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Andy McSmith: Village people

Lord knows

Contrary to what you may have read this week, we still do not know when, or whether, Lord Ashcroft, the deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, stuck to his promise to move permanently to the UK. Lord Ashcroft's peerage, awarded in 2000, came with an unusual condition. He had to give "his clear and unequivocal assurance that he will take up personal residence in the United Kingdom again before the end of the calendar year". So it is legitimate to ask whether Lord Ashcroft has indeed been living in the UK, paying UK taxes like a good British citizen, since 2000. Last Sunday, William Hague appeared to confirm that he had, except that Mr Hague's words were not categoric. What he said, on the Andrew Marr Show, was: "My conclusion, having asked him, is that he fulfilled the obligations that were imposed on him at the time that he became a peer."

When asked whether that meant that Lord Ashcroft was now a UK taxpayer, Mr Hague did not seem to know, but could only "imagine" that he was. Customs and Revenue, of course, don't need to "imagine". They must know, but they won't say. They will not even say whether they know, because – to quote their answer to a Freedom of Information request yesterday – "confirming whether or not HMRC holds the requested information would effectively disclose whether Lord Ashcroft is, or is not, domiciled in the UK for tax purposes".

The mystery continues.

He's had his Phil

Tom Newton Dunn, the new political editor of The Sun, had a baptism by fire this week defending his newspaper's onslaught on Gordon Brown for misspelling a soldier's surname in a letter to a grieving mother. He did well on the whole, although on the Daily Politics show he referred repeatedly to an Immigration minister he called Andy Woolas. Many of the best people in the world are called Andy, but Mr Woolas is not one of them. His name is Phil.


Labour's victory in the Glasgow North East by-election means that the SNP's David Kerr may never join the Westminster village. That is a shame because his gaffes have been the only source of entertainment in a dull campaign. A favourite David Kerr story is how, visiting Asda with Alex Salmond, he approached the woman on the fish counter and asked: "What are you selling here?"

"Fish," she replied.

Safety first

Frank Dobson, the veteran former health secretary and one of a diminishing number of Labour MPs who is not quitting the Commons at the next election, was in Newcastle recently and stayed overnight in a smart hotel. Late in the evening, he tells me, a youth scurried down to reception with an urgent request for a condom. Without batting an eyelid, the woman on duty replied: "Just one, sir?"

RIP 'Thatcher'

John Baird, Canada's Transport Minister, was first with the news. "Thatcher has died," his sombre text message announced. The Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, was informed. Word spread rapidly among 1,700 eminent guests at a gala event. An aide, Dmitri Soudas, drew up an official response. But messages of condolence to Downing Street and Buckingham Palace produced only confusion. Then it transpired that "Thatcher" was Mr Baird's much loved pet cat. RIP.