Enron and Labour: Smoke, No Fire

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RICHARD LEWIS/AP;JAMES NIELSEN/AFP

Rumours are unlikely to develop into scandal for British Prime Minister Blair

If yesterday's news is tomorrow's fish and chips paper, the following item would normally be in a landfill by now. After all, it's more than three years old. Back in 1998, the European arm of a big American energy company openly and legally gave Britain's ruling Labour party $21,000, paying for two tables at a dinner and sponsoring a reception at the party's annual conference in Blackpool.

Soon after, then-Trade and Industry Minister Peter Mandelson chose not to submit the company's $2 billion takeover of the a British utility called Wessex Water to a review by antitrust authorities. This coincidence did not go unnoticed by the nation's broadsheet press: it received the mild scandal treatment in the left-wing Sunday newspaper, the Observer, while the daily Independent wryly called the decision "a test case for companies which have made donations to the Labour Party." In 1999, the party itself held an internal inquiry scrutinizing the payments. But soon the story was mostly forgotten, filed away as a routine (if depressing) example of the outsized role of money in modern politics. Until now, that is.

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