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UK industrialist, Lord Swraj Paul

Swraj Paul, Brown's eye poked in Britain's race for power
By Dipankar De Sarkar

London, Oct 11 The warmup to next year's British election just got hotter Sunday as newspapers aligned to the two major parties traded charges over parliamentary expenses, the prime minister's right eye and "fringe bedfellows" from the European far right.

In a taster of what is certain to be a closely-run, down-and-dirty election due by June 3, 2010, the Sunday Times' main front-page news was about the parliamentary expenses claimed by Indian-born steel tycoon Swraj Paul.

"Brown's millionaire lord and ?38,000 in 'dodgy' expenses," ran the headline to the news - a followup on a similar story it ran on last week about Paul, who is a financial backer of both the ruling Labour Party as well as Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Paul, the founder-chairman of the Caparo Group of industries, claimed 38,000 pounds in expenses for attending the House of Lords, Britain's upper chamber of parliament, of which he is deputy speaker, the paper said.

Although Paul - like all other members of the house - is entitled to an overnight allowance for using an accommodation to attend parliament, the paper said the millionaire had never slept in the flat for which he claimed the allowance.

By claiming his main home was his manager's flat in Oxfordshire, he was able to claim cash allowance which are available only to peers who live outside the capital, said the Sunday Times - part of a media empire that includes The Sun, which has publicly declared support for the opposition Conservative Party.

Meanwhile, the Daily Mail - another paper that supports the Conservatives - reported that Brown has suffered two minor tears on the retina of his remaining good eye last month.

Brown lost the sight of his left eye as a teenager after an accident while playing rugby, but Britain's Home Minister Allan Johnson Sunday dismissed media speculation of a Labour leadership challenge, declaring Sunday: "He's fit, and able and determined and energetic."

From the other side of the political divide, The Observer - a pro-Labour Sunday broadsheet - stepped up attacks on the Conservatives for alleged links with far-right European groups and politicians with anti-semitic and neo-Nazi sympathies.

The paper published an article by British Foreign Minister David Miliband in which he expressed "astonishment" at links between the Conservatives and Polish politician Michal Kaminski, who opposes an unconditional apology by his countrymen for the 1941 massacre of at least 300 Polish Jews.

"There will be incredulity in Washington, Beijing and Delhi, never mind Berlin and Paris, that a party aspiring to government in Britain - the party of Winston Churchill, no less - chooses allies like this," Miliband said.

Miliband urged Conservative leader David Cameron to dissociate his party from his party's "new and fringe bedfellows in the European parliament."

The Observer said British Jews were increasingly uneasy with the alliance between the Conservatives and anti-semitic European groups, including the Latvian For Fatherland and Freedom party, some of whose members support commemorations of Latvian wartime Nazis. /IANS