For years, the strategy that Ashcroft has been masterminding (and partly funding) has meant large sums being spent in key target seats. This has been possible because while there are legal limits on how much a party can spend on campaigning in the run-up to an election, these do not cover spending during the rest of a parliament.
The same principle – that there should be a check on the ability of parties and candidates to ‘buy’ an election by vastly outspending their rivals – should obviously apply equally to both the pre-election period and any other time. But the government, which accepted this principle in legislating as it has (and which has had a clear political motive to stop the Ashcroft money flowing into marginals all these years) has failed to follow through.
The point is that there should be a check on the money – whether it comes from little old ladies selling jam in the Home Counties or is channelled via the Caymans from Kim Jong-il’s finance ministry – that is spent on party campaigns and that it should apply year in, year out.
One other small thing on Ashcroft’s statement. He said:
David Cameron has said that anyone sitting in the legislature - Lords or Commons - must be treated as resident and domiciled in the UK for tax purposes. I agree with this change and expect to be sitting in the House of Lords for many years to come.
This is a tad cryptic: “for many years” seems at odds with the concepts of permanent residence and a life peerage. My reading of it is that he’ll be willing to forsake millions of pounds to the taxman so that he can stay in the Lords for as long as he likes it there; perhaps if he finds he has less influence than he’d like, or doesn’t get the government job he fancies, then he’ll dump his ermine and take his money back to Belize.