Gordon Prentice: Ashcroft has fallen into line, and a wrong has been righted

We’ve had a decade of deception, and Cameron has been complicit in it

Share
Related Topics

Michael Ashcroft has now admitted he is a non-dom. Yes, he pays UK tax, but only on his UK income, not on his vast worldwide wealth. Millions that should have gone to the Inland Revenue have been channelled into the key marginals such as my own in Pendle that will decide the next election.

It is not just that Ashcroft provided the money. He has formulated and directed the strategy too – setting out a game plan on how to win the swing constituencies by a sustained, long-term campaign running over years, not weeks or months.

An outpouring of propaganda has engulfed my Pendle constituency for years: full-colour tabloid newspapers – "Pendle Matters" – delivered by the Royal Mail to all 37,000 households; surveys; leaflets. Funded by a tax exile. Ashcroft was determined to buy the next election as he had already bought the Tory party.

In a bravura performance yesterday, David Cameron told the world that he was delighted that Ashcroft has clarified his tax status. Excuse me? But why didn't the Conservative High Command quiz Ashcroft before now? Because it suited their purpose not to know and not to ask.

Cameron, William Hague and others are complicit in this decade of deception. In 1999, Hague, then Leader of the Conservative Party, nominated Ashcroft for a peerage, but he was turned down by the propriety watchdog, the Political Honours Scrutiny Committee. Yet Hague needed Ashcroft's millions so the following year he tried again.

This time, in 2000, Ashcroft promised to become a "long-term UK resident" with all that that entails. Its ordinary meaning would imply UK domicile, an attachment to the nation in whose Parliament he sought to sit. Instead, he freely admits that Belize is where his heart is.

Despite their talk of openness, the Conservatives would have kept their lips sealed had it not been for my Freedom of Information request which, after three years, has finally prised the answers out of them. They did everything to close the story down. Ashcroft's lawyers were in contact with the Information Commissioner throughout his investigation. But I was quietly confident, though hugely frustrated at the length of time everything was taking.

I wanted two very straightforward pieces of information which, in themselves, did not compromise the secrecy of the process which put a Commoner, like Ashcroft, into ermine. I simply wanted to know the form of Ashcroft's undertaking and the person to whom it was given. Once revealed, I was convinced that this would trigger further questions that would have to be answered.

To my mild surprise, the Information Commissioner did the job for me when he branded the Conservatives' earlier explanations "evasive and obfuscatory". Predictably, the Conservative leadership is now laying a smokescreen, pointing to Lord Paul, a non-dom whose businesses it tells us have given money to Labour. But Lord Paul isn't a vice-chair of the Labour party. He is not masterminding Labour's key seat strategy or bankrolling the party. And, to the best of my knowledge, he did not give any undertakings when he was elevated to the peerage – by the Conservatives.

My own view is clear. It is a disgrace that tax exiles sit in Parliament. I was outraged that another vice-chair of the Conservatives, Lord Laidlaw, had given millions to the party despite being a tax exile in Monaco. With Laidlaw and Ashcroft in mind I tried to change the law two years ago. But my private member's Disqualification from Parliament (Tax Status) Bill ran into the usual procedural sands. But now, at long last, the law is being changed. And not before time.

The Revenue, and the Courts, are now casting the net ever more widely, looking at "patterns of lifestyle" in determining residency for tax. Are the links with the UK strong enough for someone to be paying full tax?

In the longer term, we need to sweep away the opaque and overlapping concepts of domicile, UK residency and UK residency for tax purposes. The answer is to link UK citizenship with taxation of worldwide income and assets. Otherwise Ashcroft and people like him will continue to take us all for fools.

The Conservatives can start to make amends by paying back the Ashcroft millions – not to the man himself, who doesn't need it, but to the Revenue and Customs, who do.

We have all had our bellyful of tax dodgers. I know I have.

Gordon Prentice is the Labour MP for Pendle

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Read Next
UK Border Control  

Do you think I'm feckless? I worked for two years in the Netherlands

David Ryan
Bob Geldof  

Ebola is a political AND a medical disease

Paul Vallely
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin