The Ashcroft Affair

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The Ashcroft Affair: Looking at the media's caricature of Lord Ashcroft and the wider analysis of Conservative Party Funding during the 2010 General Election. The Paper analyses the funding the Conservatives received from Ashcroft and how his 'marginal' constituency donations affected the outcome of the election.

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<p>Why has Michael Ashcroft become caricatured as a political devil by those in the media and other political parties? By looking at the Conservatives' funding of marginal constituencies and the funding of the party as a whole a better understanding of money and its relation to politics can be gleaned. This paper will look at whether Ashcroft, the Conservatives' and their candidates were guilty of manipulating the 2010 General Election or whether Lord Ashcroft is the victim of a slander campaign.</p> <p>The Ashcroft 'Affair'Lord Ashcroft and the opposition to the Conservative parties' funding of marginal constituencies</p> <p>Gareth Hunt</p> <p>The Ashcroft 'Affair'</p> <p>ContentsSection One</p> <p>Introduction: Ashcroft, the Conservatives and the opposition to the targeting of marginal constituencies at the 2010 General Election...................................................................................................................................................................................................... 3</p> <p>History of Party Funding: The controversy of donors...............................4</p> <p>A Margin of Error: The importance of marginal constituencies..........................................................................5</p> <p>Section Two</p> <p>Ashcroft: Was he buying seats for the Conservative party?..............................................................................................................7</p> <p>Legislating the funding of political parties............................................................................ 9</p> <p>Making Allowances: Ashcrofts reasons explained.........................................................................10</p> <p>Political Rich List: Tories win again...................................................................................................................................................14</p> <p>Section Three</p> <p>The Guardians of Truth: Ashcrofts role exposed.........................................15</p> <p>What bearing did Bearwood have on the election ............................................................................................................................19</p> <p>Mirroring an alternative reality: The morphing of the Ashcroft persona.........................................................................22</p> <p>Conclusions: Ashcroft, the Conservative party and opposition media and politicians.........................................24</p> <p>Bibliography...................................................................................................................................................................................29 Appendix .......................................................................................................................................................................................33 Reflective Log................................................................................................................................................................................34</p> <p>Page | 2</p> <p>The Ashcroft 'Affair'Introduction: Ashcroft, the Conservatives and the opposition to the targeting of marginal constituencies at the 2010 General Election.</p> <p>The funding of marginal constituencies created controversy which reached fever pitch during the 2010 General Election. This was primarily due to the activities of Michael Ashcroft, a Conservative peer and businessman. His role, as the Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, involved focusing the Conservative partys electoral machine on 130 target seats. These seats had small majorities which could be overturned with the strategic use of financial or professional resources. This operation was attacked as unfair. The charges were levied by those in the media and other political parties who are predominantly on the leftwing. Those against Ashcroft stated that the issues surrounded two central premises: first, due to his non-domiciled tax-status Ashcroft should not donate to the party and second, that this activity was unfair to other political parties. This paper will investigate whether the Conservative party and Lord Ashcroft through his company, Bearwood Corporate Services, was involved in an electoral conspiracy or were the victims of a targeted campaign of slanderous accusations. This paper will seek to determine whether the Conservative operation to fund marginal seats was unfair and if so by examining party funding regulations and donations, we will then be able to determine whether the Conservative party were guilty of manipulating the election in these constituencies. Following on from that will be a second analysis. This will look at the