Posts Tagged ‘Lord Ashcroft’

Of course #Piggate is nonsense, but it exposes weaknesses in Cameron’s Tory party

22/09/2015, 10:27:09 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Like most people, I didn’t think I would find myself writing about whether or not a young David Cameron inserted his penis into the severed head of a pig in order to join one of those ghastly upper-crust Oxbridge dinin’n’cavortin’ clubs, but, here we are, having a good giggle at his expense.

But behind the head shaking wonderment at how the other half lives lie some interesting revelations about how Cameron deals with people and how he copes in a crisis.

  1. The first is that a Conservative peer and former political editor of the Conservative-supporting Sunday Times (Isabel Oakeshott) are responsible for bringing the grisly revelation to light. Lord Ashcroft, for it is he, is quite open about his “beef” with Cameron for not apparently honouring a promise of a government job after 2010. So is this his elaborate revenge? If so, it doesn’t say much for Cameron’s people management skills that he cannot handle his dealings with the biggest single donor to his party over the last 15 years and, perhaps, that he cannot honour a deal.

    But what of the source for the story? Ashcroft/Oakeshott insist it was a Conservative MP (and assumed contemporary of Cameron) who repeated the tale to them, on several occasions. Cui bono? And why the alacrity in sticking the knife into their own leader?

  1. Then there’s the handling of the revelation itself. Downing Street initially poured cold water on the story, haughtily refusing to “dignify” the allegation with a response. This avoids the follow-up headline: ‘Cam rejects claim he put his penis in a pig’s mouth,’ but it’s also a classic ‘non-denial denial’. It urges us to move along without actually rubbishing the veracity of the tale.

    Indeed, it’s interesting there has been no retinue of Conservative MPs hitting the airwaves to denounce it. (It comes to something when Toby Young is the ‘go to guy’ to offer Downing Street’s off-the-books counter-spin). Perhaps Tory MPs calculate that being on the right side of Michael Ashcroft is better for their long-term prospects than helping out a Prime Minister who will be gone in the next four years?


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Ashcroft marginals’ polls show Labour’s not ahead enough and now needs the other parties to fail

14/04/2015, 04:45:35 PM

Where would we be without Lord Ashcroft? His metamorphosis from Belize-based Tory financier to philanthropic godfather of British psephology, has bequeathed to the statistical junkies of British politics a treasure trove of polling in marginal seats to chew over.

The latest tranche of data from ten Conservative/Labour marginals shows that the overall race remains tight, with the Tories edging the lead in five, Labour in three, while the parties are tied in the remaining two seats.

These are the kinds of constituencies that the governing party has to win. What the polls reveal is that two serious strategic threats remain for Labour.

The first, is that having successfully squeezed the Lib Dems, Labour can’t realistically harvest any more votes from them. They are down around the 5-7 per cent mark in all of the ten seats. This is rock bottom for them and the only direction they can now head in is back up. Any revival in Lib Dem fortunes during the remainder of the campaign comes at Labour’s expense.

The second, is that the Tories still have ample opportunity to squeeze UKIP. Their support ranges from seven per cent in Finchley and Golders Green, through to 21 per cent in Dover, with their support in the remaining eight seats clustered at around 15 per cent.

This gives the Tories something to target in their own attempt at squeezing their nearest rival, with Cameron’s plea to disaffected Conservative defectors to “come home” a lingering threat as we approach the midway point in this election campaign.

None of this is to discount the hard work done by Labour activists on the ground. On the contrary, these polls clearly show Labour’s ground war having an effect, with Labour’s candidates beating the Tories’ campaigning efforts by 64-47 per cent when voters are asked which campaign has been in touch.

Yet in the increasingly complex arena of British politics, the unmistakable message from these polls is that Labour is not far enough ahead in some of the seats it must win and finds itself reliant on the fortunes of the other parties.

It needs the Lib Dems to stay sunk and for the Tories to fail to peel off support from UKIP. Or to quote Gore Vidal, it is not enough to succeed, others must fail.

