Is Lord Ashcroft "non-domiciled"?

Conservative HQ smooths over Sir George Young's comments on Newsnight.

Does Lord Ashcroft pay tax in the UK?

It's a question that has posed a difficulty for senior Tories over the past few weeks, as they struggle to give a clear yes or no answer to journalists who, enthused by their obvious discomfort, harangue them about it at every opportunity.

And now it looks like Sir George Young, shadow leader of the House of Lords, may have inadvertently given us an answer last night on Newsnight. Young was fresh from his rather evasive appearance on Monday's Today programme.

Discussion got heated as the presenter Emily Maitlis and the Culture Secretary, Ben Bradshaw, rounded on him, demanding a yes or no in response to the "simple question". "He pays tax," insisted Young.

But then came the key soundbite (you can watch a video of the whole encounter here):

He is in the same position as a number of Labour peers who are non-domiciled and who fund the Labour Party.

To all intents and purposes, it appears that in this sentence, Young is describing Ashcroft as a non-dom. However, things are not always as they seem.

The Guardian quotes a Conservative Party spokesman as saying: "Sir George doesn't know Lord Ashcroft's tax status. He was only making the comparison that the Labour Party face their own questions about their donors."

It is, of course, possible that Young "misspoke", as Tory sources say, put off his stride by the rather aggressive nature of the questioning. Senior figures in the party have consistently stuck to David Cameron's line last December, that "Lord Ashcroft's tax status is a matter between him and the Inland Revenue".

One thing we can be certain of is that ten years after Ashcroft was made a life peer and gave "assurances" over his tax status, this storm shows no sign of blowing over.

 

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.