Sadly, it is not a mark of distinction nowadays for a story to go from the serious to the farcical in less than a day. So the Tory Party’s attempt to take the heat off themselves and Michael Ashcroft by tabling a Freedom Of Information request about Labour “non dom” donor Lord Paul is as predictable as it is irrelevant.
The Tory beef is over Paul’s funding of Pa Broon’s leadership campaign, with suggestions being made that this funding “influenced ministers”. But Brown, as any fule kno, was elected unopposed, so there was nothing to influence. And it is significant that the story is being run by Rupe’s troops at Sky News (“first for breaking wind”).
However, despite Tory cheerleaders across the media and blogosphere trying to equate the Ashcroft row with Labour donors like Lord Paul – or to try and howl down the news as an alleged “non story” – the questions continue to be asked, and the numbers keep mounting up.
First and largest of the numbers concerns Ashcroft’s potential liability for UK tax, had he been “resident and domiciled” from the time he was awarded a peerage. An eye watering amount of 127 million quid has been pitched, and as yet the Tories have not successfully fielded it. Yes, other parties’ “non doms” could also have paid UK tax, but Ashcroft gave the impression that he would become a “permanent resident”, which implies “resident and domiciled”. The Labour donors haven’t.
Moreover, the Tory cheerleaders excusing Ashcroft by telling how little he has supposedly given to the party over the years have managed to forget the Ashcroft largesse when it comes to party use of his private jet aircraft: Young Dave has been a beneficiary, although not to the extent of William ‘Ague, who has clocked up tens of thousands of miles in the care of Bermuda registered Flying Lion, providers of a Dassault Falcon 900 (with deep pile carpet as standard).
Thus far, no updated numbers for Air Ashcroft have been put forward. But they will be. Of course, Young Dave could drop this particular pilot – but he won’t. The Tories need Ashcroft to keep providing – money, aircraft, whatever – and Cameron is as stuck with Michael Ashcroft as he is with Andy Coulson and the Murdoch clan.