Conservative party, Lord Ashcroft and Bearwood Corporate Services as victims of slander. This will be done by interpreting press reports and opposition speeches to</p> <p>Page | 3</p> <p>The Ashcroft 'Affair'show how closely they relate to the facts of this case and understand the reality behind the spin. The question is whether Ashcrofts actions were a concerted effort to buy marginal constituency seats or was this furore the result of sour grapes and jealousy because the opposition parties could only look upon the targeting operation and the financial fundraising with envy. This paper will also seek to present the Ashcroft affair as a unique political event. The political donations scandals of the 90s surrounding the Hinduja brothers or the Bernie Ecclestone donations to the Labour party surrounded the acceptance and not the application or use of the donated money. The Ashcroft conspiracy or affair is unique in that there are no precursors to such a political event. History of party funding: The controversy of donors Before we can examine the actual charges of conspiracy it is worth looking back at the history of donations, the political environment between 1997 and 2005 and more importantly, to understand a little more about Michael Ashcroft. Michael Ashcroft is a businessman. He specialises in purchasing companies which are in financial trouble and turning them around. Some of the businesses he has turned around include the security firm, ADT, Cleeneaze the cleaning company and Carlisle Group Limited, a holdings firm. He is the founder of Crimestoppers and is a major contributor to his old college, now University, Anglia Ruskin. He is an avid collector of George and Victoria crosses and has donated his multi-million pound collection to the Imperial War Museum along with funds to build a dedicated wing. He is a staunch supporter of the Conservative party andPage | 4</p> <p>The Ashcroft 'Affair'a major shareholder in Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. He spends half his time in the UK and the rest in Belize where his businesses operate. Married with two children, he has recently resigned as Chairman of the Conservative party to become a Polling and Focus Group consultant for David Camerons political policy unit at 10 Downing Street. In the run up to the 2010 General Election Ashcroft was Deputy Chairman in charge of marginal constituency targeting and polling and data gathering for the party. His roles have resulted in him being caricatured as a political devil, causing a wave of controversy. It has been argued that "throughout the history of political parties, funding has always courted controversy."1 As such there has been a legacy of funding rivalry between the main political parties. John Stafford argues that throughout the history of the Conservative party "cash crises have often brought about change and donors of large amounts of money [have] demanded influence and power."2 The Conservative partys record on money and its relationship with constituency associations is a rather bleak one. The 1940s saw associations reluctantly pay a percentage towards the upkeep of Central Office, but by the 1980s this was not enough to keep the party operationally in place. The Conservative party, post 1985, became "reliant on the few wealthy individuals [who donated] rather than the mass membership in Conservative associations."3 The reckless greed of successive Conservative party treasurers came to a head in 1997 after the General Election defeat. The splurge of cash1</p> <p>John E. Stafford Report on Party Funding available at http://www.publicstandards.gov.uk/Library/Party_Funding___E80___J_Stafford.pdf, p1 (accessed 22/02/2011): See also Charlies Pattie and Ron Johnston, 'Conservatives' Grassroots Revival', The Political Quarterly, Vol 80, No. 2, (Apr-June 2009), p193-195 2 Ibid, p2 3 Ibid, p4</p> <p>Page | 5</p> <p>The Ashcroft 'Affair'spending for the election meant the Conservative party was once again in a real financial mess. 4 This was the environment which Michael Ashcroft inherited as Treasurer - a party that was in need of a period of financial rehabilitation. Ashcroft turned around the partys finances. He did this by leading by example, making major contributions to the party in order to entice other leading businessmen and Conservative party members to donate money. What Ashcroft did at a micro-level was to change the relationship between Conservative associations, which had historically been separate from the central party apparatus, and Conservative Central Headquarters. This resulted in the opening up of resources money, manpower and equipment - which could be transferred from one constituency association to another. The significance of this understanding revolved around the broader importance of marginal seats. A Margin of Error: The importance of marginal constituencies Marginal seats are constituencies where the incumbent has a majority that is less than 10 per cent than that of his or her nearest rival.5 The idea was that the Conservative party could win these seats by allocating more resources. This could be done by transferring resources from a safe constituency to one which needed them. But