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Friday, March 05, 2010

Tories sink deeper into Ashcroft mire

The Guardian has an exclusive that will cast more doubt on the judgement of senior Conservatives in their dealings with their biggest donor, Lord Ashcroft.

The paper says that Ashcroft privately ordered what he boasted was the biggest political polling exercise ever conducted in Britain in 2005, in order to aid the Tories as they targeted marginal seats. They say that the cost of the polls, commissioned from YouGov and Populus, is believed to have approached at least £250,000, but that sources familiar with the transactions have suggested that the bills were paid by one his companies in Belize, meaning he did not pay VAT.

Commenting on the allegations, the Liberal Democrats' Treasury spokesman, Vince Cable, said: "This is quite serious. We are now not talking just about Ashcroft's non-dom status, but about systematic tax avoidance in funding Conservative party activities such as polling. How far were the Conservatives aware that Ashcroft did not pay VAT, as would have been incurred by any normal polling activity?"

The paper goes on to suggest that William Hague kept David Cameron in the dark for at least a month after he learned that Ashcroft had renegotiated the terms of his peerage and acquired non-dom status. They say that Cameron found out the truth about Ashcroft's tax affairs less than a month ago:

A party spokesman confirmed that Ashcroft did not even reveal his tax status to Cameron when in December the leader approached him to discuss plans to ban non-doms from parliament, despite the fact that he had already told Hague.

The Tories also became embroiled in a row with the Electoral Commission after its official inquiry into Ashcroft's donations via his company, Bearwood Corporate Services, found it had not breached any donor rules but criticised party officials for refusing to give evidence in person

None of this is illegal of course but if anybody is wondering why the Tories are slipping in the polls then this would be a good place to start.
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