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Happy Birthday Lord Ashcroft HB2U

Posted on 4 March 2010 | 10:03am

Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday Lord Ashcroft, happy birthday to you.

Yes, the Great Man of Mystery celebrates his 64th birthday today. But three problems may be casting a cloud over the cake-cutting. First, he is being talked about in the media, which he seems not to like. Second, despite David Cameron’s best efforts to say ‘the matter is closed,’ it most certainly is not. And third, what on earth will Dave, George, William et al get for the GMM as a present … I mean what do you give to a man who has everything, including a fair chunk of his own political party?

What they could all do with is some half-decent political judgement. One of the reasons we had a reasonably smooth election campaign in 1997 (admittedly with a lot of paddling beneath the surface) was that in the years leading up to it, not just TB, but JP, GB, Peter Mandelson and I were determined that come the campaign, we had to have an answer to all the difficult questions that might boil up during the final weeks. Melon-sized brains like those belonging to Derry Irvine and Charlie Falconer were employed with the specific task of pinning us down on the loose ends and the difficult questions that arose as those ends were unpicked.

Cameron needs some Melons!

As my diaries record, there were some pretty bruising debates and exchanges along the way as we sought to resolve difficult political, policy and personnel issues. But it was far better to have that than to risk sudden explosions to our disadvantage during the campaign, as had happened for example in the 1987 and1992 campaigns when unanswered tax and spending tensions flared open under Tory pressure.

The Tories’ handling of the Ashcroft issue strikes me as the worst kind of political management – ‘turn the other way and hopefully it will go away’ . 

Watching interviews with Cameron, Hague, Osborne and many other senior Tories in recent months, I have constantly been thinking – why have they not dealt with this? Why can’t they see it is going to become a problem for them, and that the size of the problem will grow as they prevaricate? Then it became fairly clear that either they had asked the right questions, but because they didn’t like the answers they decided to go into heads down, ‘let’s not talk about it ‘mode, or they had not asked the right questions at all, out of some fear of Ashcroft and his financial muscle, which is so important to their campaign.

Whichever it is, it has made Ashcroft an issue of Cameron’s judgement and Hague’s judgement, as well as an issue of their arrogance in thinking this would not become the problem it is becoming.

It will reinforce doubts people have about whether they have what it takes to be effective at the top of government. As I look at David Miliband as Foreign Secretary, at least I have no doubt of his competence and his ability to ask the right questions and keep asking until he gets the answers. I now look at William Hague and think that for all his Northern wit and charm, the poor judgement that put paid to his leadership of his Party has not improved with time, even if his image has. His credibility could take a battering on this. He could also find himself disabled within the campaign itself, meaning more reliance on Cameron and Osborne.

Which might make it Happy Birthday Labour.

** Buy The Blair Years online and raise a few quid to help fight the Ashcroft millions

  • Jeremy Stone

    Hi Alastair. I really like your blog. Regular reader. Could you ask you Web Design Guys though to have a look at how its set up. The rather odd embedded scrolling frame doesn’t work on some browsers and the iPhone. Could you just publish it on a page like a normal blog ? thanks.

  • Quietzapple

    Chameleon’s judgement still worse because not only should he have insisted on Cashcroft owning up to his ex dom tax status in contravention of promises to his predecessor, but he should also have queried the illegality, or twists which may have just got round the law but which contravened the spirit of the law.

    Bearwood didn’t exist when Hague first sponsored Cashcroft.

  • James

    Melons in the Tories, Andy Coulson obviously doesn’t have a big one.

    What was your saying about being a week in the papers?

  • Quietzapple

    Mystery why Laura Kuennesburg, voted Tory MPs’ favourite journo in ANY medium thinks it is just the opposition parties “who are keeping this going.”

    Biggest scandal of the past 5 years.

    Mystery also why Tom Harris MP could accuse me of being obsessed by what may defenestrate many of his colleagues with lesser majorities.

    Paul Waugh being “f***ing irritated” – that I can understand.

  • olli issakainen

    The Guardian published details of Lord Cashcroft´s target seat operation yesterday. Ashcroft runs the Tories´ target seat operation. The Conservatives hope that this operation will secure them the necessary swings.
    The Tories are using Merlin machine combining targeting with polling. This enables the party to rapidly produce pieces of literature.
    Merlin allows to combine information about a local area with Mosaic – a classification of voter groups, which gives details of 65 consumer tribes.
    These socio-demographic categories let candidates see who lives in their patch by typing in a postcode.
    A poll might seek out the views of a Mosaic group living in marginal seats in northern England. If this group proved sceptical about a specific Tory policy, the party can respond, using Merlin, by sending a letter on that particular Tory policy only to that group.
    So the Tories are capable of targeting marginal voters in must-win seats more precisely than ever before.