after the failure of the 2001 General Election, the then leader of the Conservative party, William Hague, resigned. The two successive leaders, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard, were unsure of the validity of Ashcrofts warnings about the need to allocate and target resources at marginal4</p> <p>Peter Snowdon, Back from the Brink: The Inside Story of the Tory Resurrection, (Harper Collins, London, 2010), p169 5 Jonathan Tonge et al (Editors), British Elections and Parties Review: Volume 11, (Cass Publishing, London, 2001), p139</p> <p>Page | 6</p> <p>The Ashcroft 'Affair'constituencies. The failure to target resources resulted in the 2005 General Election defeat which saw Tony Blairs Labour party return to Government. The rejuvenation of the Conservative party under David Cameron was also the political rebirth of Lord Ashcroft. Ashcroft was at this point languishing in Conservative Central Office as a deputy treasurer. By 2005, Cameron understood the importance of targeting resources on marginal constituencies: Ashcroft was made deputy Chairman of the Conservative party responsible "for opinion research and marginal seats."6 Now Ashcroft was able to do more than just propose a targeting campaign. He had dabbled with association donations to candidates in the 2005 election in which he used polling data and canvas returns to discover a powerful shift in political support. It was just that the Conservatives were not communicating their message in a coherent way. The public were similarly asking the Tory election slogan question are you thinking what were thinking and the incompetent 1997-2005 message from the Conservative party was a resounding no. Ashcroft knew he had to restructure the partys campaign network; he would also have to set up a better polling and analysis department along with a reinforced financial backbone for the party. In the event, this simple exercise resulted in Michael Ashcroft being accused of conspiring to manipulate the outcome of elections. However, Ashcroft claimed that the accusations against him were slanderous.7 We need to look at both sides to understand the controversy.</p> <p>6</p> <p>Michael A. Ashcroft, Minority Verdict, (BiteBack, London, 2010), p7; (a note of caution regarding BiteBack publishing - this company is owned by Michael Ashcroft and has links to right-wing blogs and news services like ConservativeHome. I have taken this into account when reading BiteBack books on the whole Ashcroft affair.) 7 Ibid, p13-22</p> <p>Page | 7</p> <p>The Ashcroft 'Affair'The criticisms allege that Ashcrofts donations to associations and therein the application of resources in a targeted way was unfair and gave the Conservatives an inequitable advantage over the other political parties. The second element of the conspiracy involves Ashcrofts status as a non-dom. He does not pay full UK tax on all his global earnings, only his UK income and this should disqualify him on ethical and moral grounds from donating to the Conservative party. These two interconnected arguments, along with the history of party donations, are important in contextualising this conspiracy within the contemporary politics of the period. Ashcroft: Was he buying seats for the Conservative party? To understand whether a conspiracy took place, we need to look at the case against Ashcroft and find out whether he was buying seats in elections.8 These allegations have been made in the House of Commons, for example, when John Mann MP bellowed from the floor of the Commons that "Michael Ashcroft and his pals spent 250,000 trying to remove me from my seat"9 The press allegations from the Guardian, the Daily Mirror and Labour MPs show the extent of the Lefts opposition to Ashcroft. The other side of this debate surrounds the idea that this is a campaign of slander against a member of Her Majestys loyal opposition. Michael Ashcroft is the target in a campaign to discredit the hard work of a team of talented individuals who worked tirelessly to construct a better way of operating and distributing resources nationwide. As Michael Ashcroft8</p> <p>Susie Boniface, 'Lord Ashcroft 'bought' 19 seats for the Tories', The Daily Mirror, 03/05/2010, available at www.mirror.co.uk/news/top-stories/2010/03/06/lord_ashcroft_bought_19_seats_for_tories_115875_2.htm (accessed 02/02/2011) 9 John Mann MP reported in Hansard, 22 June 2010, Column 163 available at http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm100622/debtext/100622-0004.htm (accessed 15/02/2011)</p> <p>Page | 8</p> <p>The Ashcroft 'Affair'states, his opponents argue that "the absence of spending limits outside election periods was a "loophole" in the law. But it wasnt, it was just the law, framed in Labours own Political Parties and Electoral Registration Act 2000 and it applied to everyone. There was nothing stopping any other party doing exactly what we did - indeed that is exactly what they ought to have done."10 Ashcroft claimed that he has done nothing wrong but followed every word of the law. To understand the nature of the Ashcroft conspiracy I conducted an interview with Gavin Barwell, MP for Croydon Central and former deputy Campaign strategis...</p>