The turmoil at the top of the Tory party over the tax affairs of Lord Ashcroft escalated last night as the former leader, William Hague, admitted he had known "for a few months" that the peer had renegotiated the terms under which he took his place in the House of Lords, says the Guardian.
Hague's disclosure put pressure on himself and the party to explain why they have repeatedly evaded questions about the matter in a succession of recent interviews. It also highlighted how Ashcroft, the Conservative deputy chairman, kept his tax status secret for almost a decade from his closest Tory ally and the man who lobbied hardest for his peerage in 2000. Labour's general election co-ordinator, Douglas Alexander, added: "Lord Ashcroft's position is now completely untenable. David Cameron must now act and fire him. He surely cannot tolerate a position where the most senior member of his shadow cabinet has been kept in the dark for so long by his most senior funder and deputy chairman."
Meanwhile, the Times says that William Hague is accused by a former head of the Civil Service of failing to ensure that Lord Ashcroft honoured his commitment to the British taxpayer. Lord Turnbull said that it was Mr Hague’s responsibility, as Lord Ashcroft’s “sponsor”, to ensure that the billionaire Tory donor fulfilled the undertakings he gave in return for his peerage. “We were taking Hague’s word that he had negotiated this deal and it turns out that he had negotiated a deal with a loophole,” Lord Turnbull said.
Ben Macintyre of the Times adds Michael Ashcroft is the éminence grise of the Tory Party, whose influence extends deep into Conservative politics but who remains mysterious — and not merely in his tax arrangements. Lord Ashcroft has even referred to himself as a “grey man”.