Annunziata & Zac: a tale of two awkward candidates

The Mole: Two young Tories illustrate Cameron’s problem with the party image

Column LAST UPDATED AT 09:53 ON Mon 30 Nov 2009

Despite his eagerness to be known as Dave, and his line at Manchester that the Tories are now the party of the poor and downtrodden, David Cameron continues to have trouble shaking off the image of the Conservatives as the party of the rich and privileged.

It's as if Margaret Thatcher, the grocer's daughter from Grantham, and John 'Classless Society' Major never existed. Cameron's history of Eton and the Bullingdon Club says it all and, so the story goes, we'll soon be back to the days of Eden and Macmillan, with men who were born to run the country actually doing so.

It's far from the truth, of course, but image is everything and nothing illustrates Cameron's dilemma better than the cases of two would-be Tory MPs - Annunziata Rees-Mogg and Zac Goldsmith.

First, Annunziata, 30-year-old daughter of the former Times editor, Lord (William) Rees-Mogg.

Annunziata is to run in the upcoming general election for the West Country seat of Somerton and Frome. (Her brother, Jacob, who once brought his childhood nanny to accompany him on the campaign trail, is the prospective Tory member for neighbouring North East Somerset.)

She's almost everything Cameron could want in a prospective new MP - she's a girl, she's young, she's smart. But dammit, why did her parents have to call her Annunziata?

According to a report in the Mail on Sunday, Dave tackled the problem head on. At a recent Tory fundraiser, he asked her: "Wouldn't it be easier all round if you shortened it to Nancy Mogg?"

Annunziata, horrified, apparently told her would-be boss that she preferred her real name.

"But Nancy is a lovely name," Dave spluttered. "I called my daughter Nancy."

Rees-Mogg refused to cave in. "Nancy Mogg may be shorter but I would rather remain Annunziata Rees Mogg."

That's the posh Tory problem, now for the stinking rich Tory problem.

As if Cameron doesn't have enough difficulties with his chief fundraiser, Lord (Michael) Ashcroft, refusing to say whether he is resident in the UK for tax purposes, up pops Zac Goldsmith, son of the late billionaire industrialist, Sir James Goldsmith.

Nothing wrong with the young man's name - if 'Zac' sounds like a member of a boy band, that's probably no bad thing - but there is a huge problem with his tax status.

Zac has been forced to admit that he has inherited his father's non-dom status. This is designed to allow the super-rich to enjoy London life - and spend their money here - and not be taxed on their off-shore holdings. It was not designed to make life easier for an organic farmer who wants to be a Tory MP, however high-profile he may be in the environmental lobby and therefore useful to the Tories in their bid to win over green voters.

To be fair to Zac, who is standing for the Tories in the key marginal seat of Richmond Park, west London, he has already decided to give up his non-dom status. But pressure from Lib Dems forced him to defend his position on Sunday and persuade us that he was not a long-time "tax dodger".

"Virtually everything I do is in the UK and therefore virtually all my income comes to the UK, where I pay full tax on it," he said. "I do not derive any benefits as far as either capital gains tax or inheritance is concerned since I am registered for the latter in the UK.

"Because of my own choices, the non-domicile status has delivered very few benefits. I have, in any event, already decided to relinquish it."

But can a man whose father left him a £300m fortune in a Cayman Islands-based family trust - who in short reeks of money and has tax issues most of his constituents can only dream about - really be the perfect MP for a party coming to power in a time of rising unemployment and poverty?

Zac will never mention his wealth or his taxes again if he can help it. The trouble is his political opponents are unlikely to let that happen and there's also the little matter of an upcoming divorce from his wife, Sheherazade. Now there's a name that makes Annunziata sound positively plebian. ·