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Bernie gets his money back

FORMULA 1 boss Bernie Ecclestone last week received a check for one million pounds from Britain's Labour Party, which had been advised to return the money which had been donated to the party by Ecclestone in January. The donation was returned on the advice of Sir Patrick Neill, the chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life after the Labour government adopted a policy to exempt Grand Prix racing from a European ban on tobacco sponsorship. The money had caused two weeks of controversy in British political circles with suggestions that the gift to the party had been an attempt to influence policy-making.

Ecclestone argues that he has the right to give money to whoever he pleases and says he does not want the money back. If he does not cash the check presented to him by Labour's General Secretary Tom Sawyer the party says it will donate the money to a charity. More cynical folk suggest that Bernie will not cash the check but will hand it over to restaurant magnate Robert Earl. The Planet Hollywood boss recently agreed to assist the Labour party to exactly that amount, thus ensuring that the loss of Bernie's donation was not as damaging to the Labour Party as it might have been.

None of the politicians have yet mentioned any links between Earl and Ecclestone but there are obvious ones, not least in the chunky form of Sylvester Stallone, a partner in Planet Hollywood and the man who has a contract to make a major movie about F1 racing in the next couple of years.

The charity most likely to get the money if Ecclestone does not cash the check is the Cancer Research Campaign which says it will use the money for research into smoking among young people.

"We need to know why kids smoke," said the charity's director general Professor Gordon McVie. "They don't all watch F1 and lots of girls watch Kate Moss. Girls see cigarettes as a slimming tool."

It should be noted that there is currently no advertising ban being proposed on the fashion industry.

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