By Tom Warnett
With Andrew Rawnsley’s new book serialised in Sunday’s Observer, eagle-eyed readers around Westminster will be looking out for more classic Rawnsley yarn-spinning.
In his 2000 book, Servants of the People, the 1997 Bernie Ecclestone donations story was serialised in the Daily Mail, with much enthusiasm, but rather less attention to the actual facts. Here are some of the bigger whoppers:
* When was Gordon Brown told about the donation?
Claim: Tony Blair told Gordon Brown about Ecclestone’s donation to the Labour Party on November 7th in a car on way back from an Anglo-French summit at Canary Wharf.
Truth: As BBC pictures at the time confirm, the two left in different cars.
* Did Gordon Brown lie?
Claim: Gordon Brown lied on the Today Programme. Rawnsley claimed that Gordon Brown told the BBC that he “didn’t know” about the Eccelstone donation.
Truth: The then-Chancellor was making a reference to Labour’s annually published list of major donors, as is clear in the original interview. Rawnsley subtly changed what was said in the interview to fit his story. The original transcript from the BBC interview, and accompanying audio, from November 10th 1997 show that Rawnsley left out a key word and changed another.
John Humphrys said:
“Let me turn to another subject if I may briefly, your relations, the government’s relations, with the formula one industry before the decision to change your minds about whether to ban tobacco advertising at formula one races. Did Bernie Ecclestone, the man behind formula one, did he make a financial contribution to the Labour Party?”
The original transcript shows, with two interruptions, that the crucial exchange went as follows:
Brown: “Well, you will have to wait and see, like I will have to wait and see”
Brown: “When the list is published.”
Humphrys: “Why should we wait?”
Brown: “Because I have not been told and I certainly don’t know what the true position is.”
The version published in the Daily Mail’s serialisation in 2000 left out the “because” and changed “true position” to “truth.”
The omission of “because” changed the context of the rest of the reply, making it appear that Brown was asserting that he had not been told whether the Ecclestone gift would be on the party’s list of donations, rather than whether any cash had been received. There was no reason Gordon Brown should know who had donated to the Labour Party before the list was published. He was the Chancellor of the Exchequer, not the Labour Party Treasurer.
How did Gordon Brown react to his interview?
Claim: Rawnsley claimed that Gordon Brown had returned to the Treasury in a red mist after the interview.
Truth: The interview took place in a radio car outside Euston Station. The Chancellor did not return to the Treasury but took the train to Birmingham for a CBI conference.
Claim: Rawnsley, in his 2000 book, quoted one witness as saying Gordon went mental and raged at his staff, saying “I lied. I lied. My credibility will be in shreds. I lied. If this gets out, I’ll be destroyed”.
Truth: Charlie Whelan was the only person with Gordon Brown during the interview and doesn’t recognise Rawnsley’s version of events. He says Gordon Brown was certainly annoyed with the interview but Charlie had taped it and when he played it back to the Chancellor he was happy there were no problems.
Ten years of “thorough research” later, it will be interesting to see what gems Rawnsley has “discovered” this time out.