Ashcroft still hopes for a place in Lords

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WILLIAM HAGUE'S controversial party treasurer is still hoping for a peerage despite being blocked by the committee which scrutinises political honours, it was revealed yesterday.

Michael Ashcroft was speaking for the first time about his nomination for the honour and its rejection by the Political Honours Scrutiny Committee, as revealed earlier this month in The Independent.

The billionaire businessman, who has helped keep the Tories afloat with donations of around pounds 2m in the past two years, said he believed all his predecessors had received the honour. "Every treasurer of the party has gone to the Lords and I hope I don't set a precedent by being the first who doesn't."

In interviews with two newspapers Mr Ashcroft denied reports that he had given up to pounds 4m per year to the Conservatives or that he had underwritten the party's pounds 9m debt. However, both papers reported that he gave pounds 1m per year.

"You cannot appoint a treasurer who is perceived to be wealthy but who doesn't lead the way," he said. "The very fact that I put in a sum means I can ask others to do the same."

The Tories were in dire need of the money, he said. "The Conservative Party after the last election was at the peak of its overdraft, massively in debt, demoralised and beaten," he said. "There was a danger the opposition party would flounder for a long period of time. One of the platforms of any political party is strong fiscal discipline and support in the form of cash."

Mr Ashcroft denied that he was a tax exile, though he lives largely in Florida and is Belize's ambassador to the UN. "To me, I was just a Brit that went where my work was."

Nor is he ever consulted on policy decisions, although campaigns with spending implications are always put to him in advance, he said. "You can ask any member of the shadow cabinet if my name has arisen in the context of a policy paper and they will say absolutely not."

He also confessed to being an admirer of the former prime minister Margaret Thatcher. "It was through Margaret's era that any wealth of mine was created. She opened the platforms for the new entrepreneurs of the... Eighties to operate and we are forever grateful," he said.

But despite his wealth, estimated to be in the region of pounds 1bn, Mr Ashcroft suggested he was no different from the next man.