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Warnings from the prophet Ashcroft

12/03/2013, 07:00:36 AM

by David Talbot

Does the Labour party still have a polling department? The party may not have the funds to do private polling on anything like the scale they have done in previous years, but frankly it may not need to. If Labour’s nice new offices on Brewers Green do indeed still contain a polling unit, no one could criticise them for doing almost exactly what the entire political establishment do, and wait for Lord Ashcroft to upload his latest PDFs.

His latest study is an authoritative account of what the British political landscape. It contains the hearty news that a majority of 84 is seemingly within the party’s grasp. But, alas, the good Lord’s work does not contain all good news for Labour– he is a Conservative, after all.

Ashcroft’s continued estrangement from the Conservative party has ironically served his greatest foe. The Daily Mail ran the curious tale of the peer meeting with Douglas Alexander, Labour’s election co-ordinator from the 2010 campaign. Seemingly, both sides have conveniently forgotten they spent years openly trying to destroy each other – indeed; many defeated Labour MPs owe their redundancy in large part to his finance. And yet again, many newly elected Labour MPs in 2015 may well owe a debt of gratitude.

The polling shows Labour advancing deep into Conservative held territory, with the very un-Labour sounding seats of Dorset South, Somerset North East and Chatham & Aylesford all returning to the Labour fold. Furthermore, a paltry 24% of respondents identified themselves as approving of the government’s record to date, whilst the same again said a Conservative government was their preferred outcome at the next general election.

Labour’s predicament is not as bad as that of the Conservatives in 1997 – for one thing, the party holds 258 seats, 93 more than the Tories’ apocalyptic total. But it does not follow that Labour will bounce straight back. From Jim Murphy’s warning of the rise of “Lazy Labour” – or the Toynbee tendency, depending on your rhetorical flourish – the party’s future depends on accepting why it lost, learning the right lessons, and making the necessary changes. From the research, the evidence shows any signs of doing so are at best mixed.


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For Labour, the hard work on immigration starts now

11/03/2013, 08:12:28 AM

by Anthony Painter

Why is Labour obsessing about immigration? Try the fact that – according to a recent Lord Ashcroft poll – two of the top three most salient issues are welfare dependency and controlling immigration. 32% and 20% of Labour supporters respectively favour the Conservative positions on these issues. No party that seriously expects to compete for office can fail to respond to public anxiety on these issues. Welfare and immigration are tightly linked in concern about the failures of the modern state.

Reponses to this have fallen into two camps: there’s not really a problem and there is problem and it requires a response. Ed Miliband falls into the latter camp.

The mistake the former camp makes is that it thinks that it can win the argument with numbers when this is an instinctive, cultural and emotional set of issues. So the fact that there is a net contribution by migrants to the public purse or that few migrants come here with the purpose of claiming benefits or free-riding on the NHS simply doesn’t cut through. Nor will it. The issue is not the quantum of free-riding but that the system allows it. There is also a broader sense that welfare has become simultaneously marginal so it benefits the few, out of control in terms of cost and fosters dependency. It is about fundamental institutional logic and many people see the welfare state – with the exception of child benefit and pensions – as something for other people at an exorbitant cost which we collectively shoulder.

More specifically on immigration, trust has broken down in our ability to control the flow of migration – particularly at the lower skill level. The fact that this may be to our broad economic benefit, improve public services, or better finance an ageing society or the national debt do not seem to counter-balance the anxiety over loss of control.

If your immigration and welfare systems do not have wide public legitimacy then you have a problem. That is the situation.


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UKIP will take votes from Labour as well as the Tories in Rotherham today

29/11/2012, 07:00:18 AM

by Peter Watt

There is one aspect of the UKIP Rotherham storm that I have found intriguing and that has, for the most part, passed largely without comment: the foster carers who were at the heart of the story were former Labour voters.

And yet this on the face of it belies the presumption that UKIP is a problem for the Tories.  Psephologically speaking of course, it does seem that for the time being at least UKIP has taken voters from the Tories.

It is why Michael Fabricant MP said the unsayable this week by talking of Conservative electoral pacts with UKIP.  But psephology alone is surely only half the story because scratch the surface of the assumptions about UKIP and there are some others bout who votes UKIP and why.

