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18 March 2010

View from Westminster: Tory spinners go into overdrive

Ashcroft affair has them in a panic.

By James Macintyre

From the House of Commons

Here in the Press Gallery, there is only one story in town today aside from the BA strikes: the latest twists in the Ashcroft affair.

Tory spin doctors not normally seen here were touring the corridors this morning, declaring that they had drawn a line under the affair, only to see it blow up again in their faces.

This afternoon in Portcullis House, a member of the Lords committee that vetted Michael Ashcroft for his peerage in 2000, Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, expressed her dismay at hearing in recent days that he was not a full UK taxpayer. Asked if she was “shocked” by developments, she said: “Yes. We thought that the undertakings that he had given, clear and unequivocal, to us . . . were honoured.”

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So, after their attempts to go on the offensive over Unite and Labour this week, the Tories are back on the defensive. Both affairs will damage both main parties, and could not have come at a worse time for either.

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Both involve money and questions about transparency. The strike may be noticed by more people, especially in Middle England seats made so crucial by our skewed electoral system, though stories about Tories and money are unlikely to go down well with the voters.

Overall, it is David Cameron who should be most worried today, as he desperately tries to shed the “same old Tories” image and begins, at last, to get used to media scrutiny. It may just be that, for the first time since 2005, Tories-in-trouble has become a sexy story again.

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