A Conservative MP has called for an Oxford don to be investigated by the Cabinet Office after he was accused in a leaked letter of providing direct political support to Gordon Brown.
Professor Iain McLean, a Professor of Politics at Nuffield College, is alleged to have provided political support to the Chancellor’s team after benefiting from Treasury and government contracts.
In a letter sent to Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O’Donnell last Thursday and obtained by Cherwell, Shadow Transport Secretary Chris Grayling raises concerns about McLean’s actions prior to Brown’s campaign for the leadership of the Labour Party.
"My most serious area of concern is that some individuals and organisations who have provided the Chancellor and other Treasury Ministers with pro-bono or discounted support for their political activities have also been beneficiaries of contracts from the Treasury under the Chancellor’s leadership and also from other Government Departments," he wrote.
The call for an inquiry comes after the Electoral Commission revealed that Gordon Brown received over £110,000 in donations for his leadership campaign, many from donors who had been appointed to key government posts.
McLean states in his CV that he was a Specialist Adviser to the House of Commons Treasury Committee from 2002 to 2005. His research into public expenditure allocation was "highly commended by HM Treasury" in Brown’s 2004 Budget report.
In October 2004 McLean attended a meeting of Wakefield City Council where he voiced objections to the Boundary Commission’s proposed changes to constituency sizes. The proposals would have abolished the constituency of Normanton, current seat for Economic Secretary to the Treasury Ed Balls MP.
Before becoming an MP, Balls served as chief economic adviser to the Treasury from 1999 to 2004, a role in which he was once described as the most powerful unelected person in Britain.
In Grayling’s letter to the Cabinet Secretary he questioned McLean’s objections to the proposed boundary changes. "I would like you to investigate whether this also classifies as providing political support to the Chancellor’s team, and investigate whether the correct competitive tendering processes were followed for his government work," he wrote.
"Given the obvious public interest in this issue and the importance of upholding the highest standards of transparency in this leadership campaign, [I am] placing this letter in the public domain and would request that you give this matter your urgent attention."
Grayling attacked what he described as "cronyism" between Brown and his political allies. "Gordon Brown says he wants to put the trust back into British politics. Yet it appears that people close to him politically have been doing paid work for the Treasury and for other Government Departments while he has been Chancellor. If it’s true, this is a completely unacceptable situation, and there needs to be a proper investigation into what has happened," he said.
"Government Ministers have a duty to be entirely impartial when it comes to spending taxpayers’ money, and it is completely unacceptable to put your political friends onto the payroll. It’s obvious that the culture of cronyism that existed under Tony Blair is going to carry on under Gordon Brown. But the Chancellor seems to be taking things to new depths."
Professor McLean denied all of Grayling’s accusations and said they did not constitute political support as he was acting in a professional capacity. "I didn’t provide direct political support to Ed Balls. I was a consultant to Wakefield City Council, as Mr Grayling would have found out if he had consulted them, or me. My financial terms for acting as an expert witness were my standard terms, as agreed with other local authorities in the Fourth and Fifth General Reviews of the Parliamentary Boundary Commission for England.
"All my work for HM Treasury has been unpaid. The only paid contract involving the Treasury was for a report on which I was principal instigator on ‘Investigating the flow of domestic and European public expenditure into the English regions’, which reported in 2003. It was not commissioned by the Treasury but by John Prescott’s department, then called the ODPM. I tendered successfully for it in an open competition," he added.
Andrew Smith, MP for Oxford East, attacked the Conservative Party for encouraging an investigation into Professor McLean without proper consideration. "This is the politics of smear and innuendo," he said. "It shows how desperate the Tories are to try and undermine Gordon Brown. Their attempt to drag Professor McLean’s name through the mud is utterly contemptible and they should apologise to him. This will do the Tories nothing but harm among fair-minded students and academics in Oxford."
A spokesperson for the Cabinet Office said they were unable to confirm whether an investigation would be officially launched.