Despite the best efforts of Young Dave and his array of spokespeople, the Ashcroft question continues to hang over the run up to the General Election. And nowhere are the effects being felt more acutely than in those marginal seats benefiting from the Ashcroft largesse.
Before proceeding, one item needs to be clarified: Michael Ashcroft has not, so far as is known, broken any law. Being a “non dom” does not prevent his obtaining a peerage, as witness Labour’s Lord Paul. That is not the point. What is at issue is his commitment to UK residency a decade ago, the constant obfuscation and evasion of a variety of senior Tories since then (the honourable exception being George Young), and Ashcroft’s intimate involvement in the party’s campaigning.
The last point, of course, brings us back to those marginal seats, where, as the Independent has revealed today, the Tory poll lead has slipped badly, from 7% down to a mere 2%, this despite the Tories outspending all other parties. And further revelations about Ashcroft are not likely to help matters.
Hard on the heels of the Independent poll news is a report in the Guardian telling that Ashcroft appears to have avoided a not insignificant VAT payment, by having the bill for a substantial opinion poll sent to his Belize company. Thus an amount thought to be around 40,000 notes did not have to be paid.
All this less than favourable press will inevitably find its way to wavering voters in those same marginal constituencies where the Tories must make substantial inroads just to get the slimmest of majorities – the presence of a substantial third party and all those nationalists making the maths rather more challenging than back in 1950, as I observed recently.
And those wavering voters are unlikely to be impressed when they find that, while they face an increasingly difficult future, the Tory campaign is being focused by someone who is also managing not to pay tens of millions of pounds in taxes.
While Michael Ashcroft continues to live in the style to which he has become accustomed, Joe and Joanne Public may take one last look at that carefully targeted, lovingly crafted glossy brochure extolling the virtues of their Tory candidate, hand delivered by a smiling party worker, before sending it to the waste bin, amid the growing realisation that they’ve been had.