One of the main issues is that those of us who suffer from an obsession with politics still tend to see politics on a linear ‘left-right’ spectrum. This means that we could sit in a bar and quite quickly group policies as “left” or “right” with a high degree of consensus amongst ourselves.

So broadly, parties on the left are in favour of bigger government and those on the right smaller government.  Parties on the left are in favour of the state directly delivering help to the poor and those on the right are more supportive of community and self-help options.  And so on; and depending which party you are from would depend as to whether the broadly left approach or broadly right approach was seen as a positive or not.

Even though in reality we know that it isn’t in fact this simple, it is a stereotype that we instinctively feel is broadly right.  And we think this because it complies with our worldview as Labour activists.  And the same would be true for political activists generally.


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Much obliged, m’lord Ashcroft

06/06/2011, 12:00:28 PM

by Rob Marchant

On discovering, via Tim Montgomerie’s Saturday piece, that Michael Ashcroft has commissioned a report into the future of the Labour party, one’s immediate reaction is that it was exceptionally kind of him. After all, as Montgomerie points out, the party is not exactly awash with cash at the moment to do its own polling. Really a very public-spirited action by the noble Lord.

All right, perhaps Ashcroft is not really bankrolling a report for our benefit. It is of great political value to the Tories to show Labour to be out of touch and polling poorly. But you know what the smart thing for us to do would be? It would be to read it very carefully anyway. And the article is a good starting point. It is uncomfortable reading, naturally, but it is always a position of strength to listen to adverse criticism, especially when it’s based on the opinion of ordinary people. And it is always a position of weakness to ignore it.

Wisdom from the Daily Mail, you say? Free your mind. Montgomerie is an intelligent Tory: strip out the partisan from the adverse criticisms made in the first half of the piece, and what’s left is a pretty objective, if ruthless, analysis.

At the very highest level, there are two things any politician needs to get right in order to attain or keep power: the policy thing; and the non-policy thing. It would be great if we were elected purely on our policies; but to think so is dangerously naïve. There is a range of other factors which can make a big difference. Aside from public perception of the leader, we have public perception of other key figures, historical context, current economic situation, expectations of the future and so on. And these things tend to apply irrespective of political stripe.

The policy thing you can never get much out of through a Tory prism. Montgomerie himself is a full-blooded Tory on touchstone issues such as Europe; therefore such issues, irrespective of whether the public is bothered about them, are talked up, as we would talk up ours. No, we can mostly skip the policy part.

However, on the non-policy areas, the piece makes for some interesting points. First it reinforces what the personal attack line will be: it characterises Ed Miliband, simply, as odd. Now, the Red Ed approach was always too glib and too visibly inappropriate to stick, but Odd Ed – well, it’s cleverer and more effective. Instead of angrily rejecting the personal attack – after all, a fact of political life – we should do what grown-ups do: calmly clock it; analyse it; and deal with it.

None of us can do much about the way we look or sound; but Ed does need to work on how he comes across on television. More personable bloke from the pub, if you like, and less policy wonk or visionary Martin Luther King. Reagan, Clinton and Bush Jr. all had one thing in common: they were people the American public felt they could have a beer with. There is something important in that attack line that needs to be neutralised.

Next, the low personal poll rating is brought up, as per last week’s poll. Again, this should be a concern, but it is not an insurmountable one: there is still time to change it. More importantly, he admonishes Labour for giving the impression of returning to being a party of protest, of student politics. That stings, but it’s also credible, if we review with realism the overall impression left by the March 26 demo (and, while there are undoubtedly other factors, it is at least an interesting coincidence that the month following the London demo was the month our poll lead there abruptly evaporated).

Not everything is accurate about the analysis. For example, Montgomerie adversely criticises Miliband’s failure to reform his party, and here he is wrong: it is simply not possible to reform a political party in eight months (although if he means challenge the party, that is a different matter). But one final adverse criticism is insightful:

“By the early stages of his leadership, David Cameron had been sending mega-watt messages to voters on issues such as the NHS, the environment and fighting poverty — whether you agreed with them or not, they all energetically suggested that he was a very different kind of Conservative”.

