The Lord Ashcroft scandal, Gordon Brown's appearance before the Iraq inquiry, the sad news about Michael Foot, the insanity of Nigel Farage and more.
The Week in Politics
• The controversy over Tory donor Lord Ashcroft’s non-dom status dominated the week, with serious question marks being raised over who knew what when, and how much tax Ashcroft avoided in the last ten years – despite William Hague giving a written assuranance to Tony Blair at the turn of the century that Aschroft would pay “tens of millions a year in tax” in order to take up his peerage.
This week it also emerged that David Cameron had known “within the last month” that the billionaire Belizean was a non-dom, with William Hague finding out “in the last few months”. The effect of the scandal has been a slump in Tory support, their lead down to just two points, with their lead in the key marginals they need for a majority collapsing – the same marginals where Ashcrofts influence and spending power has been greatest.
In all, Ashcroft is estimated to have avoided at least £127 million in tax, the Mirror doing the maths:
“Lord Ashcroft’s fortune is estimated to be £1,100million, which would earn him at least £55million in income. A 5% annual return is £55m. If he kept 80% offshore taxpayers would miss income from £44m.
“He can split his tax between capital gains and income tax. At 18%, capital gains tax on £22m = £3.96m, plus 40% income tax on £22m = £8.8m. That’s £12.76m a year or £127.6m in 10 years.”
• Gordon Brown appeared before the Iraq inquiry today, five weeks to the day since his predecessor gave evidence, denying he had underfunded the military while Chancellor and insisting that “every request made to him” while he was at the Treasury was met. He “fully backed” the war, and had been “given all the information” he needed by Tony Blair. On the alleged equipment shortages, he said:
“At any point, commanders were able to ask for equipment that they needed and I know of no occasion when they were turned down.”
His performance failed to mollify the doubters, however, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg claiming that “the evidence that our brave troops weren’t given the resources and equipment they require is now overwhelming” and accusing the prime minister of “flatly contradicting” what senior military figures had said.
• One of the giants of 20th-century politics, Michael Foot, passed away this week, aged 96. The former Labour leader died at his home in Hampstead on Wednesday, tributes pouring in from across the political spectrum following the news, broken to the House of Commons after PMQs, most fitting for one of the great parliamentarians of his time, an orator nonpareil in contemporary politics.
One of the most glowing tributes came from Alistair Campbell, who described him as “above all else a lovely man”; Daniel Hannan called him “a committed patriot … Cerebral, incorruptible and curiously innocent”; David Blunkett hailed him as “the greatest parliamentarian of his generation”; Ken Livingstone recalled him as “the nicest person I ever met at a senior level in politics”; and David Miliband tweeted: “Ironic to hear news of Michael Foot’s death while welcoming south african president. He hated apartheid with a vengeance.”
The aptest eulogy of all, though, came from Tribune, which he edited from 1948-52 and 1955-60. Quoting Byron, their obituary ends:
“And I will war, at least in words (and – should
My chance so happen – deeds) with all who war
Progressive of the week
Leader of the house and one-time “Regressive of the week” Harriet Harman, who has fought hard behind the scenes to guide through many reforms to the running of the Commons, which were finally voted through last night. The reforms, proposed by chair of the PLP Tony Wright, “represent the most radical erosion of the authority of party whips for many years”, reports today’s Guardian, and “are being seen by reformist MPs as a way of responding to the collapse of trust in the wake of the expenses scandal”.
Regressive of the week
Nigel Farage, former leader of UKIP yet still very much in charge, who this week forced out West Midlands MEP Nikki Sinclaire for having the temerity to protest against the bigoted opinions of UKIP’s far-Right allies in the European parliament, in particular Italy’s Lega Nord, whom she labelled “extremists”.
Farage was also fined by the parliament for his outspoken attack on the new president of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy in which he described him as having all the charisma of a “damp rag” and the appearance of a “low-grade bank clerk”.
Evidence of the week
Research conducted by Bournemouth University, reported in yesterday’s G2, which found that “the number of children dying violent deaths in England and Wales has fallen by almost 40% since the mid-1970s with the annual number of such deaths of children aged 14 and under falling from 136 to 84“.
The findings, to be published in full later this spring, come amidst renewed debate about child murders following the return to prison this week of Jon Venables, one of the murderers of James Bulger.
Conor Pope’s Blog The Week
This week, Conor performs without notes in an attempt to emulate Robert Mugabe’s new best friend and leader of the Tory party David Cameron. First Pinochet, now this; Mugabe, Mugabe on the wall, who’s the evilest of them all…
What’s trending on Twitter
According to our friends at Tweetminster, here is a list of the week’s top political stories:
• The Ashcroft revelations – by far the biggest story of the week;
• Mugabe “preferring the Conservatives” – a very widely shared story; and
• Tributes to Michael Foot, who sadly passed away this week.
• Cameron and the mystery £72 billion.
While Gordon Brown’s appearance at the Iraq inquiry was a popular topic, it was far less discussed than Blair’s and Campbell’s testimonies. To put it into context, Jon Venables, Carol Vorderman, the campaign to save BBC Radio 6 and the Digital Economy Bill had a greater volume of conversations – whereas Blair and Campbell’s testimonies both topped trending topics.
Here are some of the many, many tweets on the Lord CAshcroft scandal:
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