In politics, as in love and war, most things are generally considered to be "all fair".
Over the years political campaigns, based on increasingly sophisticated information systems, have become ever more targeted on the swing voters in the swing constituencies. As in the US, this has made a small number of swing voters exceptionally valuable.
The result is large amounts of money are being focused by all the parties on their target areas. During the 2005 general election it became very clear that the Conservatives had developed exceptionally sophisticated information systems that could generate probabilities of voting Conservative based on a relatively small number of socio-economic indicators. These systems require large- and expensive- proprietary data bases and highly targeted literature. This literature can practically by addressed personally. As a result we no longer see armies of Conservative canvassers- since the information systems are already at least as good as most canvass data, and is often better. In other words the Conservatives already have usable 100% canvass information. Neither - at general elections- do Conservative activists deliver many leaflets- these is left in the hands of paid for deliverers. The Conservative Party has outsourced much of the traditional functions of a political party.
Naturally these more effective systems cost money, but the Conservatives has their own personal piggy bank in the shape of the Belizean billionaire, Michael Ashcroft, ennobled by the Conservative Party as Lord Ashcroft. This week, The Economist published an article that sheds some light upon the rather opaque business dealings of Ashcroft's operations.
In my view, the power that Michael Ashcroft has over the Conservative Party and over the British political system is so concentrated that it is potentially extremely dangerous. The fact that the Tories are now so beholden to one single individual seems set to give that individual the same kind of influence over Britain that he has already achieved over tiny Belize. His business dealings are by no means transparent- indeed even his citizenship and residency are by no means clear.
It used to be said that "Tory scandals are about sex, Labour's about money"- probably because that was what each party was short of. The advent of Ashcroft millions is having a material effect on political campaigning- in the arms race of politics, it is the equivalent of possessing a nuclear weapon.
However, I wonder whether the Conservatives may have been driven into a Faustian bargain that they may later deeply regret.