L’affaire Ashcroft has had one useful side-effect: it’s provided a reminder that no matter how touchy-feely Dave Cameron might like to appear, his party hasn’t escaped from its sleazy background. Marina Hyde had a nice column about this.
Still, we love a tax exile in this country. We let them fund our political parties, and watch as they coincidentally obtain peerages. In the case of Lord Ashcroft, we watch as they become deputy chairman of the Conservative party, amass unquantified power over its leaders, and begin ploughing some of those very millions on which they don’t pay tax into intensely targeted campaigns designed to swing elections. David Cameron has honked loud and long about making trust and transparency an election issue, yet he and his lieutenants either misled the public deliberately as to his lordship’s status, or were too craven or venal to ask questions. They certainly refused to co-operate with the Electoral Commission’s investigation into the matter. Meanwhile, the BBC feel obliged to announce cuts effectively designed to appease that other unelected foreign billionaire, Rupert Murdoch, as though you can appease someone whose goal is your complete destruction.
The biggest problem — as Hyde points out later — is that public outrage over MPs’ expenses is disproportionate compared with what Ashcroft and the Tories are up to. The MPs have been mostly foolish, occasionally venal and in a few cases positively criminal: but Ashcroft is a tax exile who is effectively using his foreign wealth to buy an election. And who also appears to have obtained a peerage after giving assurances that he did not keep.