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OCTOBER 16, 2000

Bernie even handed with political parties

ANYBODY who accuses Bernie Ecclestone of partiality need think again, pretty seriously. It has now emerged that the F1 Commercial Rights Holder has not simply donated money to the British Labour Party in the past, but also to the Conservatives.

An article in today's Sunday Times quotes a senior figure with a knowledge of Conservative Party funding that Ecclestone, the sixth richest man in Britain, helped raised 700,000 pounds for the Tory war chest in the run-up to the 1997 General Election.

In political circles it is being said that this revelation throws a fresh spotlight on the vexed issue of how British businessmen make political donations.

In 1997 Ecclestone made a donation of one million pounds to the Labour Party only for it to be repaid on the advice of Lord Neill, the chairman of the committee of standards in public life.

This weekend Ecclestone reportedly denied giving money to the Torues, joking; "I only make a donation to a party if they give it back."

However, according to Tory sources Bernie helped raise the money two or three years before John Major's government went down to a defeat at the hands of Tony Blair's new Labour.

"He was charmed and agreed to help raise some money," the sources is quoted as saying. "It seems that he raised money from contacts and friend as well as giving himself, and in total the sum from him and his contacts came to between 600 and 700,000 pounds."

When Ecclestone - not a natural Socialist supporter, it has to be said - donated one million pounds to Labour three years ago he insisted that there was "no question" that he was trying to persuade the Blair administration to exempt F1 from a tobacco advertising ban.