Thursday, December 06, 2007

David Hencke's Scoop: A Good Morning Iain Response

Caught sight of the Guardian's super scoop in the paper reviews last night. But no time or energy to blog about the story sensibly then. But the ever reasonable and not at all obsessed Iain Dale has thrown down a gauntlet for a response from myself of all people.

Sadly it was late and he couldn't manage a link to this blog but a name check is something I suppose.

Dear Iain

Thanks for the namecheck. Your friend Diablo made sure I saw it good and quick with a manic 2:30 am visit and an off topic comment demanding an audience.

Having slept on David Hencke's brilliant scoop my initial thoughts are as follows:

1. If the legal advice they got was legally wrong the job's a good 'un and the C word (corruption) may well be appropriate. Otherwise ...

2. If however the legal advice was right then that would make this sharp practice or avoidance - a bit like the various legal but sharp tax avoidance dodges we hear about - rather than illegality, bribery, evasion etc or what is normally understood by the term corruption. Labour people at large condemn both sorts of opacity.

3. It will be very interesting indeed to see who the accomplices turn out to be. A previous Labour Treasurer - Margaret Prosser - was on The Daily Politics when this story was in its early days. She was fairly harsh about the current crew and the lapsed scrutiny committee, set up to avoid such problems. What she said - and Ben Bradshaw MP on the same programme - reflected the feeling in the party at large and the PLP. My MP Tony Lloyd spoke in the debate on this and as you know he is now Chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party. [Links to follow here and elsewhere].

4. I'd have told Abrahams and his fancy lawyers to go swivel myself - or rather to use Route One like other people, or Route Two via a company or association - as I'm sure you would have done on behalf of David Davis, and say Mark Pack would have done for the Lib Dems - though they missed Mr Michael Brown of course. However ...

5. As one who likes to give credit where credit is due I recognise the consistent achievements of Tory people in finding and exploiting legal loopholes and grey areas. In particular using company and association vehicles to obscure individual contributions. Labour have some history on that too, but as recent adopters of private enterprise ways and means they are very sorry to say amateurs beside Tory people. Therefore ...

6. I wonder whether Mr Abrahams and whoever his accomplices were are the only ones who have drawn up such contracts, covenants, legal instruments with the purpose of exploiting loopholes? And I'm not thinking exclusively of other Labour people here. Though whoever it may be point 1 and 2 still apply here. Was the loophole really there and was the exploitation of it legal or not?

7. The last thing I dreamt of during my much needed beauty sleep was this question:

"Was the covenant and the arrangement perhaps run by the Electoral Commission ahead of implementation and if so was a letter secured blessing that arrangement?"

The same goes for what I would controversially even mischieviously call the "Flying Lion debacle" actually. Did the Conservative Party get this arrangement in general and the meagre valuations of services blessed by the EC ahead of implementation? And of course any other proposals of this nature.

So, was the advice good or not? Was the arrangement blessed by the EC? Are there other contracts etc out there in other parties exploiting this or other loopholes in the 2000 Political Parties Act?

Whatever the answers I would say that the Labour party at large and also Labour MPs and other elected representatives will join in condemnation of extreme sharp practice as appears to be described as well as obviously condemning any illegality.

Conservative insiders will of course be anxiously watching their words as, given the inherent superiority in weaselry of minds honed in boardroom and city boy activities, there's always a chance that there are fairly similar arrangements extant on the Conservative side of the fence.

Dave's Andrew Marr interview and Press Conference remarks about Lord Ashcroft don't actually seem to be clear enough for even gnarled hacks to agree what he is saying and what exactly he means by what he is saying.

Seemed clear enough to me, particularly from AM. Lord Ashcroft is still offshore and still not paying his tax in the UK. Seven years after getting a big P - on appeal - on the back of a well documented promise through William Hague, then leader of the Conservative and Unionist Party (as was) that he would quickly come onshore and would pay millions in taxes here.

I think it is reasonable for you to ask Labour bloggers to cover such matters. Though it must be said that I am hardly close to the party centre! There are seven Labour bloggers ahead of me in your own list. And you very hurtfully (though accurately perhaps, I am not worthy etc etc) suggested that I was rather over-promoted by the exercise.

By the same token it is good to see Telegraph journalists asking questions about Ashcroft and it would be lovely to see Tory bloggers answering some of the hanging questions on his status.

Best wishes

Chris Paul


Anonymous said...

I've had a go ... about the MIC and Lord Ashcroft ... I'm sure that you will tell me that I am mistaken.

Chris Paul said...

Greeting Evan. Over at Iain's you mean?

Abrahams could have used the MIC model though Labour don't like the approach and have not pursued it much.

Ashcroft will continue to be brought out as long as he has failed to keep the big P promises.

Anonymous said...

On my blog -

As to Ashcroft - the assumption that he has not complied with his 'promises' is merely that, 'an assumption'. The remedy is to ask the Appointments Commission to investigate and if they don't to seek to review their decision not to or if their review doesn't satisfy you to review that decision.

The difficulty is that everyone is entitled to keep their tax affairs confidential - and if Ashcroft says he is resident for tax purposes (something that is not required either for a donor to a political party or for residence for purposes of the electoral role), he will be told that he hasn't proved it unless he has revealed what tax he has paid - given the likely complexity of his tax position, revealing that would amount to intrusion on his confidential affairs. The result - he is better off saying the matter of his tax status is confidential and the matter of his 'promises' is something for the Appointments Commission - and neither of these amounts to an admission that either he is not resident for tax purposes nor that he has not complied with his 'promises'.

Chris Paul said...

Thanks Evan

I think Cameron said very clearly - to my ears - that Michael Ashcroft has not complied with the promise.
That was Sunday. Today's Thursday. I doubt there's been much change.