The media have been speculating that some of Tony Blair's top aides may face charges after Scotland Yard handed over a 216 page report on the cash for-peerage scandal to the Crown Prosecution Service on Friday. 6,300 documents have been handed over to prosecutors.
The timing of the submission of this report and the consideration of charges by the Crown Prosecution service could not be worse for Labour as it happens in the run up to local Government elections across the UK and to the Scottish Parliament in May.
Scotland Yard conducted a 13 month investigation into allegations that large donations to the Labour Party by wealthy individuals were linked to the award of seats in the House of Lords. This long running investigation has been used by opponents to inflate the general air of sleaze which has wafted around Blair and the New Labour government. Blair has as usual sought to present a cool and unruffled reaction to this rumbling crisis but it has continued to nip at his heels.
The three people most likely to face charges appear to be the Labour party's chief fund raiser Lord Levy, top Blair personal aide Ruth Turner, and millionaire Labour party backer Sir Christopher Evans. All three deny any wrongdoing but were arrested and later released on bail.
Although Blair himself was twice questioned by Scotland Yard he was not arrested and the indications at present are that he is not likely to be charged. The allegations of cash-for-honours first surfaced in November 2005 and 136 people, including Blair have been questioned either as witnesses or suspects.
The handing over of the report to the CPS a mere two weeks or so before the elections puts this issue once again with full force into the minds of the electorate. Given the extent of the documentation involved in the investigation it seems unlikely that the CPS will have made a decision on charges by the time of the election date on May 3rd. This means that voters will be going to the poll with the suspicion still hanging in the air that the current Government is so sleazy that aides to the Prime Minister may be facing criminal charges. A worse context for facing an election could hardly be imagined.
The only thing that would remove this thorn in the New Labour campaign would be a decision by the CPS that there were to be no prosecutions but it seems unlikely that such a decision will emerge before the elections - if at all.
The only helpful aspect of this is that Gordon Brown, the likely future leader of the labour party, has appeared to be relatively untouched by the suspicions of sleaze in this case. The Labour Party must hope that they can focus the minds of the electorate more on the prospects of a new leadership than on the troubles of the outgoing one.