The vital subtext here is this: Cameron was prepared to bypass the conventional wisdom of his own party to tell the public what they needed to hear: that his party had changed.

And here is the crux of the matter. Cameron did it. Blair did it with clause four. Thatcher did it against the wets. Once done, all of their positions became secure. All of our leaders, in winning power from opposition, have to do it, usually shortly after becoming leader: it is difficult to argue that Ed should be an exception.

A message of change has been there, yes. But it has been muted, a little fuzzy and, most importantly, directed more at the party and core Labour supporters than at the wider public and swing voters. The public can’t see what’s changed and, if they see anything, they likely see a swing to the left, away from them.

All of this non-policy analysis by the Tories is interesting and useful, precisely because it is largely dispassionate: they have no reason to be nice. It may not all be right, but we could do much worse than to go through it carefully in search of learning points. Because sometimes your worst enemy will tell you the home truth that your best friend won’t.

So, thank you, Lord Ashcroft, for all your hard work on our behalf. You’ve whetted our appetite, now if you could just send the full report to Labour Uncut, we’d be much obliged. We’ll pay the postage.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left.

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Wednesday News Review

25/05/2011, 06:40:16 AM

The pomp and ceremony is over, now the politics begins

Barack Obama will today express hope that the Atlantic alliance may now be “turning a corner” towards a more peaceful existence after a decade of continuous warfare in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond. At a speech this afternoon at the Palace of Westminster to address both houses of parliament, Obama will point to the withdrawal of US and Britain troops from Iraq, the expected drawdown from Afghanistan beginning this summer, the killing of Osama Bin Laden and the weakening of al-Qaida as signs that the worst might be over for the transatlantic alliance. According to the White House, the president will stress that the stabilisation of north Africa and the consolidation of the Arab spring will be critical. Although, the Americans have been adamant on this visit that they will not retake the lead in the Nato offensive against the Gaddafi regime, they argue they are already doing a lot behind the scenes and plan to do a lot more in the coming days to give greater legitimacy to the Benghazi-based rebels. – the Guardian

President Barack Obama and U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron will discuss ways to sustain pressure on Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi when they meet tomorrow in London before Obama’s address to Parliament. The NATO campaign against Qaddafi and measures to support the opposition in Libya will be “one of the lead agenda items” for the meeting at 10 Downing Street, the prime minister’s office, Ben Rhodes, the U.S. deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, said today. “It’s essential that the U.S. and Europe continue to serve as that catalyst for global action” in Libya and countries in the Middle East and North Africa that are in a state of upheaval, Rhodes said. Today, in addition to meeting with Cameron, Obama also will address members of Parliament. He will be the first U.S. president to do so in Westminster Hall. – San Francisco Chronicle

The second day of the politician’s state visit to Britain will begin at Downing Street where he will hold talks with David Cameron on issues ranging from Libya and Afghanistan, to terrorism and the global economy. The highlight of today is likely to be the President’s keynote speech to both houses of Parliament in Westminster Hall. According to the White House, Mr Obama is expected to tell MPs and peers that even though the world has changed significantly since World War Two, the UK-US relationship and the broader transatlantic alliance is still the “cornerstone of global security”. The president will also strike an optimistic note by claiming that the world is “turning a corner” following a “difficult decade”. Mr Obama follows Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan to become the third US president to address Parliament. – Sky News

Huhne and ex-wife questioned by police

Energy Secretary Chris Huhne was quizzed by police yesterday over allegations he pressured his wife to take his speeding penalty points. The Cabinet minister spoke to officers after they launched an inquiry into the 2003 incident. Another person – thought to be his estranged wife Vicky Pryce – was also questioned yesterday. Essex police said: “We can confirm two individuals have been interviewed at stations in Essex and London over allegations regarding a speeding offence.” The force would not confirm if the interviews were carried out under caution but stressed no arrests were made. Mr Huhne is said to have asked Ms Pryce to take the three penalty points on her licence after allegedly being caught speeding on the M11 in Essex eight years ago. – Daily Mirror

