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Monday, March 01, 2010 

Patriotic duty and Michael Ashcroft.

Yesterday David Cameron said that it was the party's "patriotic duty" to to win the general election. Strange then that this patriotic duty doesn't actually extend to the party's deputy chairman paying his full dues in this country, despite the Tories' then leader William Hague promising back in 2000 that he would become a "permanent resident" in order to ascend to the Lords. Here's Billy with another pearl:

This decision will cost him (and benefit the Treasury) tens of millions a year in tax, yet he considers it worthwhile.

How much has Lord Ashcroft in reality paid to the Treasury thanks to his non-domiciled status since 2000? One suspects next to nothing.

There is some truly exceptional spin going on here: it turns out that when Ashcroft said he would become a "permanent resident", he actually meant that he was only going to become a "long-term resident". This seems to be somewhat different to the assurances which were given to the Lords' scrutiny committee, which asked Downing Street to ensure that Ashcroft became a resident before he could become a peer, and indeed the statement that Downing Street issued after his ennoblement was confirmed, which said they had been given a "clear and unequivocal assurance" that he would take up "permanent residence". Either Ashcroft at the time had a completely different definition of what "permanent residence" meant, or he had no intention whatsoever of keeping his promises.

Ignore the obsfucatory nonsense being raised by the Tories about donations to Labour or the Liberal Democrat donations from non-domiciles. None of them gave such cast-iron assurances that they would become permanent residents in order to enter the Lords. Neither have they ascended to such positions of personal influence over the parties they've donated to, as Ashcroft has. Ashcroft for a time was essentially keeping the Tories afloat with his donations and loans, the latter of which were almost as large as the total amount he's donated over the years, at one point as high as £3.6m. When he isn't funnelling money to the party, then he's personally transporting the party's nobility around in his private jet, via his Flying Lion company, registered, typically, in Bermuda. Compare and contrast the treatment of Ashcroft with that of Zac Goldsmith, who also admitted recently that he was a non-dom: Goldsmith was quickly slapped down and told to become a UK taxpayer as "rapidly as can be done", while Ashcroft, despite promising almost 10 years ago that he was going to become a permanent resident is only now getting around to it, all while the Tories have been repeatedly saying in response to any questions that Ashcroft's tax status was a private matter between him and HMRC. Did Cameron know that Ashcroft was a non-dom, or did he purposefully ensure that he didn't know until very recently? Sir George Young said a month back on Newsnight that Ashcroft had the same status as some Labour peers, with Tory sources later saying that Young had "misspoke". Misspoke in the sense that he had inadvertently told the truth when he wasn't meant to.

If it hadn't been for the freedom of information request that forced Ashcroft into making today's statement, would Cameron have actually followed through on his sudden conversion to parliamentarians of both varieties being fully domiciled for tax purposes by ensuring that his deputy chairman was resident here? It doesn't seem so, to judge by his strange refusal to accept, even now, that Ashcroft's tax status is a matter for anyone other than himself. All the parties may be guilty in accepting funds from donors who are not full taxpayers, but none have elevated those individuals to such a position of power and authority in the party. It's this kind of cynicism, of double standards, of turning a blind eye, that so angers the public and turns them off politics. And who can blame them when someone like Ashcroft decides "permanent residency" means something entirely different to what everyone else does and essentially lives a lie for almost a whole decade?

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