Monday, 1 March 2010

Lord Ashcroft Speaks (or writes actually)

Lord Ashcroft, Tory vice-chair and bankroller, has made a statement about his tax and residence status.

It all appears, if not innocent, then at least legal. Ashcroft is a non-dom, the rules allow non-dom contrubutions, so that's all right then.

But wait a minute, isn't the second part of the equation just as important as the first? There are rules governing election spending. These were designed so that no one party could, through an excess of riches, buy the Westminster election. But isn't that exactly what the Conservatives have been up to for the last three years? By spending Ashcrofts money (or his companies' money) in selected target marginal seats, the Tories have been effectively buying the election because, by definition, the marginals are more likely to change hands with any change in votng intentions. Increase that likelihood and you increase the number of Conservative seats.

Weekend polls show the gap between Labour and Tory narrowing. But if Ashcroft and his party can effectively "buy" the marginal seats, then the will of the electorate can be underminded and ignored.    
The statement in its entirety:
1st March 2020
A Statement From Lord Ashcroft

I am making this statement in advance of the release by the Cabinet Office of limited
information  about  the award  of my  peerage  and  of  the  undertakings  I  gave  at  the

While I value my privacy, I do not want my affairs to distract from the general election
campaign.    I have  therefore decided  to release a copy of  the  letter which  I wrote  to
William Hague, and to expand on what actually happened.

As  the  letter shows,  the undertakings  I gave were confirmed  in a memorandum  to
William  Hague  dated  23rd  March  2000.    These  were  to  "take  up  permanent
residence  in  the UK again" by  the end of  that year.   The other commitment  in  the
memorandum was to resign as Belize's permanent representative to the UN, which I
did a week later.

In  subsequent  dialogue  with  the  Government,  it  was  officially  confirmed  that  the
interpretation  in  the  first undertaking of  the words "permanent  residence" was  to be
that of "a long term resident" of  the UK.    I  agreed  to  this  and  finally  took  up my  seat  in  the House  of  Lords  in October  2000.    Throughout  the  last  ten  years,  I  have  been  declaring  all  my  UK income to HM Revenue.

My  precise  tax  status  therefore  is  that  of  a  “non-dom".    Two  of  Labour's  biggest
donors  - Lord Paul  (recently made a privy councillor by  the Prime Minister) and Sir
Ronald Cohen, both long-term residents of the UK, are also "non-doms".

As for the future, while the non-dom status will continue for many people in business
or public life, David Cameron has said that anyone sitting in the legislature - Lords or
Commons - must be treated as resident and domiciled in the UK for tax purposes.  I
agree with this change and expect to be sitting in the House of Lords for many years
to come.

You have to wonder: is this the whole story? What does "declaring all my income to HM Revenue", actually mean? Has Ashcroft been paying UK taxes on his income? Should he have been? And if he has, what was all the fuss about? What about David Cameron and the succession of senior Tories who failed to tell us the tax status of the Noble Lord: why didn't they know, or tell us, if it was as innocent as the good Lord Ashcroft now says it was?

I really wonder if this issue is as dead as the Conservatives would now wish....

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