Labour is getting hammered for breaking the laws on political funding. Rightly so, there needs to be criminal prosecutions in order to make it clear that the laws are to be obeyed. The Tories are working around the laws, which may be legal, but it is slippery. It is also bad politics, slushing money through unincorporated associations is just not on any more. Ashcroft’s tax arrangements are only a private matter if he is a private person.
Ashcroft’s influence on the Tories, like that of Lord Sainsbury for Labour, has been in the national interest. Billionaire Lord Sainsbury helped finance New Labour, dragging the Labour party from socialism towards an accommodation with the Thatcherite settlement and at the very least an acceptance of the market economy. Sainsbury financed progressive think tanks and pressure groups as well as the Labour party itself, to the betterment of the country. It was in the national interest to have a non-socialist alternative governing party to the Tories. Like Ashcroft he got stuck in rather than just sending £15 million plus of cheques.
Ashcroft has an equally involved approach, he has made an evidence based case to the Tories to change their game for the better. He has encouraged them, with financial incentives, to campaign professionally. He has pushed the party to appeal to the young aspirational middle classes once again, rather than just their core voters. It has got to be in the best interests of the country to have an opposition that is electorally competitive and appealing rather than ideologically marooned. Ashcroft is not a sinister Blofeld type character, he like Sainsbury has constructively used his wealth to better his party and (eventually) his country. But the increasing perception that Labour is trying to capitalise on is that he is a shadowy tycoon manipulating Cameron. It is in his own interests to come clean and it is definitely in the interests of the Tories that he comes clean – soon. If not people will be entitled to assume he has something to hide.
Politics in Britain suffers from a disconnect between cynical voters and disingenuous politicians. Any lack of clarity and the voters presume the worst – usually correctly. The money laundering, for that is what it is, endemic in British politics is just not acceptable. Every penny should be accounted for and sourced, whether it is Midlands business types or Muslim moguls. If they don’t like the publicity than they shouldn’t donate. Corruption is only possible in the shadows, in the sunshine we can see clearly, whatever reforms are made should be on the basis of total transparency. State funding is a lazy option, it also presumes that political campaigning is of such importance that it should be funded – it isn’t. In Europe there is plenty of state-sourced funding corruption, it won’t make things any better.
Politics is needlessly expensive, we don’t need so much politics or so many politicians and their hangers on. Politicians need to be taken down a peg or two, having to raise money only from people who are prepared to openly support them might bring some much needed humility and make them more connected to voters. If people are too ashamed to openly support politicians, it is the politicians who need to improve their reputation.