Friday, March 05, 2010

A Matter of Trust

Several months ago I wrote a series of articles about the dangers that Michael Ashcroft posed to the Conservative Party. I was not alone. The problem of a man who did not pay taxes in the UK nevertheless being nominated to be a member of the British Parliament as a result of his being a major financial supporter of the Conservative Party has always been a spit in the eye of British democracy.

That the Conservatives now claim not to have known until very recently that Mr. Ashcroft has retained his non-dom tax status stretches all credulity. William Hague is either a fool or a liar. He should have known what Mr. Ashcroft's status was or was going to be as a pre-condition to his being granted a peerage. That a peerage had previously been refused simply underlines that care that the Tories should have taken on this issue.

So what does it matter? Surely this is just another storm in a Westminster teacup?

In fact the Conservative embrace of Michael Ashcroft demonstrates why there has been such a failure of trust in British politics. The cut corners and sloppiness that the affair demonstrates not much more than naked greed. The Conservatives will try to throw enough mud at the other parties: Lord Paul, Michael Brown and so on, but the fact is that Michael Ashcroft is different.

Lord Paul has not hidden his tax status, And for all the embarrassment that Brown caused the
Liberal Democrats, repeated investigation has found the party did not act improperly. Yet, if we are to believe William Hague or David Cameron, Michael Ashcroft appears to have mislead the Tories and to have avoided tax of millions of Pounds, despite being a member of the tax raising body of the United Kingdom.

This comes at a time when the British Constitution is at a breaking point. The political class that purports to rule us is more isolated from the rest of society than ever. An entire political clique has no other work experience except the foetid committee rooms of party or Parliament. With no executive experience, they are too incompetent to even be aware of their limitations, or understand the mechanics of leadership. It may well be that Cameron and Osborne, Brown or Darling are full of sincerity about their motives; yet as we are already seeing, they lack the most basic executive skills, vision or understanding to be able to deliver. For that reason, the relatively minor parliamentary expenses scandal has become a major crisis of trust. The British people may tolerate uselessness, but they will not tolerate petty and venal greed.

This is where the Ashcroft affair demonstrates the very worst side of the Conservative Party. For several years, the Tory leadership was warned of the problems that Michael Ashcroft's tax status represented. They chose to avoid the issue, to ignore it and hope it would go away. However the British people has been particularly annoyed by the outrageous expenses claims from hugely wealthy Conservative MPs: the moat cleaning and the duck houses were an overwhelmingly Tory phenomenon. For the Tory leadership, after being pressured for so long on Ashcroft's tax affairs, to deny all knowledge is a scandal. Either they knew and they are lying, or they genuinely did not know, in which case they should have done and are not fit for office.

The British people yearns to trust its leaders, but as the narrowing gap in the opinion polls shows, their faith in the ability of the Conservatives to deliver real change is being truly shaken.

The Liberal Democrats will continue to point out the systemic failures of the constitution. They will continue to make the case for real reform, not just the cosmetic changes of open primaries and other gimmicks. Above all, we will continue to challenge the entrenched self interest of both the Labour and the Conservative Parties. The political class must be overthrown. We can change the constitution now or face non-constitutional even violent challenges in a few years time.

The corruption of money is a threat to freedom already. Real leadership is now needed to restore trust- and that means real and radical constitutional reform.

7 comments:

Ian R Thorpe said...

Hague is neither a fool nor a liar. He is a Yorkshireman which as anyone here in Accrington would tell you is worse than either.

The Ashcroft situation is embarrassing for the Conservatives but while what he has done may be unethical as I understand it he has not broken any rules.

The Lib Dems ought to concentrate on winning disillusioned Labour votes by attacking Labour's failure in government rather than castigating the Tories for behaving like Tories.

It always struck me as a Liberal local and county council candidate that the Conservative protest vote goes halfway across the spectrum to the Libs but the Labour protest goes all the way to the Conservatives. To do well in this election with a hugely unpopular Labour Government facing defeat the Lib Dems must find a way to change that.

Newmania said...

Brown is a crook, Ashcroft is not, and the Lib Dems are still hanging onto stolen money,so either get off your pontificating pony or give it back. It has been established that Ashcroft did nothing wrong and the fact that unlike a money laundering crook or an Eccelston or a Lord Paul ...he actually believes in what he is doing is a good thing
The Conservative Party would not miss his money which was about 1% of funding last year they would miss his energy and talent. Conservatives are well supported by small and medium donations and would prefer a £50,000 limit , the obstacle is the bizarre system whereby Unite openly buy Policy. This is the glaring conflict of interest at the heart of British Politics, especially now. Incidentally Peter Oborne reports high level negotiations between Labour and Lib Dem to bargain for PR.

Your utterly illogical connection between corruption and a system where the center groups concoct deals behind close doors is contemptibly stupid .You either lack the brains to argue the case… or have sufficient to know it is impossible. The system is the same for everyone it is bad for a Party incapable of moving outside its core vote of white middleclass Public Sector provincials . You cannot succeed without empowering the political class further so this whole blustering idiocy is a lie .

Do you seriously not know why it suits the Labout Party to make vague noise about Lord Ashcroft ?It has nothing to do with the facts it is part of the class war core vote strategy and the polls this weekend show that no-one cares.

Cicero said...

Oh Newmania, did I perhaps touch a nerve?

In fact- as you know- for several years Ashcroft WAS your largest source of funds. He avoided UK tax, even after you gave him a peerage and despite his promise to be committed to the UK (which he made to his party and indeed to The Queen), he failed to be so. He used that tax avoidance to fund the Tories, became deputy chairman of the Party and organised a large number of trips for Osborne and Cameron- so he certainly has plenty of influence.

Brown was indeed a crook who contributed to the Lib Dems, but he never bought a peerage or even any other kind of influence and the Lib Dems have been found by the independent Commission to have behaved rightly. There are plenty of other crooks who have contributed to the Tories too: as well you know.

There is a very clear connection between Tory safe seats and Tory MPs who claimed tens of thousands of Pounds. You can not deny it. I do not ask for an electoral system that is dominated by anyone except the electorate- and your support for First Past the Post is simply for your own electoral convenience and shows nothing but contempt for the British voters.

Whether people "care" or not, Ashcroft has behaved dishonourably- and obviously it shows the Conservatives in a terrible light, which is why, I suspect, you are so sensitive about the issue. It is outrageous and you are right to be angry, but I would not turn your anger on me, but where it is deserved: on Ashcroft himself for getting you into this mess.

Newmania said...

Nom Doms are of course , allowed to contribute to British political Parties so none of what you say makes the slightest sense .The electoral commission has additionally confirmed there was no wrong doing . I am certainly not aware of any criminal Conservative donors ,only a £2,000,000 Liberal one which bought campaign advantage.
As for PR in whatever guise that would greatly increase the safety of anyone the Party liked , first past the post is why they have all had to go .A system that hands power to the very people no-one wanted is wanted no-one and there is no point in voting if you are not told what for .


Liberals talk about ‘honesty’ but refuse to say what they will do with any power they have .This is an absurd position and transparently motivated by a desire to open the system to centre group bribery ..I find gutter level mud slinging in sermon form faintly irritating but you may be right . We have been laughing at jaw dropping Liberal hypocrisy ever since Gladstone`s campaign to save whores from under employment . Its probably a mistake to take any of it seriously.

Cicero said...

Newmania, It is not only the donations from Michael Ashcroft, it is the peerage and the influence that he seems to have bought, and that really is a cause of great- and quite legitimate- concern.

As for what the Lib Dems would do, why not read through our proposals for constitutional reform? We have been talking about the House of Lords, the power of the royal prerogative in the hands of the Prime Minister, the lack of accountability of MPs for literally decades. We have a very extensive literature, policy papers, manifestos and the rest which not only talks about the problems of the voting system, but tries to tie this into an fully worked out programme of constitutional reform.

We even have pretty detailed ideas about economic policy. If the Tories have said more than they wish to abolish inheritance tax, -which is a fairly dubious prospect at best- then it has hardly been well reported.

You can see why people simply regard the Tory front bench as a fairly cynical and unprincipled lot, when only a few weeks out from the election we still have no clear idea what they want to do.

Newmania said...

the lack of accountability of MPs for literally decades

Yes ,ever since Lloyd George defended FPTP, fancy.You see CS the problem we have now is not the difference in emphasis about how to control debt it is the power and will to deliver it at all. Politics is not only about ideas it is also about trust and determination. You Liberals have ideas every week.


Looking at the Polls I think it is now a horrifying possiblity that Brown may survive .There may indeed be a referendum following a back room deal , for AV probably as a staging post.
Perhaps the time has come to have this out. The wish to chop England into regions was stopped and so too will the plot to disenfranchise the largest Party and its supporters.

Labour voters and Conservatives often have a lot in common as you are always saying.Joining against the elite would be a moment of One Nationhood just as we did to defeat the Nazis...

Newmania said...

...( A few Liberals may hyave helped as well to be fair )