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British Reporters' Sting Snares Labour Politicians
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British Reporters' Sting Snares Labour Politicians

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British Reporters' Sting Snares Labour Politicians

British Reporters' Sting Snares Labour Politicians
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Former British Cabinet ministers Stephen Byers, Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon. i

Former British Cabinet ministers (from left) Stephen Byers, Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon have been suspended after apparently offering to sell their political influence for cash to undercover journalists posing as American lobbyists. AFP/Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption AFP/Getty Images
Former British Cabinet ministers Stephen Byers, Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon.

Former British Cabinet ministers (from left) Stephen Byers, Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon have been suspended after apparently offering to sell their political influence for cash to undercover journalists posing as American lobbyists.

AFP/Getty Images

A sting operation by journalists in Britain has caught some hefty targets: Four lawmakers in the governing Labour Party were captured on tape apparently offering to sell their political influence to what they thought was an American lobbying firm.

One, former Transport Secretary Stephen Byers, told the undercover reporters from Britain's Channel 4 television that he could be hired like a taxi for 5,000 pounds a day ($7,500).

The four members of Parliament have been suspended while party officials investigate. They emphatically deny any wrongdoing.

Three of those suspended are ex-Cabinet ministers: Byers, former Health Minister Patricia Hewitt and former Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon. The fourth is Margaret Moran, a Labour MP.

After the documentary aired Monday night, horrified Labour politicians held a crisis meeting. They reportedly expressed shock and incredulity that three such experienced ministers could have been caught up in such a sting.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown's political rival, Conservative Party leader David Cameron, was quick to condemn the Labour Party.

"Every time we patch up one part of the broken politics, another crack appears elsewhere," Cameron said. "We do need to start from scratch."

But Labour leaders pointed out that Cameron hasn't suspended the lone Conservative MP caught up in the lobbying scandal, Sir John Butterfill.

Rules and regulations govern when and how British lawmakers and former government ministers can accept outside income. But critics charge they are not tough enough.

A parliamentary watchdog is investigating whether the members of Parliament went beyond its rules. But it is possible no laws were actually broken.

And while national elections are just months or possibly weeks away — they must be held by June 3 — the revelations might not have much effect on Labour's standing in the opinion polls. Peter Kellner of the polling agency YouGov says Britain's main political parties can't sink much lower in the voters' esteem.

"It's not that the public say Labour is sleazier," he said. "The public is saying, 'A plague on both your houses.' "

All three main parties are promising complete reform of Britain's lobbying laws — if the public will vote for them.

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