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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Jeremy Corbyn has lost his NEC majority - and worse could be to come

The NEC promises to be a thorn in the Labour leader's side.

Jeremy Corbyn has lost his majority on the party’s ruling national executive committee, after a longstanding demand of the Welsh and Scottish parties sees the introduction of two further appointed posts on the NEC, one each of Kezia Dugdale, leader of Scottish Labour and Carwyn Jones, the Welsh First Minister and leader of the Welsh party. 

It means that, unlike during his first year as leader, Corbyn will not have a majority on the NEC. Corbyn acquired a small majority on the party’s ruling body at last year’s Labour conference, when Community, which represents workers in steel and the third sector, was voted off in favour of the BFAWU, which represents bakers. Added to the replacement of Hilary Benn with Rebecca Long-Bailey, that gave Corbyn a small but fairly reliable majority on the NEC. (It also led to Bex Bailey, the diminutive rightwinger who sat as Youth Rep, being dubbed “Rebecca Short-Bailey” by Corbynsceptic trade union officials.) 

In practice, the new NEC is now “hung”, as Corbynsceptics sacrificed their new majority last night when they elected Glenis Wilmott, leader of the European parliamentary Labour party, as chair. Corbyn’s opponents judge that controlling the chair, which rules on procedure and interpret’s the NEC’s rules, is worth more than a majority of one. 

Divisions will hinge upon the NEC’s swing voters – Alice Perry, who is elected by councilors, Ann Black, elected by members, and Keith Vaz, the chair of BAME Labour, and the new Welsh Labour representative, appointed by Jones. Corbyn may, therefore, have cause to regret fighting quite so hard to resist the changes this time.

“All we’re asking is that we should have the same rights as Jeremy, who appoints three,” Jones told me on Monday. At an acrimonious meeting at the NEC, Jones – who has been campaigning for the change since he became leader and has already been rebuffed back in 2011 – told Corbyn that the Welsh leadership had been kept waiting “too long” for the same rights as the Westminster party. Jones, unlike Dugdale, remained neutral in the leadership race. He explained to me that “I’d expect [London] to stay out of our elections, so you’ve got to return the favour”. 

Dugdale takes a different view, and, I’m told, feels that Corbyn’s allies in Scotland have been manoeuvring against her since she became leader. She has appointed herself to sit on the NEC, where she will be a consistent vote against Corbyn.

But worse may be to come for Corbyn in the trade union section. An underappreciated aspect of Labour politics is the impact of labour politics – ie, the jostling for power and members between affliated trade unions. What happens at the Trade Union Congress doesn’t stay there, and there has long been a feeling, fairly or unfairly, that Unite – Britain’s largest trade union – throws its weight around at the TUC. 

A desire to “cut Len down to size” is likely to make itself felt in Labour.The merger of Unite with Ucatt, the construction union, takes Unite’s share of the seats on the 33-person NEC to five including the treasurer Diana Holland.  Although Unite’s total membership is larger, it affliates fewer members to the party than Usdaw, the shopworkers’ union, and the GMB do. Usdaw is a reliable block to Corbyn on the NEC and the GMB is at odds with the leadership over Trident and fracking. 

All of which means that Corbyn’s path to wide-ranging rule changes may not be as clear as his allies might wish. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.