Friday, March 05, 2010

Lord Ashcroft faces new claims of tax avoidance.

The Ashcroft "non-dom" affair rumbles on as it has now been revealed that he paid for polling for the Tory party - polling which he boasted was the biggest political polling exercise ever conducted in Britain, in order to aid the Tories as they targeted marginal seats - but that he paid for this polling through one of his companies in Belize, meaning that he did not pay VAT.

It was bad enough when he was donating money to the Conservatives on which he had paid no UK taxation, but we now have him paying for polling and doing so in a way which allows him to skip paying VAT.

This has led to the charge that he is engaging in "systematic tax avoidance".

Tonight, the Liberal Democrats' 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?"
Cable might very well ask those questions, but we have already seen the lengths the Conservatives went to to avoid asking Ashcroft those questions.

It really does appear as if the Conservatives were operating a quite deliberate, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy when it came to Ashcroft's tax status so it's almost meaningless to ask whether they were aware that he was avoiding paying VAT, as they had so obviously decided - whether through fear or God knows what - that he was never to be put on the spot and asked the kind of questions that one would normally ask anyone else involved in a political campaign.

That is how Hague could defend him on national television arguing that he had "no reason to think that he (Ashcroft) has not complied to the commitments that he gave" whilst admitting that he never even asked Ashcroft that question.

Discussing the Guardian's VAT revelations, polling company sources said a single poll of a sample of 2,000 people typically cost £20,000 to £25,000. Ashcroft not only commissioned a series of tracking polls day-by-day in the run-up to the 2005 election, but used enormous samples of up to 10,000. One pollster said: "Such polling projects in the commercial sector frequently cost more than £250,000." This means that VAT in excess of £40,000 could have been avoided.

At the time, Ashcroft was resident in Britain and depicted himself as having paid for the polling personally.

One source said instructions had been sent by Ashcroft to the polling companies to send invoices on the basis they were "export" orders from outside the EU, and thus not to charge VAT. "It was invoiced to Belize and therefore didn't attract VAT," the source said.

And the Tories, who are unarguably benefited from this polling, are now seeking to distance themselves from it.

Tonight a Conservative spokesman disavowed responsibility for Ashcroft's tactics, saying: "We do not recognise this as Conservative party polling."

Cameron has worked hard to rebuild the image of the Conservatives from "the nasty party" voted out of office more than a decade ago, but, with this affair, his party are beginning to look guilty of the kind of sleaze which brought down the government of John Major.

But he [Ashcroft] explained his business approach in his own memoirs called "Dirty Politics, Dirty Times" when he describes selling doughnuts to fellow schoolboys at an undisclosed profit: "There were probably people then as now who – if they discovered exactly what I was doing – might have found my practice a little sharp.

"I looked upon it as simply working to find an edge, the sort of advantage I would search for time and again."

Once again there are many of us who find his practices "a little sharp", and Cameron must be very careful that, through his association with this man, he doesn't undo all of the cosmetic change he has manufactured around his party.

This looks sleazy. And we all know what sleaze did to the government of John Major.

Click here for full article.

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