When I first decided to blog properly, I envisioned writing about lots of different aspects of my life. I am, after all, a multi-faceted person with lots of interests. I am not, contrary to popular belief, nothing more than a political anorak. I was going to blog about sport, faith, travel, friends, health and fitness, the north-east of england, sex, music, literature, cuisine, and politics. Among other things probably. It’s an election year, though, so I’ve developed into a political blogger. Last night, conscious of all this, I wrote this blog post about my life as a Christian. ‘Good stuff,’ I thought, ‘I’m finally bringing a bit more variety to the place.’ I was planning some further blogs about other exciting, interesting, and probably fun stuff. But then the Tory leadership suck me back in. They keep doing things that are just begging to be blogged about. I try to escape – sometimes – only to find that Team Cameron have provided me with tonnes more material to write about. So I’m back to politics.
Yesterday, Parliament’s Public Administration Select Committee met to further examine the circumstances of Michael Ashcroft being granted a peerage. The committee was quizzing Hayden Phillips, the civil servant who negotiated with the Tories over the peerage, and Baroness Dean who was a member of the Public Honours Scrutiny Committee at the time. Ashcroft and William Hague had both refused to attend the meeting. Timed to coincide with this committee, cabinet papers were leaked to the BBC that confirm that Hague was kept fully informed about negotiations over Ashcroft’s peerage and tax status.
Knowing these documents were going to be public, Hague went on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme to try to vindicate himself and spin the story. He failed. He implied he’d been aware of Ashcroft’s tax status for 10 years and not the three months he claimed a couple of weeks ago. Then he produced one of the most feeble defence arguments ever. Apparently he has never been a
“tax accountant, and as leader of the opposition had a thousand and one problems at a time”.
The revelation that Hague has been more aware of this problem than admitted for ten years raises a couple of questions.
Firstly, who has misled whom? Did Ashcroft mislead Hague and allow him to believe that he was indeed a non-dom and paying millions of pounds in tax into the British economy? Given that we now know that Hague was kept up-to-date with all the negotiations, it seems unlikely that this was the case. But if it isn’t the case, then Hague has been misleading the public. If the former is true, Hague is too naïve and unintelligent to hold high office. If the latter is true, then he’s too dishonest to hold office. Either way, it doesn’t look good for Hague.
The second question it raises for me, is about David Cameron. Earlier this month, Cameron was interviewed by Nick Robinson and took credit for forcing Ashcroft to reveal his non-dom status. Cameron said, rather angrily, that the revealing of the tax status
“has been done. It has been done before the election. And it was done by me – right? Let’s get that straight”
Surely, Cameron is being disingenuous there. He didn’t drive Ashcroft’s admission. It was forced on them by Freedom of Information requests. Just as Hague’s radio admissions were forced by similar requests. He may say he’s decontaminated the Tory brand, but the reality is very different.