Early in the days of this blog I pledged to watch the Labour-supporting political editor of Newsnight Michael Crick. I've slipped a little recently. My prediction (last Monday) that Crick would beg and be granted a spot on last week's Newsnight to bash the Tories over Lord Ashcroft failed to come true but, looking at his blog, he has not been silent on the subject.
On 16th December, Labour's most reliable Beeboid (James Naughtie notwithstanding) posted this:
"What dodging Ashcroft questions does to the Tories" http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/newsnight/michaelcrick/2009/12/dodging_ashcroft_questions_hur.html
I just knew he'd couldn't resist doing Labour's work for them on this issue - and he certainly did that here:
"David Cameron's need to sort out the Lord Ashcroft problem is even more urgent than I suggested last week. (You don't say!) Labour taunted the Conservatives with the issue once again at Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday, and it threatens to dog the Conservatives through an election campaign. (You and your friends at The Guardian and in the Labour government will see to that Michael, won't you!) The Tories' proposed new law, disqualifying from the Commons or Lords people who are non-domiciled for tax purposes, will not tackle the issue. (Spoken like a Labour minister Michael! Is that for you, a supposedly neutral political editor to say?) And it is not just a question of Lord Ashcroft's tax status making the Conservatives look like the party of the rich and privileged, or of toffs (though Lord Ashcroft isn't really a toff in the traditional sense anyway). (Well done Michael! Imply that the Tories are "the party of the rich and privileged, or of toffs", then sneak away your admission that "Lord Ashcroft isn't really a toff" in brackets and then further dilute it with the phrase "in the traditional sense anyway". What other sense is there?) Or that it undermines George Osborne's statement that "we're all in this together. It's more a question of leadership and strength. By constantly dodging ('dodging'? a loaded word that!) questions as to whether Lord Ashcroft pays UK income tax, Mr Cameron and his colleagues are in danger of looking weak and scared of Lord Ashcroft. By saying it's a "private matter" they look like they don't know, and people (especially Labour and Lib Dem-supporting ones) start to think they daren't ask him the obvious question. What I can't really understand is why Mr Cameron won't act. And several Tory front-benchers are just as baffled as me. (Really? Pardon me if I don't take your word for that Michael). The Conservatives no longer depend on Lord Ashcroft financially.
Under William Hague it was Lord Ashcroft's money - donations and loans - which kept the party from bankruptcy. But that's no longer the case. Nowadays Lord Ashcroft gives and lends the party a lot less cash, and the Conservatives are flush with funds from other sources. Lord Ashcroft's other big contribution has been as a party strategist. His work in identifying target seats, and pumping the party's cash into seats where it's likely to produce results, is hugely important. (Scares you does he, Crick? Good!) But he's now taught the party how to run his strategy, and anyway, on a day-to-day basis it's organised by full-time officials such as Stephen Gilbert. The party's got to the stage where they can do it without him. So if I were Mr Cameron (dream on Crick!) I'd invite Lord Ashcroft for a talk, thank him generously for all his help, but then insist that he issue an immediate statement setting out in full his tax position year-by-year since he got his peerage in 2000 (though that need not include specific sums). If he won't do that, then Mr Cameron should sack Lord Ashcroft as deputy chairman. (If I were David Cameron, I'd insist that Michael Crick display a modicum of impartiality in his reporting, and if he won't do that I'd insist that the BBC should sack him as political editor of Newsnight - or at least suspend him during the general election.) I can't be sure, of course, but I reckon that Lord Ashcroft probably does pay UK tax on all, or most, of his worldwide earnings these days, but that the real problem may arise from earlier. (Insinuate away Michael!) Having promised back in 2000 to pay UK tax in order to get his peerage, was there a delay of some years before Lord Ashcroft started doing so? That of course would be very embarrassing to Mr Hague, the leader to whom Lord Ashcroft made his pledge. (You'd like to embarrass William Hague, one of the hated Tories' biggest hitters, wouldn't you Michael?) But not half as embarrassing as the issue will continue to be if the issue is not clarified before the election really gets under way. (You'll chase enough Tories with your enormous microphone, and even more enormous ego, to make sure of that, I don't doubt Michael!). And one can easily see now how the line of questioning will go when Mr Cameron does his many one-on-one in-depth interviews during the campaign. (True, especially when he meets Michael Crick's fellow travellers, Naughtie, Marr, Humphrys, Sopel, Quinn,....etc, etc,)