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UK Politics

Company links suggest Lord Ashcroft is funding the Tory party once more

Peer might have made sensational secret U-turn

It was more than a year ago now that Lord Ashcroft, the Conservative Party peer who bankrolled the Tories 2010 election campaign, let it be known that his funding days were over.

The peer who was the party’s biggest-ever contributor “told friends” that he had given enough money and was unwilling to devote any more to securing an overall majority in 2015.

But, it has now emerged, he may just have changed his mind. The latest donation returns from the Electoral Commission show that a company that used to be connected to Lord Ashcroft handed over £50,000 to Conservative Central Office in April this year.

The money comes from a firm called Anne Street Partners which has offices just a stone’s throw away from Westminster, and was until 2011 owned by Bearwood Corporate Services – the company Ashcroft used to give his donations.

Companies House records show Anne Street is now controlled by Oren Investment Holdings – a company registered in Belize where Lord Ashcroft has extensive business interests. Lord Ashcroft’s son has in the past served on the board of Oren.

In addition, Lord Ashcroft declares on the House of Lords register of interests that he has a controlling shareholding in Anne Street Partners Holdings Pty Ltd – an Australian company of a similar name.

Tonight a spokesman for Lord Ashcroft said he was unable to contact the peer to find out whether he knew about the donation or was still involved in Anne Street.

But, if true, Lord Ashcroft’s decision to resume funding the Tories is fascinating. He is known to have a tense relationship with David Cameron and is currently co-writing and funding what is expected to be a highly unflattering biography of the Prime Minister due out after the next election.

The Independent understands that the peer contacted a number of former ministers sacked by Mr Cameron in the reshuffle and it is thought he has asked them to co-operate with the project.

He recently went on holiday with Owen Paterson, who was fired as Environment Secretary. He is also understood to have contracted the former party chairman Baroness Warsi, who resigned from the Government over Mr Cameron’s stance on Gaza. She has insisted she is not writing a “kiss and tell” book about her time in Government.

Lord Ashcroft reportedly made an approach to Andy Coulson, David Cameron’s former director of communications, and offered him a “six figure” sum to provide material for his book.

He is also said to have promised him the chance to publish his own account of his time with Mr Cameron when he completes his prison sentence. Mr Coulson is understood to have turned the offer down.

Until he stopped giving money in 2010, Lord Ashcroft was the biggest single donor to the party, pouring more than £4m into the coffers between 2006 and 2009. The billionaire businessman masterminded the marginal-seats campaign in 2010, providing vital polling and analysis, as well as support for individual candidates.

But, since then, he has published all his polling on his website, where it is publicly available. The move privately delighted both Labour and the Lib Dems because of its level of detail and insight into marginal battleground seats. Such extensive long-term polling is generally too expensive for the parties to do themselves.

His latest poll, released today, shows that in eight Conservative-held marginal seats, which the Tories won in 2010, Labour now leads by between four and 13 points.