Monday, 2 November 2009

Will it all unravel?

It's been clear for a while that the Tories have been taking a major risk by accepting massive donations from Lord Ashcroft, but I was still astounded at the news that they are compounding that risk by including him in formal meetings overseas, let alone potentially lining him up for a senior role in government.

The Electoral Commission have yet to conclude their investigation into the legality of around £5 million of donations which have been channelled through a company which seems to do very little other than donate money to the Tories. It remains a possibility that all the money will have to be repaid. The investigation seems to revolve around the definition of 'trading within the UK' by a company which seems to have only one client (which just happens to be another Ashcroft company), and whose annual losses bear a remarkable resemblance to the size of its donations to the Tories.

It's not clear why the investigation has already taken 12 months with no stated completion date in view, but it's pretty obvious who has the biggest vested interest in delaying any potentially embarrassing result until after a general election.

There also remain outstanding questions about his tax status, which he and his party have consistently refused to confirm. The obvious question, however, is that if he is indeed a UK voter and taxpayer (which is what he promised to become when accepting his peerage), why go to all the trouble of funnelling money through a string of companies instead of just donating it directly?

The way in which the Tories have been prepared to accept funding from a range of questionable sources could yet prove to be their undoing.

PS - although Ashcroft has had a hand in the Tory campaign in this constituency, with a representative from his office attending campaign meetings, I have yet to see any declaration of donations, whether cash or in kind.

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