Another day, another story about Lord Michael Ashcroft, frequent-flyer and chief benefactor to the Conservative Party. This time the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, has accused the Tory hierarchy of being “evasive and obfuscatory” over the tax status of their Deputy Chairman and effectively given everyone 35 days to come up with some answers.
Strangely, the onus appears to be on the Cabinet Office (rather than the Tories) to outline what undertakings were given by Ashcroft and those acting on his behalf (most notably the then Leader of the Conservative Party, William Hague) when the Tories were fishing for a peerage for their largest donor back in 2000. Ashcroft, who had previously been a resident of Belize for tax purposes, agreed to become ‘domiciled’ in the UK as part of the conditions for his ennoblement.
Since then it has been less than clear whether the Noble Lord has actually complied with this gentleman’s agreement. In theory the Treasury should be receiving its annual share of Ashcroft’s multi-billion pound fortune, but in practice the only place his money clearly shows up is in the coffers of the Conservative Party, as the lion’s share of their General Election fighting-fund. No one – least of all David Cameron, George Osborne or William Hague – seems capable of giving a straight answer on this.
It might help if the media (with a few notable exceptions) were actually prepared to ask a few straight questions to the Tory leadership. If Labour had a similar donor and were anywhere near as ‘evasive and obfuscatory’ you could bet your last Belize Dollar that the press would be all over them like a rash. In the case of the Tories, however, this issue is treated like an unsightly boil on the face of a dinner host – everyone can see it is there but nobody wants to ruin the evening by being so impolite as to mention it.
Time is running out for these questions to be asked (and answered). In a little over three months Ashcroft’s money may well have played a key part in a Tory election victory. And who will ask the awkward questions then?
See also: Some are more equal than others