Tuesday 2 March 2010

The Ashcroft affair: what the papers say

The revelation that Conservative deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft has been a non-dom for the last decade, after giving undertakings to take up permanent residence as a condition of taking up his seat in the House of Lords in 2000, is the main political story in Tuesday's newspapers.

The Times reports the surprise revelation "stunned" many in the Conservative party, and calculates that it has saved the peer millions in taxes over the last decade, in sharp contrast to William Hague's statement that Ashcroft's assurances in 2000 "would “benefit the Treasury tens of millions a year in tax”.

The Times also says that "the wording of the statement raised as many questions as it answered" and The Guardian has put seven uanswered questions to the Conservatives, seeking to find out how long David Cameron and William Hague have known that Cameron was a non-dom. A spokeswoman for Cameron said: "We are not responding".

The Independent has its own unanswered questions about the affair.

The main broadsheet editorials are linked below. The Times, Independent and Guardian are very critical of Ashcroft and the Conservatives. The Telegraph thinks the Ashcroft statement should settle the affair.

By contrast, there has been strong support for Ashcroft from the main Conservative blogs. Ashcroft has a majority stake in ConservativeHome and is a major investor in Iain Dale's companies and Total Politics magazine. While I think it likely that Tim Montgomerie and Iain Dale would fight the Tories' partisan corner in any event, blogosphere support for Ashcroft may well be seen to carry less weight because given that his propreitorship and investments. Both sites have, appropriately, now begun carrying a declaration of interest on some of their posts about Ashcroft. The revelation of Ashcroft's non-dom status may add credence to the theory, discussed in The Ashcroft mystery here on Next Left last September, that the peer fears losing influence with the leadership and that his investments in Tory grassroots activism may be intended to give him an alternative party power base.

What the papers say

Courtesy of a short statement from the billionaire peer yesterday – which came minutes before a freedom of information release would in any case have settled the mystery – we now know that Sir George was not mis-speaking, and that Lord Ashcroft is indeed a non-dom. The extraordinary contortions to prevent this plain truth from coming to light now appear downright shameful. Lord Ashcroft is not merely the biggest single bankroller of the Conservatives, but also their influential vice-chair and a peer entitled to write the laws by which the rest of us must live. Whether or not he pays the same taxes as everyone else is thus a matter of profound public interest.

As every American patriot knows, there should be no taxation without representation. But it is surely equally true that no one deserves privileged representation in public affairs unless they pay their fair measure of tax.

The Guardian, editorial


When Mr Ashcroft was made a peer in 2000 on the condition that he became a UK resident, there was no mention of the curious half-in half-out status of the "non-dom". Rather, the implication was that Mr Ashcroft would become a full British citizen and a full UK taxpayer ... Lord Ashcroft has gone public merely because he was forced to do so. This whole business reflects badly on the Conservative leader, David Cameron. Mr Cameron released a statement of his own yesterday, welcoming Lord Ashcroft's revelation. This typifies the supine position the Conservative leader has adopted throughout this affair. Mr Cameron ought to have put an end to the farce years ago by demanding that his deputy party chairman come clean, rather than insisting that the peer's tax status was a private matter.

The Independent, A saga that reflects badly on the Conservative Party


Lord Ashcroft has long appeared to consider himself the victim of a media witch-hunt, which forms an unreasonable intrusion into his private and business life. This has always been a childish conceit. Since he became the Conservative deputy chairman in 2007, it has been an absurd one. If Lord Ashcroft wishes his life to be entirely private, he should not have made himself a public figure of great influence. Most pertinently, he gave very public assurances about aspects of his life as a condition of entering the House of Lords in 2000.

Wilfully, or because he simply cannot help himself, he continues to give the impression of holding not only regular British taxpayers but also his own colleagues in contempt. Lord Ashcroft has done much for the power of the Conservative Party, but absolutely nothing for its reputation. He is an effective political force, but an enormous political embarrassment.

The Times, editorial, Peer Pressure


Lord Ashcroft has always defended his coyness over his tax affairs by insisting on his right to privacy ... it seems to have taken an imminent Freedom of Information disclosure about his tax status to persuade him to do something that he should sensibly have done a decade ago and reveal his non-dom status. Voters are understandably suspicious of wealthy, unelected figures who are politically powerful, and the best way to allay such doubts is through transparency.

Belated though it was, Lord Ashcroft's statement yesterday appeared both detailed and candid. He not only published the assurances he gave when made a life peer in 2000 to take up permanent residence in the UK once again and to relinquish the post of Belize's permanent representative to the UN. He also made clear that he supports David Cameron's pledge to ensure that all members of the Lords are "resident and domiciled" and will, as a consequence, change his tax status if the Tories win power.

The Telegraph, Ashcroft comes clean


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