The Lord Ashcroft scandal, more poll woe for the Tories, Gordon Brown's appearance at the Iraq inquiry, the £2.5 bn supertax take and Mugabe's love of Cameron.
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There are yet more allegations of tax avoidance by Lord Ashcroft today as the Tories’ poll lead in 60 key marginals shrinks to just two points. The Guardian reports bills for “huge opinion polls” were sent to the peer’s Belize firm, raising fresh concerns of “systematic tax avoidance” – the Tory deputy chairman exploiting his offshore status to avoid paying VAT on opinion polls he commissioned for the party. Lib Dem Treasury spokesman Vince Cable said: “This is quite serious. We are now not talking just about Ashcroft’s non-dom status, but about systematic tax avoidance in funding Conservative party activities such as polling. How far were the Conservatives aware that Ashcroft did not pay VAT, as would have been incurred by any normal polling activity?” In a seperate development, the Telegraph claims Ashcroft “may have avoided £2m tax on Tory donations”, using a series of companies “to move money from the offshore tax haven of Belize to fund the Tories”.
The Independent reports the collapse of support in the 60 marginals the Tories need to win to gain a majority. The news of the collapse in the Tory lead from seven to just two points will come as a massive blow to the party, especially given the key role Ashcroft played in funding their campaigns in the marginals, the Tories spending £6 million over the past two years in the marginal battlegrounds – far outspending Labour and the Liberal Democrats. The poll puts the Tories on 39% (down 4), Labour on 37% (up 1) and the Lib Dems on 15% (up 2). A seperate analysis of 37 polls this year, carried out by Left Foot Forward yesterday, shows that, on current trends, Labour will overtake the Conservatives in the week of the election.
The prime minister will appear before the Iraq inquiry today, where he is expected to be pressed over claims he underfunded the armed services while chancellor. The Telegraph says the inquiry “has emerged as a potential threat to Mr Brown”, following the appearances of former ministers and officials who have criticised his record while in the Treasury. He has, however, “repeatedly rejected criticism of his record on defence” says the Telegraph, the PM insisting overall spending on defence “has risen consistently”. The Times, meanwhile, has an interview with former chief of the defence staff Lord Guthrie, who repeats the claims against Mr Brown, telling the paper that “not fully funding the Army in the way they had asked … undoubtedly cost the lives of soldiers. He should be asked why he was so unsympathetic towards defence and so sympathetic to other departments.” The PM is expected to start giving evidence to Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry from 10.
The Financial Times reports the “supertax” on bankers’ bonuses has “pulled in £2.5 billion for the Treasury”. The figure comes from an FT survey of 16 global banks, giving the government “an unexpectedly large windfall to spend ahead of the general election”. The receipts, adds the report, would “exceed by about £1.5bn” the total tax take from a bigger bank bonus pool anticipated before the supertax was imposed, and is considerably more than the £550m the chancellor, Alistair Darling, predicted in December when he announced the surcharge on all bonuses above £25,000. He is now widely expected “to unveil plans to use the extra funds for ‘small targeted measures'” – including “efforts to tackle youth unemployment or to boost ‘industries of the future’,” two major themes in Labour’s election manifesto.
And The Guardian reports the news that Robert Mugabe “backs David Cameron’s Conservatives”. The president of Zimbabwe called the Tories “bold”, also referring to them as “these fools”. He said: “We have always related better with the British through the Conservatives than Labour … Conservatives are bold, Blair and Brown run away when they see me, but not these fools, they know how to relate to others … We have a better chance with David Cameron than with Brown.” The unexpected endorsement followed Brown’s harsh words about the regime during his press conference with the visiting South African president Jacob Zuma this week.
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