Ladies and Gentlemen from overseas, here’s a story about British politics which you might find amusing. Especially if you are citizens of that lovely country Belize that borders Mexico and is the only South American nation in the British Commonwealth.
It is a beautiful place, no question, once a Mayan nation, then populated by African slaves and their bosses who were mostly the descendants of English pirates, the country’s first encounter with us Brits.
Let’s not be too nasty about pirates though. I am a great fan of Captain Jack Sparrow and I am sure that there must have been a few perfectly nice pirates in those days of exciting adventures on the Spanish Main. I know that they took other people’s money, valued their pieces of eight and didn’t worry too much about ethical niceties but, hey, they were fun. Weren’t they?
What has all this got to do with one Michael Ashcroft, you may well ask.
Well, I mean not just your ordinary Mr. Ashcroft, I mean Lord Ashcroft, life peer, international business man, billionaire, deputy chairman of the British Conservative Party of which he is also the principal cash donor.
He can’t help being rich of course…he was born to make a penny or too. He had all the right skills from the beginning. An eye for a quick buck, an easy conscience, a flexible attitude to the truth and an overwhelming need to impress. He is, of course, a natural Tory and a pirate at heart.
But what has this got to do with the lovely country of Belize?
Well, he lives there. He is a Belize citizen in fact and his holdings there are reputedly larger than the country’s entire Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It is, we are now told, after some years of fudge and dodge, where his principal residence is and also where he hoards his £11 billion fortune safely away from the British tax man and, ultimately, by definition, away from funding the British National Health Service, education system or army. He is generous with his tax-free money where the Conservative Party is concerned though. Since David Cameron became leader, he has donated £4 million to party funds – mostly to finance spending in marginal seats in advance of the coming general election.
He has had a strange relationship with the numerous Conservative leaders that have had their brief and mostly disastrous moments in the limelight.
William Hague , still his greatest defender, made him treasurer and recognised the power of his money early on when the party was on the skids. It was Mr Hague who put him forward to our now so-outdated House of Lords in exchange for a promise that he would become a permanent resident in Britain.
Don’t you love politician’s promises! Here is his letter to William Hague from 23 March 2000:
“I hereby give you my clear and unequivocal assurance that I have decided to take up permanent residence in the UK again before the end of this calendar year. I have given my advisers instructions to make arrangements to give effect to this decision and I will instruct them forthwith to do so within this calendar year.
“I hereby firmly agree that I will not seek to be introduced to the House of Lords until I have taken up residency in the United Kingdom within the timescale mentioned.”
That was ten years ago and yesterday he admitted, after years of saying that his finances were no concern of ours, that he is a “non-dom” – in other words non-domiciled as far as paying British taxes on money that he holds/earns overseas. It is all OK though, he has just promised, yet again, that he is going to “reorganise his affairs in order to return to live in Britain.” Yeah, sure Michael. We trust you mate.
I wonder about all those Conservative Party candidates in the marginal seats that he has been funding all this time. Are they Ashcroftian Tories too? What was the price they had to pay to receive the noble lord’s patronage?
I suggest that Michael Ashcroft should reoganise his affairs alright. He should resign his seat, fraudulently gained, in the House of Lords, he should be sacked as Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party and he should piss off back to Belize.
Sorry Belizians – but I think you should turn on him next. Some of that money would be well-used in your struggling economy and I know that you have had your problems with the man who has deep financial ties to most of your major financial institutions.
We don’t need these non-doms anywhere near our politics that is why Labour’s most famous non-dom should go too. Lord Paul, former Deputy Leader of the Lords, who is already dead in the water after all those parliamentary expenses irregularities, should pack his bags so that we can try to clear the air in the Lords from the stink of self-regarding, self-aggrandisement.
Michael Ashcroft is a difficult boy to shift though.
After William Hague, we had Iain Duncan Smith, who tried to walk away from him but couldn’t. He found that he just needed his money too much when he was leading his party towards possible bankruptcy and oblivion.
The disastrous Duncan Smith years, or was it months, were followed by another brief tenure on the Conservative throne. Michael Howard tried to turn things round in a party that had forgotten what it might ever be like to be electable again. He decided that Lord Ashcroft was a loose cannon and he too tried to move away from him. Ashcroft saw the light and set up his own fund to finance marginal candidates – in reality, he was running an independent political operation determined to maintain his hold on the Conservative Party.
Then along came David Cameron. He is working with Gordon Brown, the prime minister, on a cross-party agreement to banish non-doms from parliament.
It may well happen now….but it will take a wiser head than David Cameron’s to see beyond (Lord) Michael Ashcroft’s slippery words. As a matter of interest, it is nice that his wife, (Lady) Ashcroft is also a generous donor to the Conservative Party – totally independent from her husband of course.
If you are thinking of voting in Britain’s up-coming General Election, just take a look at your local candidate…..is he or she an Ashcroft nominee? If so….vote for someone else. Oh yes, don’t vote for anyone who had to give back Parliamentary expenses money either.
What a shower!