The Energy Secretary Chris Huhne was interviewed by police yesterday over allegations he tried to evade punishment for speeding. Mr Huhne’s ex-wife, Vicky Pryce, was also questioned over claims he asked her to accept penalty points on his behalf in March 2003. Essex Police confirmed that two individuals had been interviewed in relation to allegations of a speeding offence. A spokeswoman for Mr Huhne said: “Chris Huhne helped the Essex Police with their inquiries today and looks forward to an early resolution of this issue.” Ms Pryce’s solicitor said in a statement: “Vicky Pryce met with Essex Police today as part of their inquiry. She continues to do what is necessary in respect of the inquiry but in view of the fact that it is on going it is not appropriate for her or anyone on her behalf to comment further.” – the Independent

Another blow to the big society

The Prime Minister’s cherished Big Society project suffered a severe blow last night after the man appointed to implement it dramatically resigned. Lord Nat Wei stepped down just months after saying he could not devote as much time to the project as he thought. The former management consultant was taken on last year as Big Society tsar, with a remit of enthusing the public into carrying out unpaid community work. But he was reportedly shocked to find that he himself would have to work for nothing. At the time he was reported as saying he wanted to cut back his Government work so he could earn money and have ‘more of a life’. The resignation is a blow to Mr Cameron, who has described the Big Society as his ‘mission in politics’. Labour accused the Premier of expecting the public to carry out voluntary work, when he could not even count on his own Big Society tsar to do it. – Daily Mail

The man in charge of the Big Society project quit yesterday – to take up a paid job. Lord Wei’s departure is a further blow to David Cameron’s pet scheme, which he tried to relaunch this week for the fourth time. The peer had already cut the hours given to the voluntary role, claiming he needed other work to pay the bills. Yesterday he said he was going to work for a charity. The PM said Lord Wei had worked “incredibly hard” to help develop policies that support the Big Society. But Shadow Cabinet Office minister Tessa Jowell said: “Yet again the Big Society is descending into farce. Only a day after Cameron told us all to take more responsibility, it appears there will be nobody responsible for bringing the Big Society into reality.” – Daily Mirror

Clegg sidelined over Ashcroft appointment

Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem Deputy Prime Minister, is understood to have urged David Cameron not to make the appointment, to head a review of British military bases in Cyprus, but was overruled. The move was described as “deeply offensive” by a Liberal Democrat peer who campaigned to force Lord Ashcroft to disclose his non-domicile status. Mr Cameron’s decision to defy his deputy is a clear signal that the multi-millionaire, who is one of the Conservatives’ biggest donors, is back in favour with senior Tories. However, on forming the Coalition, the Liberal Democrats, who had long detested Lord Ashcroft for targeting their candidates in marginal seats, vetoed any appointment. It is a sign of Mr Clegg’s waning power within the Coalition that his personal objection to the appointment fell on deaf years. – Daily Telegraph

With the help of his old friend, William Hague, Lord Ashcroft is to return to politics, acting as a lead adviser to the government on its review of the UK’s military bases in Cyprus. It’s nearly a year since Ashcroft gave up his non-dom tax status in order to keep his seat in the House of Lords but we can still expect this appointment to raise some eyebrows. How does Nick Clegg feel about the return of the man he once denounced as the “baron of Belize”? The BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg tweets that the Deputy PM made his objections to the appointment clear but that Cameron went ahead anyway. A Lib Dem source tells her that “you can’t go the wall on every issue”. Expect Labour to use this apparent division at the top of the government to its advantage. I’d be surprised if Ed Miliband doesn’t make at least one Ashcroft-related gag at PMQs tomorrow. – New Statesman

“A day to bury bad news,” where have I heard that before

Tory strategists were last night accused of using the visit of Barack Obama to bury “bad news”. The news in question is David Cameron having handed a Government post to controversial Tory donor Lord Ashcroft, provoking a bitter coalition row with the Liberal Democrats. Within hours, Lord Wei announced his resignation as Mr Cameron’s Big Society “czar”, just a day after the PM’s fourth try at relaunching his pet project. Liberal Democrat peer Lord Oakeshott said: “It’s silly to think you can bury really bad news just because Obama is visiting.” – the Independent

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