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FactCheck: Is Hain's 'think tank' for real?

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 11 January 2008

Why did Peter Hain take donations through a think-tank that doesn't seem to think?

It's been more than six months since the Labour leadership contest finished, but incredibly the row about campaign funding is still raging.

Peter Hain has been under attack from bloggers for months, but this week the row erupted into the mainstream press.

It emerged that Hain had been late in declaring more than £103,000 - more than many of his rivals had spent on their entire campaigns. Hain put the blame on 'administrative failings'.

But one of the most curious details was the source of some of the donations. Money from four donors came through an organisation Hain's press statement described as a 'think tank', called the Progressive Policies Forum.

This organisation was new to most Westminster journalists, who had never heard of it before.

So what was it?

Analysis

Googling "Progressive Policies Forum" brings up a number of articles about Peter Hain fighting for his political life, but no homepage for anything that resembles a think-tank. It's a very unusual think-tank that has no internet presence of its own.

Most think-tanks, such as the Institute of Public Policy Research, or the Smith Institute, are registered as charities. But there is no Progressive Policies Forum registered with the Charities Commission.

However, there is a company called The Progressive Policies Forum Ltd, registered with Companies House, the body charged with keeping details of every company in the UK. A minority of think-tanks, including the Policy Exchange and the Centre for Policy Studies, are registered as companies, rather than charities.

But those two are both a type of organisation called a company limited by guarantee, which is what you would normally use to incorporate a not-for-profit undertaking, like a youth club (or indeed, a think-tank).


Like the term 'artist', the term 'think-tank' is so vague that it's hard to prove whether something is a think-tank or not.

The PPF, however, is an ordinary limited company - the kind of company you'd set up if you were running a restaurant or a newsagent.

Most think-tank boards would be studded with the grandees and influential figures from whatever shade of political opinion the tank does its thinking about.

Not so the PPF. It has only one director and one sole shareholder - the same person.

Like the term 'artist', the term 'think-tank' is so vague that it's hard to prove whether something is a think-tank or not.

But the PPF is not constituted like other think-tanks, and there's no evidence we can find that it publishes or produces political research.

Verdict

So, what does all this prove? Well, on its own, it proves nothing. But it leaves a lot of unanswered questions. If the PPF is a genuine think-tank, why has it published nothing in more a year of its existence? Where are the thinkers? Where is their tank? Who set it up?

Although unconfirmed, one possible answer to that last question is lobbyist Steve Morgan, who was one of Peter Hain's campaign managers, and is now working on the Clinton campaign in the US.

One of his other companies, Nettrap Ltd, used the same Wimpole Street address for three years, from 2004 to 2007.

He was also one of the donors who sent donations through the PPF.

But if it's not a genuine think-tank, what was it? One possibility being suggested is that its purpose may have been to conceal the identity of the donors - but that seems unlikely. It's difficult to see how any rational person could ever think it would work.


The whole thing simply makes no sense. But it does serious damage to Hain's reputation for competence.

And if the PPF was set up primarily to channel donations, why was it set up seven months before it paid out any cash?

There is no suggestion that any of this breaches election rules - the only wrong-doing was the failure to declare the donations on time, for which Peter Hain has already apologised.

The whole thing simply makes no sense. But it does serious damage to Hain's reputation for competence.

The cardinal virtue in election finances is transparency, and transparent is the one thing this whole arrangement is not.

Sources: Peter Hain's press release; Companies House.

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