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4 March 2010

World exclusive: Tories may not win the election

And Aschroft pressure isn't going away.

By James Macintyre

Now that the ban on saying the Tories might not win the election appears to have been lifted — at least temporarily — for the first time in years, I thought I’d take the liberty of pointing online readers to the feature by Mehdi Hasan and myself in this week’s magazine, outlining how Labour is back in the race.

It describes how Labour has got its act together in the face of an unmodernised Tory party that is slowly being found out by the electorate. In fact, our sentiments are not new: over the past couple of years we’ve said much the same here and here. Will others now accept the shocking reality that David Cameron may never be prime minister?

As for the latest Tory mess — on the non-dom “Lord” Ashcroft — Andy Burnham is surely right that it is “implausible” that William Hague found out only a “few months” ago about the renegotiation of the terms of his “peerage”. Yesterday, some of the reporting made out that Hague had been kept in the dark, but surely the pair, said to share a “special chemistry”, are much more intimate than that.

Either way — if Hague took no interest in his patron’s tax arrangements or if he sought to mislead in his answer to Radio 4 last night — the Tories are under pressure, at an unfortunate moment for them.

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Bizarrely (or not, for those of us aware of the sluggish pro-Tory trend at the corporation), the BBC is downplaying its own story today, failing to feature it on its news website front page and relegating it to three small paragraphs on the lower deck of its politics page.

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Nonetheless, in a sign of newly regained confidence, Labour, I understand, is not going to let up on this matter. Before Burnham spoke up, the party had already brought out some of its big guns, including David Miliband and Douglas Alexander, both of whom went on the offensive.

Hague, meanwhile, is trying his best to divert attention on to Labour’s funding from the Unite union. This may work. Cameron would have to show a level of courage he has never displayed to sack his rich deputy chairman. But would Ashcroft’s survival really be a victory for the Tories, heading into an election?

Labour insiders know that tomorrow’s news agenda will, of course, be dominated by Gordon Brown’s appearance at the Chilcot inquiry. But for the public (and for the Sunday papers if not the BBC, desperate not to be seen to be anti-Tory), that isn’t the only political story in town this weekend.

Unfortunately for Hague and Cameron, the Ashcroft saga — the first piece of real luck Brown has had since 2007 — is not going away fast.