the party last June following the Sunday Times sting operation in which he asked for £144,000 a year for a personal lobbying service to reporters posing as representatives of a South Korean solar energy company. He reportedly asked an undercover reporter: “Are you suggesting £10,000 a month? make that … £12,000 a month. I think we could do a deal on that.”

The reason he has been welcomed back (though there does not appear to have been any process that has any relationship with the party’s rule book) is a report last month by the House of Lords Committee for Privileges and Conduct which is probably best summarised as “not proven”:

The Commissioner found that Lord Cunningham did not demonstrate a clear willingness to breach the Code of Conduct in relation to any of the three allegations that were published.”

The report, however, is inadequate in a number of ways. Firstly the burden of proof: the report states:

the latest edition of the Guide to the Code of Conduct provides that “the civil standard of proof is adopted at all stages of the enforcement process… Thus, in order to find against a Member, the Commissioner will require at least that the allegation is proved on the balance of probabilities.”

The Commissioner, Paul Kernaghan, CBE QPM, former Hampshire Chief Constable, has “in the light of the seriousness of the allegations, taken the view that particularly strong evidence should be required before we may be satisfied that the allegations are proved.” In other words, he has simply abandoned the civil standard of proof since strong evidence is evidence which goes beyond the balance of probabilities. He was therefore prepared to dismiss the charges against Lord Jack in some circumstances even if the balance of probability was that he is guilty. The fact that he was acting in accordance with the precedent of a previous report does not excuse adopting a contradictory position on the burden of proof on this occasion which breaches the explicit  provision of the Guide to the Code of Conduct.

The Commissioner outlines  three sets of allegations that were made in The Sunday Times:

  • First, that Lord Cunningham was prepared to host functions in the House of Lords on behalf of a paying client, in breach of the rules.

  • Secondly, that he was willing to help establish an all-party group (APG) at the behest of the client.

  • Thirdly, that he was prepared to act as a paid advocate in the House and to provide parliamentary advice and services in return for payment or other reward.

In relation to the first, he quotes Lord Cunningham as having said to the undercover journalists:

“Oh yes, you’d have to get someone, mainly me if we were working together, to book the thing for you. So you can book the terrace facilities for example. You can have a lovely, I mean it’s too late for this year because they’ll all be fully booked up now, you’ve got to get in early, but you have a reception, you have somebody come along and give a brief presentation. Then you invite people, parliamentarians from both Houses across the spectrum who are interested in science and technology and energy policy and what not, and you just invite them along, and then—then your clients mingle with them and meet them and people will be making kind of sidebar appointments to meet for further chats and whatnot. Done properly and efficiently, that can work very well.”

He then finds that:

Lord Cunningham was unwise to raise the prospect of the client hosting a function in the Lords, and to offer preliminary advice on hosting such a function…. I suggest that Lord Cunningham’s comments, taken in isolation, could be interpreted as suggesting that he was open to hosting a Refreshment Department function on behalf of C&G [the fictitious company for which the undercover journalists purported to work], if they were working together. However, I do not find that the passage quoted above provides sufficiently strong evidence to demonstrate a “clear willingness to breach the rules”.

Not proven but not exactly in the clear either.

On the second, the Commissioner admits that, in answer to a question from the female undercover reporter about “whether setting up an all-party group ‘to use as a kind of lobbying platform for the solar technology that we got is a good way forward?’” Lord Cunningham replied “It’s a sensible idea“. He also says that “Lord Cunningham was unwise to indicate that he could be a member of it, or otherwise assist with creating a new APG at the request of a paying client“, but that his references to “the need to stick to the rules” … “do not demonstrate a “clear willingness” to negotiate an arrangement which would involve breaching the Code.” Again, not proven but hardly a ringing endorsement.

Finally, on acting as a paid advocate within Parliament, the Commissioner says:

Lord Cunningham’s comments about introducing the clients to minsters, writing to ministers and other members asking questions were more concerning—even reckless. Taken in isolation, they could be seen as evidence of an attempt to negotiate an agreement which would breach the Code. However,…. taking the conversation as a whole, I am not satisfied that there is sufficiently strong evidence to establish that he demonstrated a clear willingness to enter into an arrangement that would involve paid advocacy or providing parliamentary services in return for payment.”

He may have “used loose language and provided ammunition for critics“, but based on the burden of proof chosen, the charge of breaching the code of conduct was not proven. And the Commissioner thought “it important to record that Lord Cunningham recognised that the reputation of the House of Lords and Parliament more widely had been damaged by this episode. He apologised for that and concluded his interview with me by reiterating his profound and unreserved apology.” So that’s alright then.

Commissioner Paul Kernaghan may well be a decent enough fellow. When negotiating pay rates on behalf of his fellow top cops, he once used the alias of Life On Mars antihero, Gene Hunt, played by actor Philip Glenister, to find out about top brass perks. A good trade unionist! In a TV dramatisation of the campaign for democratic reform of the Labour Party in the early 1980s, I was once played by Philip Glenister’s brother Robert who later appeared in Only Fools and HorsesA Touch of Frost, Spooks and Hustle as Ash Morgan. So we’re practically related. However, I’m afraid his report is clearly flawed, and does not come close to what would be acceptable in a proper judicial procedure.

The question for the Labour Party is whether or not Lord Cunningham’s presence in the party brings it into disrepute. That’s an open and shut case in my view. Always has been in some ways. Shame that the Labour Party wasn’t allowed to consider the matter in line with its rules.

6 Comments

  1. Rod says:

    A true exemplar New Labour values. No doubt he’ll be able to offer advice to One Nation Labour’s young go-getters.

    Same old LibLabCon.

  2. swatantra says:

    He’s a disgrace. Change the Rules and have an Independent Panel of CLPs to review these kinds of cases. I’m still trying to get over Ken L being allowed back into the Party, after standing as an Independent.

  3. Rod says:

    @ I understandind why Cunningham wants back in – it’ll open channels of influence for highly paid lobbying contracts.

    But why Livingstone wanted back into what is a dying and purposeless party remains a mystery.

  4. Dave Roberts says:

    Livingstone should have been expelled from the party when he openly supported the IFE backed independent in Tower Hamlets. It was an absolute disgrace and it was only his control of the London party that kept him in.

    Has Michael Meacher given any of his houses to charity or is he still getting the rents from them?

  5. Rod says:

    Dave Roberts: “Has Michael Meacher given any of his houses to charity or is he still getting the rents from them?”

    Well, if you want to be like that about it – has Ed Balls reimbursed Conrad Black for flights back to the UK in Black’s private jet after attending Bilderberg Group meetings?

  6. Robert says:

    Campbell is back Hutton, Blair is back sure Purnell is about somewhere what did people expect New Labour was a winner and Milibands wants to be a winner.
    The fact is who would not sell what they have to offer, Blair has made a living out of selling his contact with government.

    God look at Brown the bloke gets paid wages for doing nothing at all, is that not a crime the lad cannot even be bothered trying to help the poor who suffer from the bedroom tax.

    I doubt to many people out side of the labour movement will care much about this get rich merchant coming back, I doubt he ever left.

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