Leading article: What are you afraid of, Dave?

Related Topics

We come to the Michael Ashcroft question with the wide-eyed innocence of a 20-year-old voter. What was David Cameron thinking?
The Independent on Sunday has been more favourably disposed towards him than towards any previous Conservative leader since we were founded two decades ago. He is more convincingly green, more liberal and more concerned with social justice than his predecessors. He seems refreshingly pragmatic, with an engaging manner and an apparent openness. Thus he brought many voters to first base. This newspaper was ready to consider the Conservative Party's election pitch with an open mind.

The detoxification seemed to have worked. But it was only the start. The next phase was to set out the positive appeal.

Instead, Mr Cameron has embarked on retoxification. We have been reminded that the Tory party is funded and run by rich people who seem to regard the payment of taxes as optional, and whose "patriotic duty" is to find a status that allows them to live in this country when they feel like it. As for openness, it has taken 10 years for Lord Ashcroft, the Tory party deputy chairman, to make a public statement about his tax affairs.

When Mr Cameron became leader, he was well aware of the delicacy of the party's relationship with the billionaire. Within two years Mr Brown was on the verge of calling an election, and the party needed money. What is puzzling is what happened after Mr Brown decided that he needed time to set out his vision. Mr Cameron is understood to have told colleagues that the party had to stop being "dependent" on Lord Ashcroft. Indeed, once the Tories were ahead again in the opinion polls, other donors became willing to dilute that dependency. Yet Mr Cameron failed to take this opportunity to clarify Lord Ashcroft's status.

Lord Ashcroft is not simply a donor. No doubt the Electoral Commission was satisfied that the donations from his company, Bearwood Corporate Services, were permissible (although how it could do so is not clear when it admitted it had been unable to obtain "meaningful information" about the ultimate source of the donations). But he was also elevated to the peerage on the recommendation of Mr Cameron's predecessor and shadow cabinet colleague, William Hague, and given a role in the party, in charge of the targeting operation in marginal seats.

In any circumstances, there was a legitimate public interest in knowing whether he had fulfilled the undertakings he gave as a condition of membership of the House of Lords. That interest was the more compelling because of his role in the Tory party, and yet he resisted it for all that time. He was forced to make a statement last week only because a Freedom of Information request, from a Labour MP in a marginal seat threatened by his campaign, was about to secure publication of his tax status.

What, then, was the Tory leader thinking? Did he imagine that Lord Ashcroft's obfuscation had gone on so long that they could make it to the election without further disclosure? Was he too trusting of a too-trusting Mr Hague? Did he think that it did not matter, or that Lord Ashcroft was too terrifying to sack? Or that it was all jolly awkward and, my goodness, is it time for my next meeting? None of the answers to these questions reflects well on Mr Cameron's judgement. We are told that Mr Cameron had several conversations with Lord Ashcroft about his tax status but "got little by way of response". This is feeble. How difficult can it be to say, even to a difficult and "very private" person: "I am entitled to know and the public is entitled to know, and if you don't accept that then it has been a pleasure working with you"?

The fact that several Labour donors are also non-doms is irrelevant. So they are, but they have always been open about their status. And the Conservative leader makes matters worse by presenting himself as a champion of openness. Two years ago, he set the standard: "Any arrangements we enter into are ones we are prepared to protect and defend in a court of public opinion." Since then, he has fallen short. And he knows it: hence he has turned on the media, accusing them of "flogging a dead horse".

Mr Cameron has, quite unnecessarily, moved his base camp and pitched it several miles farther down the mountain in preparation for his assault on the summit. It makes no sense, and undermines our confidence that he possesses the judgement required to be a successful prime minister.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

JavaScript Developer (Angular, Web Forms, HTML5, Ext JS,CSS3)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...


£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Day In a Page

Read Next

i Editor's Letter: The final instalment of our WW1 series

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff

Simon Usborne: The more you watch pro cycling, the more you understand its social complexity

Simon Usborne
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice