MR HAGUE must be uncomfortably aware that some of his senior supporters believe that it would be politic for him to wave his treasurer goodbye. He may also consider that Mr Ashcroft's outstanding success as a party fundraiser will be damaged by the brouhaha engulfing him. But, at the same time, the fact remains that Mr Ashcroft has not been proved to have done anything wrong. In the absence of any evidence against Mr Ashcroft, Mr Hague has been decent and fair in standing by his man. He also has every justification in wondering about the timing and the source of the leaks. The timing, of course, was just before a by-election. And the source? It is hard to imagine that Foreign Office and drug enforcement files would have come from anywhere except our own Government.
IT IS not just Mr Ashcroft and his business activities which are at issue here, but their implications for Conservative Party finance and the funding of political parties in general. But surely few can resist the conclusion that the party has become inordinately and undesirably dependent on Mr Ashcroft's financial support. One of the saddest blemishes on John Major's record was his stubborn refusal to let the Neill committee on standards in public life investigate party funding. Labour will bring a draft Bill to regulate funding before the Commons next week. Given the cloud left hanging over his party by this affair, Mr Hague needs to give such legislation his full support.
WHAT HAGUE ought to focus on is a treasurer who, fairly or unfairly, does not seem to enjoy much confidence among the community of very rich people from whom he ought to be raising funds... Politics is deeply unfair, and quite often people do have to carry the can for faults that are perceived, rather than real. It doesn't matter, in sheer political terms, that nothing can be "proved" where Ashcroft is concerned. He is politically useless to the Tories now, he won't get his peerage this side of a huge victory in the libel courts, and Hague would be much better off wishing him a fond farewell. If, that is, he can find anyone else to pay the bills. (Simon Heffer)
IT IS hard to avoid some sympathy for the Conservative Party chairman, Michael Ancram. He is one of the few men around William Hague with the weight, experience and subtlety to guide the party away from its dangerous dalliance with its billionaire treasurer and ambassador for Belize at the United Nations, Michael Ashcroft. Yet he has instead been given the task of leading a crude full-frontal assault on those engaging in legitimate, fully justified reporting on Mr Ashcroft's affairs. Mr Ancram knows well how dishonourable it would be for us to reveal the names of those who have brought these concerns to light. But he says that it is a matter of "honour" that we should do so. Not since Jonathan Aitken waved his "sword of truth" has there been such pathetic play on words. This is indeed a matter of "honour" - not for The Times, but for Mr Hague, whose resistance to referring the Ashcroft case to the party's ethics and integrity committee becomes daily more impossible to defend. Maybe Mr Ashcroft would be vindicated by his peers; maybe he would not. Meanwhile, we will continue to do what journalists should do.
THIS AFFAIR has proved damaging to the Tories. That is why Mr Ashcroft should now stand down from his post and concentrate on clearing his name through his libel action in the courts. If he is successful in that endeavour, there is no reason why he should not return to the centre of British political life. In the meantime, the Tories should ask how they ever landed themselves in such embarrassment. Just as the Labour Party should question the wisdom of doing favours for Formula One and animal welfare lobbyists, after accepting large donations from both.
The real issue, of course, is how political parties should be funded in the 21st century. Sadly, it is unlikely to be seriously addressed, so long as wealthy individuals and organisations continue to save politicians in all major parties the trouble of having to think about it.
MICHAEL ASHCROFT was one of the first entrepreneurs outside the United States to spot the opportunities in consolidating service businesses. What he is doing with facilities services in the Nineties is only recapitulating what he did with automated security in the Eighties. But Ashcroft had the curse of getting himself into a vicious circle of distrust with established institutions in the City and with much of the press. Part of this reflected an old English bugbear - class.Reuse content