Andy McSmith's Diary: Lord Ashcroft moans about missing the boat on tax exemption


Lord Ashcroft, the billionaire peer who made his fortune in Belize and elsewhere and who almost single-handedly kept the Conservative Party financially afloat during the lean years after Labour’s 1997 landslide, seems to be very cross that there is no escape from the House of Lords.

He was put up for a peerage in 1999 by William Hague but the political honours scrutiny committee at first blocked his nomination, then laid down the condition he should make the UK his home. This was understood by others to imply that he should become a UK taxpayer, but having refused to discuss his tax arrangement for 10 years, Ashcroft finally revealed, just before the 2010 election, that he was a non-dom, paying UK tax on only part of his income.

That same year the new government passed a law, which included a Section 41, which laid down that any MP or peer would in future be deemed to be a UK resident for tax purposes, regardless of where they made or kept their money. MPs who wanted to stash their cash abroad could always escape this clause by quitting Parliament, but a peer is a peer for life. So peers were given a one-off chance to resign, which a handful did.

What Lord Ashcroft seems to have missed is that it was only a one-off opportunity, and those still in the Lords are fated to be treated by HMRC as UK taxpayers for as long as they live. His latest, cross sounding written question demanded:  “Are there any proposals to allows members of the House of Lords to be exempted from Section 41 if they take permanent leave of absence and do not attend the House of Lords thereafter; and, if not, why not?”

The reply from the minister responsible can be summarised in one word – “No”.

Are Mail readers stifling opinion in Bahrain?

Here at home, the Daily Mail is leading a vehement campaign to protect press freedom from what they perceive to be the threat posed by Parliament. Meanwhile, in Bahrain there is no free press. There have been street protest for months about the absence of freedom. Now, the Gulf Daily News, which calls itself the Voice of Bahrain, has claimed triumphantly that world opinion  is turning against the protesters, because - they report - “Comments posted on the website of Britain's Daily Mail newspaper … were overwhelmingly in favour of the police.”

You hear the craziest things in Cambridge

Attracting a lot of ‘likes’, this extraordinary message is on the Overheard at Cambridge Facebook page: "In Sainsburys, I ended up in the queue for the self-checkouts behind the former Archbishop of Canterbury.

Rowan Williams (pointing to my neck): Is that a Lord of the Rings pendant?

Me: Yes, it's a replica of the One Ring.

Rowan Williams: Ah, I thought so. More of a Game of Thrones man, myself.

Mind. Blown."

Tweeters take Helm to task

The war between the Political Editor of The Observer and the writer or writers of an anonymous Twitter account called Tory Education News gets nastier. It cranked up after The Observer alleged last month that two special advisers working the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, are among the contributors to the feed.

This has so infuriated whoever writes Tory Education News that they have posted no fewer than 35 personal attacks on Toby Helm, The Observer’s Political Editor, in 35 days. He has been called a ‘Labour stooge’, a ‘laughing stock’ and a “halfwit”. He is further accused of having supported the creation of the euro, a charge that appears to date back to the late 1990s, when he was Brussels correspondent for The Telegraph, and Gove’s abrasive special adviser, Dominic Cummings, was running the anti-euro campaign.

Late on Monday night, an anonymous @toryeducation writer was busy again, tweeting: “@tobyhelm Your colleagues say you sent your kids to private school. They being unfair?”

Helm says: “That is factually 100 per cent wrong. All my children went to state primary schools and they are all at the same state Academy school.”

If it is ever proved, as The Observer alleged, that this stuff is being posted by highly paid government employees, it will blow up like the scandal that ended the career of Gordon Brown’s adviser, Damian McBride.

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