Hague must resign over new Ashcroft revelations

The Tory shadow foreign secretary is unfit for office.

So, after the Tories attempted to divert attention away from the Ashcroft affair with a crude assault on the trade union movement, today they find themselves back under the spotlight.

Papers leaked to the BBC show that William Hague was consistently kept informed about the negotiations of Ashcroft's tax status and that he was "satisfied" with the final outcome in July 2000. All of which seems rather at odds with the shadow foreign secretary's earlier claim that he only discovered Ashcroft's non-dom tax status a "few months" ago.

Hague's rather lame defence on the Today programme this morning was that he was not a "tax accountant", and that as leader of the opposition he had "a thousand and one problems at a time".

It may well be that, rather than engaging in an elaborate cover-up, Hague simply didn't realise that Ashcroft had wriggled out of paying his fair share (again). But neither option is particularly palatable. If he did know, then he's too wicked to hold office, and if he didn't know then he's too stupid.

Chris Huhne got it right this morning when he argued: "William Hague is not fit for any role in government, let alone that of foreign secretary."

Hague's importance to David Cameron cannot be overstated. The Tory leader's decision to appoint him as his de facto deputy in 2009 was a crucial move, designed to reassure the right of the party. He is one of the five shadow cabinet ministers who will lead the Tories' election campaign.

Hague must now show the sort of dignity that has been so lacking throughout this affair and resign his post.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.