  • Patrick James

    I think Gordon Brown’s “playing fields of Eton” comment in PMQ’s was a good idea. Now that Cashford has entered the mainstream press it will reinforce the public view that the Conservative party is overly influenced by an ultra-wealthy elite.

  • Charlie Reynolds

    And there was I thinking you were going to come out bleating about unfair media bias!

    Labour (Lord Paul and Gordon especially) and the Lib Dems have all received significant moneys from non doms.

    The 1997 labour manifesto pledged to get rid of non dom status. One of the many pledges dropped in favour of the few who were/are your mates.

    Your problem is that you fear Lord Ashcroft. He has been effective, you think, in marginal constituencies. He is the Labour party bogey man. The man to blame for all your troubles. I have no idea if this is true. Your attacks on him are based on thinking he is a major weapon for the Tories. You have missed the fact that the pot is calling the kettle black. You have also missed the point that Labour have deepened the worst recession on record through profligacy and lack of responsibility. These are the things which lead to your current lack of popularity.

    When are you going to run through which cuts you are going to have to make as a result of Gordon’s lack of prudence over the last decade? Come on give us the truth.

    PS – Do you not have a comment on how Mr Harman got his PPC? I thought you guys did all women short lists? Remind me – how many millions did his union give Labour? Still at least you head the league table for massive donations from extremely rich people. New Labour – the third way.

  • Robert Jackson

    Just because the Electoral Commission are not forensic accountants so might not be able to work out the twists and turns of mysterious share transactions and cash transfers from company to company that end up with leaflets on the streets of the marginals – none of this changes the facts about his tax status or whether the taxpayer is subsidising the Tory election campaign through Ashcroft’s unpaid taxes.

  • Brian Tomkinson

    You Labourites really are pathetic. The only reason that you are enraged about Ashcroft is that he has been given credit for targeting the marginal seats. You haven’t the wit or the gumption to do the same for your party except to give all MPs £10,000 of taxpayers’ money for self-publicity. Don’t claim that you haven’t the money, as you have plenty of millionaire supporters, domiciled and non-domiciled plus your paymasters in the unions. Whilst you are blathering on about this the national debt is rising inexorably but you don’t care a jot about the real issues and will do anything to divert attention away from them. Incidentally, is your pal Blair a non-dom now? Pity you didn’t ask him for a few million if you are so upset about Ashcroft. On the other hand I don’t suppose he is going to want to waste his money to help the “big clunking fist”.

  • peter

    bore off Campbell!

  • Keith

    Jeff – subscribe to an RSS Feed of the Blog and you can look at it through something like Google Reader on your i-phone.

    Alastair, keep up the good work. Labour’s message is becoming much more coherent, the polls are narrowing and the Tories look rattled. They were 3-0 up, its now 3-2 with 15 minutes to go and the wind is in the blue teams faces.

  • Quietzapple


    Cashcroft should pay tax here if he wants to play a role in our democracy, as we don’t want that bought.

    His masterminding of their marginal seats strategy etc looks a bit skew whiff I gather.

    Britain has faced worse vs Hitler and debt in the face of other foreign threats.

    It is now about Honesty or Tory and people prefer the former.

  • Patrick James

    I’ve just read about Ashcroft’s £250,000 opinion polls in 2005 in the Online Guardian.

    It says:

    His findings, which strongly influenced Cameron’s subsequent tactics, were that most people believed the Tories to be “out of touch”, “opportunistic”, “don’t care about ordinary people”, “stuck in the past”, and “care more about the well-off than the have-nots”.

    Well I could have told them that and I’d have only charged £25 🙂

  • Djunfitforwork

    The reason this scandal might run and run -also in the public mind and not just in the media-bubble (albeit the majority of our Tory-owned papers will rally to defend Cashcrofts influence in the marginals) -is that it exposes the deification of “The Taxpayer” -which the right have imposed across the political mainstream.

    As this guy went out of way to AVOID paying tax -who the hell is he to manipulate these marginal seats like a plaything for his rich pals Dave and George. It makes the “Patriotic” angle look a bit stupid also -so little time can he bear to be within our shores.

    It may not be a “gamechanger” -but it’s hardly a bonus for the “We’re all in this together” -smug Tory elite -as they salivate at the prospect of slashing jobs and services for the poor AND the mainstream!

  • Jude

    Just want to second Jeremy Stone, can’t read your blog on BlackBerry either. Can anything be done?