Sir Gulam Noon, Honours – ‘High Noon’ for Noon & Blair
Comment at end
4th January, 2009
Sir Gulam Noon tells of the stressful times during the Cash/Loans for Honours investigation in the UK. This was a shameful investigation, politically inspired by Scottish & Welsh nationalists it was taken on by the Metropolitan Police, it seemed to me, to prove that no-one, not even a sitting prime minister, was above questioning. The whole affair was damaging for Sir Gulam as for many others who had been more than happy to contribute to Blair’s Labour party. Like the then prime minister himself, Tony Blair, and some of his associates, Sir Gulam and other donors were wrongly put under a spotlight which implied a smoking gun. The smoking gun did not exist, and therefore was never found. But reputations and the integrity of many people were left in tatters. The historically damaging result of a police inquiry which should never have taken place in the first place.
From the Calcutta Telegraph
“The Phantom Scandal” that may have hastened Blair’s departure
|In this extract from Noon, With a View, British curry king Sir Gulam Noon, who got embroiled in the ‘Cash for honours’ scandal after it came to light that he had made a hefty donation to the Labour Party, relates how then Prime Minister Tony Blair soothed his injured feelings|
I should not have lost my temper but the frustration, the anger and the sense of betrayal had got the better of me. I had quite literally screamed at Ruth Turner, the Director of Government Relations and keeper of Tony Blair’s Diary, the day before. I had demanded to see someone. With me were two close friends, Lord Waheed Alli and Baroness Margaret McDonagh — I suspect that they would not have come if they had realised what I was planning to say!
I had become deeply embroiled in the so-called Cash for Honours inquiry — the name given to the storm alleging a link between political donations and the promise of a peerage. My name had been dragged through the mud, my reputation was in danger of being ruined and none of it was my fault. I told Ruth that when I had agreed for my name to go forward I had openly declared all my donations to the Labour Party. I had filled in the appropriate form listing my financial dealings with the party. Why was I now facing a police investigation? Was this how loyalty to the party was rewarded? What was the Prime Minister going to do about it? How was he going to get me out of this mess?
I am sure some of my language might have been stronger but the message was plain enough. I was being hung out to dry. I should have been supported publicly by the most powerful people in the land; instead I was being investigated for political manipulation. As far as the public, my friends and my business acquaintances around the world were concerned, where there was smoke there must have been fire. People far away in places such as India and the Middle East who are not familiar with the British political system are still confused about what happened. Even after all the coverage in the western media, an editor of a major news magazine in Delhi asked me to explain what had transpired.
Ruth did her best to calm me down… but I had had enough of the rumour and innuendo, and someone had to hear my grievances. I had maintained complete silence despite persistent calls from the press all eager to publish my account. They smelled blood, and anything that would add to the story, particularly if it moved the line of inquiry closer to Number 10, was more than welcome. Ruth was sure everything would be sorted out. She thought I might be found a safe seat as an MP, but I said I was not interested; I had even withdrawn my name from the list of potential peers. But I still wanted satisfaction. That was why the next day I found myself sitting in Downing Street waiting to meet Tony Blair. This was not a new experience for me. As a long-time and open supporter of the Labour Party, as well as a high-profile member of the Asian community, I had attended many functions in Downing Street, but this time it was different. I was still struggling to control my temper and I did not want to say anything I might later regret. To be honest, I did not know what I was going to say. Although I regarded him as a friend, Tony Blair was still the Prime Minister, and you did not just walk into Downing Street and give the Prime Minister a telling off. But I was genuinely worried.
Was this how it was all going to end after so many years spent building a successful business in the UK, making many friends, being honoured and knighted by the Queen? Had I really struggled from a one-room flat in Mumbai to end up facing charges in a criminal court in England for something as grubby as trying to buy a favour? I had been the youngest Justice of the Peace back in Mumbai. I had never in my life been questioned by the police, so this was a traumatic period. Everything I had done had been at the behest of the Labour Party and its senior officials. If honours were so cheap, people would be queuing up outside Downing Street, cheque books in hand.
I looked around the room almost in a daze. I could hear the staff going about their business and the occasional sound from the world outside. It was like waiting outside the headmaster’s study at school. I checked my watch. He was running late, as it was Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons. Then just as my mind began wandering back to my business affairs, Tony Blair strode through the door, hand outstretched, apologising for keeping me waiting.
I immediately relaxed, his beaming smile working its magic on me as it had done on the electorate when his vision of “New Labour” gave him a landslide election victory over John Major’s Conservatives in the 1997 general election.
He led me by the hand to his private apartment upstairs. His wife, Cherie, and their daughter, Kathryn, were there. Cherie greeted me with a kiss on the cheek and introduced Kathryn. To a casual observer it was an informal chat in a typical family context. Tony must have realised the tension and he used the informality of his sitting room to calm me down; no doubt Ruth Turner had warned him about my mood. Cherie and Kathryn came and went; the Blairs’ youngest son Leo’s toys were lying around — absolute normality, like any other home. But we were there to discuss anything but a normal matter. We sat facing each other and he told me: “I am devastated about what has happened to you. We have treated you badly.”
I said: “Prime Minister, I don’t know what has been going on with this peerage business, but you have got to get me out of this mess. I am not interested in going to the House of Lords anymore; in fact I have withdrawn my name from the list.”
His reply both comforted and flattered me: “Gulam, you may not want to go to the House of Lords, but I want to send you there.” We talked about the investigation as it affected me and about the impact it was having on my family. I explained that I was now also getting negative reactions from overseas, where I had friends and business associates who were bemused by the stories they were reading and hearing.
Throughout our short meeting he did his best to reassure me. Although he could not of course pass judgement at the time as the inquiry was still going on, he said that we were all honourable people and he was sure in his heart of hearts — as I was — that no one had done anything wrong. This helped, but the story that began in March 2006 was to rumble on until 20 July 2007 when the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) finally decided that there were no grounds to charge anyone. The CPS concluded: There is furthermore substantial and reliable evidence that there were proper reasons for the inclusion of all those whose names appeared on the 2005 working peers list, or drafts of that list: that each was a credible candidate for a peerage, irrespective of any financial assistance that they had given, or might give, to the Labour Party.
I did not realise it at the time, but Tony Blair would himself be quizzed by the police in December 2006 and twice again later, making him the first sitting Prime Minister to be questioned by the police in a criminal investigation, albeit as a witness. Despite being concerned for myself, I could tell that Tony Blair was also a worried man. At stake were his future and the legacy he had fought for. Eventually, of course, he would step down as Prime Minister, but to what extent did the phantom scandal hasten his departure?
Margaret McDonagh joined us briefly and helped Tony Blair to reassure me that all would be well. He urged me not to be downhearted about the affair. I took encouragement from the meeting. I was no longer angry but I was still concerned and would remain so until the CPS eventually threw out the case.
|Reprinted with permission from Whittles Publishing (email@example.com).|