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22 September 2015

Who is Lord Ashcroft, and why has he written a book about David Cameron?

A look at the man behind this week's revelations about the prime minister.

By Emad Ahmed

Michael Anthony Ashcroft, more commonly known as Lord Ashcroft, has kept a near-permanent presence in the news for many years. This week, he’s exploded back into the headlines of every newspaper and news bulletin with extraordinary claims about David Cameron’s university activities made in his upcoming unauthorised biography of the PM.

Prior to his book, Call Me Dave, co-written with journalist Isabel Oakeshott, being serialised in the Daily Mail this week, Ashcroft was recently best known for his extensive constituency-level polling. His polls, like those of many other pollsters, predicted a range of results that were ultimately proved wrong in the general election result.

His pollster persona, which detached him somewhat from party politics, was a reinvention following years as an influential figure in the Conservative party. He started making donations to the Tories in the Eighties, before becoming the party’s Treasurer in 1998-2001 under William Hague’s leadership. He was appointed Deputy Chairman of the Conservative party in 2005, and faced a row about his tax affairs a couple of years later. He stood down in 2010, a few months after his decision to forsake his non-dom status.

A billionaire and successful British businessman, Ashcroft’s portfolio is a varied one, which, among other ventures, includes ownership of the popular Tory blog ConservativeHome, the non-partisan politics news site PoliticsHome and its publisher Dods, which also produces other Westminster publications such as House magazine and the now folded Total Politics. He also continues to have a stake in Biteback Media, a political publisher.

He started out as an entrepreneur by turning around a failing cleaning company, Uni-Kleen, making a profit, and later developing a security firm, ADT Corporation, which he sold to Tyco International for £3.7bnHe is also a philanthropist, committing to the “Giving Pledge” while also setting up Crimestoppers UK.

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Much of his work is based in Belize, with his BCB Holdings group providing banking services. He has faced criticism and scrutiny for basing his operations in Belize, a known tax haven. A dual citizen of both Britain and Belize, Ashcroft was Belize’s ambassador to the United Nations from 1998-2000.

In 2000, Ashcroft received a peerage, allowing him to sit in the House of Lords. He quit the Lords in March this year, because he felt his other activities did not allow him to, “devote the time that membership of the Lords properly requires”.

His tax status has dogged both Hague and David Cameron, and Ashcroft now claims Cameron knew about his non-dom status in 2009 (something Cameron denies).

Call Me Dave has been raising alarm bells through its serialised extracts this week. Amid the storm of allegations about Cameron’s behaviour at Oxford, onlookers may be confused about why a self-professed “lifelong supporter” of the Tories is suddenly attacking the party’s leader. What we do know is that Ashcroft was annoyed he wasn’t awarded a significant position in the party, instead being invited to take a junior position as a Foreign Office whip. He claims in the Mail that Cameron went back on a promise to give him an influential position.

Is this why Ashcroft is out seeking “revenge”, as the Mail puts it? Both he and Oakeshott have denied this, stating they could have chosen to release the book before May’s general election, which could have done far more damage to the Prime Minister’s reputation.

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