Ashcroftgate piles on the pressure for Tory party
The Mole: Row over Tory banker’s tax status puts Dave on back foot again
When the Best Quotes of the 2010 Election come to be compiled on May 7 or whenever, this will surely make the top three: "While I value my privacy, I do not want my affairs to distract from the general election campaign."
It comes, of course, from Lord (Michael) Ashcroft, making his decision yesterday to fess up to the British people that he is a 'non-dom' who is still not paying tax in Britain on his considerable worldwide earnings, while basically running the bank for the Tory election campaign, including giving more than £10m of his own money.
This despite the fact that he made a "solemn and binding" promise in 2000 to the then Tory leader William Hague that he would become a permanent UK resident in return for a seat in the House of Lords.
If Ashcroft really thinks that by finally owning up to his tax status - only under pressure, mind you - his affairs will not "distract" from the election campaign, then he is more of a liability to the Tory party than even his worst enemies are claiming.
Labour, of course, is having a field day. Bullygate? Sorry, what?
Lord Mandelson has called for an inquiry to establish whether Ashcroft broke promises he made when he was ennobled in 2000. The Business Secretary has written to Lord Jay, who chairs the House of Lords appointments commission, asking for an investigation.
Justice Secretary Jack Straw said Ashcroft "was only granted his peerage on the basis he would return to live in the UK, become fully resident, and pay tax in the UK on his wider income".
Straw went on: "Lord Ashcroft has been forced to admit that he has not complied with this promise and that for the last 10 years the Conservatives have been concealing the truth. Instead of paying tax in the UK on all his earned income, he has been channelling millions into the Conservative party to help them buy this election."
Ashcroft did not confess voluntarily, of course. It was only a matter of time before the truth was going to come out as a result of a Labour backbencher's request for clarification under Freedom of Information rules.
Gordon Prentice, the Labour MP who filed that request, said Ashcroft should be stripped of his peerage. Denis MacShane, the former Europe Minister, said: "Some kind of full inquiry is needed to account for the missing years of Ashcroft's tax affairs when he was dictating the course of this election."
The question now is whether Ashcroft's affairs will continue to direct the course of this election - and in the wrong direction, from David Cameron's perspective.
As the Mole reported yesterday, the YouGov poll that showed the Tories' popularity dwindling and Labour's rising - with only a two-point margin in voting intentions - also discovered increasing concerns among the electorate about Cameron's 'toff' background. Only 28 per cent of those polled felt the Tory leader wanted to do the best for "all groups in Britain", against 39 per cent for Gordon Brown.
The Ashcroft revelation is not going to impress that growing band of sceptics one little bit. And neither is Cameron's response to media pressure following Ashcroft's statement.
"I have always taken the view that someone's tax status is a matter between them and the Revenue," said Cameron. "I think that now we can get on with the election."
Well, that's another contender for the top three quotes of this election.
It is only just over a day since Cameron gave Conservatives in Brighton his no-notes rallying call. The timing of Ashcroftgate means we can barely remember a word Dave said on Sunday. Wasn't there something about "patriotic duty"? Ouch!
Only a few weeks ago, this general election was the Tories' to lose and Labour's to win. Much more of this, and it's going to be the other way round. Unbelievable. ·
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