Tory accounts reveal increased reliance on Ashcroft

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The Independent Online
WILLIAM HAGUE came under fresh fire over political funding last night as his party accounts revealed a heavier reliance on Michael Ashcroft than was previously known to the public.

The Tories' latest set of accounts show the party is relying on Mr Ashcroft even for day-to-day running costs.

Mr Hague had hoped to draw a line under the row over Mr Ashcroft's role as party Treasurer when the businessman settled a legal action against The Times last week.

The accounts, slipped out late yesterday in an attempt to avoid publicity, showed that in addition to donations of pounds 1.16m during the year to March 1999, Mr Ashcroft had outstanding loans of up to pounds 2m. At the end of the year the pounds 250,000 left unpaid was converted into a loan.

Among the donations in kind he gave were flights, market research, direct mailing and staff costs. The party had repeatedly denied that it was being "bankrolled" by the businessman, whose interests are mainly based in Belize. The figures suggested that Mr Ashcroft remained easily the party's biggest donor.

Even more seriously, the accounts showed the party's financial future in a grim light. Despite support from Mr Ashcroft, donations fell by almost a third during the year from pounds 9.75m to pounds 6.4m.

A party spokesman said Mr Ashcroft, who had promised to reorganise his affairs and move back to Britain from his home in Florida, gave the party just 10 per cent of its total spending.

During 1998 Labour had donations of almost pounds 8m and earned pounds 3.3m in membership income - compared with the Tories' pounds 476,000 in quotas from local parties, which fell from pounds 630,000 in 1997-98.

Ian McCartney, Labour MP for Makerfield and a Cabinet Office minister, said Mr Hague had shown poor judgement in allowing Mr Ashcroft to take control of his party's finances. "The Labour Party would never allow one person to hold the roles of treasurer, chief finance officer, principal donor and principal fund-raiser," he said.