No regrets says Lord Levy as he books place in history
The man at the centre of the cash for honours scandal visited the London Jewish Cultural Centre in Golders Green last week. Before going on stage he talked candidly to Katie Davies about life inside New Labour. LORD Michael Levy, it is fair to say
The man at the centre of the 'cash for honours' scandal visited the London Jewish Cultural Centre in Golders Green last week. Before going on stage he talked candidly to Katie Davies about life inside New Labour.
LORD Michael Levy, it is fair to say, likes the sound of his own voice. Within 30 minutes of discussing his autobiography, Question of Honour, he is already in chat show host mode, pacing the stage and pulling up the sleeves of his immaculate suit
He talks about growing up in poverty-ridden Hackney, his life as a music mogul, launching the careers of Alvin Stardust and Chris Rea on an unsuspecting public, but mostly he focuses on one man alone - his tennis partner and, at one point, fellow Met Police interviewee, Tony Blair.
"Blair always wanted to put me in a cupboard and never let me speak to the media," he told me.
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"I thought it would have been more appropriate to put out who I was and what I was doing. Instead I was built up as this man of mystery."
If he was kowtowed into silence by his affection for Blair, Lord Levy now sounds like a jilted lover who has decided to tell all.
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"If we see each other I'm sure we'll be friendly," he said. "He's finished his term and come to a new era in his life, and I want a new era in mine. Good luck to him. People say to me, 'They've really torn you apart - don't you feel angry?' But I don't want to feel like that. At the end of the day, a politician is a politician."
The split came over the issue of cash for peerages, which plagued Blair as he limped through his final months in power. It saw Lord Levy interrogated repeatedly at Colindale police station and attacked by the media.
And Blair, it seems, didn't throw himself as eagerly behind his friend - as he had done for Blair. "At the end of the day everyone looks after themselves and everyone was looking after their own reputation," Lord Levy shrugged. "But every PM should see how history judges them."
The book makes up the May biography threesome, with Cherie Blair and John Prescott's offerings, and is at its most entertaining when dishing the dirt on New Labour.
In 1994, for example, he tells of Blair's worrying lack of maturity as a newly crowned first among equals, when he "jumped up and down" and "shouted I'm Prime Minister! I'm Prime Minister!"
Likewise, he tells how Peter Mandelson begged to meet George Michael at a dinner party and was ignored by the star.
We are told of Cherie's desire to get rid of one of Blair's close female confidants from his staff and Blair's embarrassment when Lord Levy told him to stop getting massages from Carole Caplin.
There is obviously no love lost between Lord Levy and Mrs Blair - especially with her recent retort that "Michael Levy knows nothing." But he, it seems, can snipe back just as much.
"I have tried to be honest, but fair and proper," he said. "I'm surprised about some of the things she has written about people - some of her comments are really nasty. That's not where I come from or something I would chose to do.
"Her book is made to appeal to the female glossies."
Another leading figure with whom he has a fraught relationship is Gordon Brown. Just when everything was going wrong for the new PM, the biography set appeared with more knives sharpened for his back.
Lord Levy's claim is that Brown knew Labour was receiving loans, something he had always denied, to distance himself from the scandal.
"Brown was running the election campaign so it's incredible that he did not know that loans were being accepted. Logic dictates he did," Lord Levy said.
Regardless, he claims he never meant any ill-will. "I started to write this book in late August when Gordon was riding the crest of a wave. The last thing I was trying to do was cause any aggravation. The election which wasn't an election and the 10p tax had nothing to do with me.
"In politics nothing is insurmountable but certainly it is now very difficult for him. It is really going to Cameron's advantage."
What Levy does have in common with Blair, if not a distaste for Brown, is his manner.
He is all measured pauses, reassuring hand gestures and what seems, occasionally, to be affected sincerity. He speaks like a man who was educated far from his actual school of Hackney Downs Grammar, but like the former PM, knows the odd dropped aitch can win people over.
The 63-year-old is small and implausibly well-presented, with shining cufflinks and pristine pin-stripe suit, topped with his perfectly combed silver hair and a huge white grin.
He admits this insistence on perfection comes from the "bulging chip on his shoulder", born in humble beginnings.
It is easy to see why he was wooed by New Labour, something he never would have imagined in his youth. And it is hard not to have sympathy with his sudden fall from grace over cash for honours. Brought into the inner circle, the ultimate aficionado of Blair's vision for Britain, Lord Levy was unceremoniously booted out as soon as the going got tough.
He may have had the serious task of Middle East envoy, but coupled with that, he was an odd-job man and wallet chaser. "Lord Cashpoint's" task was essentially to do the jobs the likes of Alastair Campbell and Gordon Brown believed were below them.
"Was I used? Probably, but who in life at some stage hasn't been?" he asked. "It was difficult to say no to the Prime Minister."
When cash for peerages emerged, it was his reputation which was the sacrifice. That is not to say the whole issue is whiter than white. All involved were cleared, but Lord Levy is now an advocate for a cap on political donations and increased state funding as the "the only way forward".
He admits that the line between legality (people paying donations in the belief or hope they may get a peerage) and illegality (party members promising them honours if they pay up) is far too thin.
"I haven't come across too many Mother Teresas in my life," he said. "If a man is successful in life, does well and gives charitably, they have a school or opera house named after them.
"When supporting a political party they look at history, the recognition others have got and think, maybe that can happen to me. However, it's very different from the party saying, 'you give x, then you get y.'"
And if ever it did come up? "The conversation was stopped," he said.
The decision to drop the charges wasn't enough to rebuild the Blair-Levy friendship, born out of two men very alike meeting at the right time.
But ironically it's those similarities he is keeping as a lesson from the debacle.
"As much as I am able to charm people to do things like get money from them, I got charmed myself," he said.