Political blogger warned he could be jailed
London Telegraph | February 15, 2007
The Charity Commission has warned an online blogger he could go to jail unless he submits information he has gathered about the activities of the Smith Institute, the left-wing think tank under investigation for links to the Labour Party.
The formal direction was issued to Paul Staines, who runs the Guido Fawkes political website , ordering him to release documents relating to the institute by Friday.
Chancellor Gordon Brown has admitted that his policies are shaped and influenced by the think tank.
The commission launched a formal inquiry on Feb 1 into the links between Labour and the institute, which has to be politically neutral under charity rules.
The Daily Telegraph has seen minutes of a Smith Institute meeting at 11 Downing Street in October 2004 at which Mr Brown revealed the importance of the institute to Labour's thinking.
According to the minutes, the Chancellor told an audience: “You will see that we regard the Smith Institute discussions as very important in how we prepare for our industrial and commercial future.”
The meeting was then addressed by the then-science minister Lord Sainsbury and the biotech entrepreneur Sir Christopher Evans who later lent £1million to Labour and joined a Treasury taskforce.
Sir Christopher was praised by the Chancellor for having done “so much in his own company, but also in the wider field of science, to link business and science in a way that is putting Britain right at the forefront of scientific and commercial advance in the future”.
The Tories' Chris Grayling seized on Mr Brown's comments as evidence that the Smith Institute was “Gordon Brown's personal think tank”.
He said: “Gordon Brown needs to come clean not only about his links to this organisation, but also the influence that a Labour loaner may have had over Treasury policy.”
Labour sources confirmed that Mr Brown had introduced a series of seminars on science and the economy.
The source added: “Whenever these kind of seminars or debates are organised by think-tanks, NGOs or all-party groups, it is important for the government to listen and learn from experts in the field, and it is pathetic for the Tories to pretend otherwise.”
The Smith Institute has come under sustained for its links to Mr Brown in the past few days. Yesterday the Financial Times reported that Wilf Stevenson, the head of the institute, hosted a meeting convened at the Treasury's request to discuss policy.
The meeting was allegedly intended to be a precursor before meeting the Chancellor. However such a meeting with Mr Brown “has not been diarised yet”.
Earlier the think tank was criticised for sending out politically-biased literature to promote a lecture series to be addressed by the Chancellor this year.
The summary document advertising the lectures, entitled Reinvigorating Communities, speaks of Britain as “a better country because of the choices that voters made in 1997, 2001 and 2005”.
No one at the Smith Institute could be reached for comment.
However, Mr Stevenson said the Treasury had asked the Fabian Society to organise the policy meeting with other centre and centre-left think tanks. He had acted in a “purely personal capacity”.
He also urged Tories who disagreed with the literature to put their points at the lectures.
“We are an educational charity so we should be able to make points in a strong fashion,” he said.
The direction against Mr Staines, under Section 8(3) of the Charities Act 1993, asks for “documents in your custody or under your control relating to political activity by the Smith Institute”.
If he fails to provide the information, the letter warns that he “may be held in contempt of court and liable to imprisonment or fined or your assets may be seized”.
A Charity Commission spokesman said: “We have the power to legally require those who we believe may have information pertinent to our investigation to submit it to us.”
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