Peter Hoskin

Labour’s pursuit of Ashcroft could backfire

Labour's pursuit of Ashcroft could backfire
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I wrote yesterday that Lord Ashcroft's statement about his tax status should have drawn a "rather neat line under the issue".  Sure, it's hardly ideal that someone with such influence in our politics hasn't been paying UK taxes on much of his wealth (something which could equally be said of Labour donors like Lord Paul and Lakshmi Mittal), and was keeping mysterious about it.  But at least, now, most of the uncertainty surrounding Ashcroft's position has been removed.  And we have his indication that he will become a full UK taxpayer in due course.  

But I hadn't counted on the tenacity of Labour, who are trying to spin this story as far as it will go.  They've had some of their biggest hitters doing the media rounds – including Jack Straw and Peter Mandelson, whose request for a watchdog investigation into Ashcroft has been turned down.  The Business Secretary has since come out snarling, saying to Sky News this morning:

"All these years he's been dodging what he should have paid in tax in full ... instead he's chosen to give all the money to the Conservative party. Perhaps they'd like to pay it back now?"

This is a dangerous route for Labour to go down, on many levels.  Not only (as Guido points out) is Mandelson not really the best poster boy for clean politics, but it risks drawing more attention to Labour's own non-dom donors, and suggests that Brown & Co. aren't just "getting on with the job" of government.  With the election only weeks away, maybe they should create the impression that they've got better things to do.

UPDATE: Paul Waugh's put up a blog post wich suggests that Mandelson isn't going to get very far with this, and that Ashcroft was telling the truth yesterday when he said he hadn't gone back on an undertaking.

UPDATE 2: Labour have just released this attack ad: