Sunday, 7 March 2010


In what seems to be perfect political Ying And Yang, we find ourselves in the very same week mourning with good grace the loss of one of Parliaments and the peoples finest servants Michael Foot, whilst at the very same time sullying ourselves in Westminster’s shameful record in relation to another, in my view less talented man who might have shared the former Labour leaders Christian name but shared none of his of brilliance.

Therefore there is some irony that the prediction of Michael Foot on what would inevitably happen following any future House of Lords Reform should have come to be so accurate. Addressing Parliament in 1962 on the subject he said that:

"Think of it! A second chamber selected by whips. A seraglio of eunuchs"

Michael’s fear that a new second chamber, post reform, selected more by grace and favour than by ability, and in the gift of the whips and party leaders rather than the people, would lead to peerages being bought rather than earned has since found much agreement in the minds of the decent.

So determined was the ex Labour leader to avoid the privilege of office for himself that before leaving the Commons in 1992 he told them

"I think the House of Lords ought to be abolished and I don't think the best way for me to abolish it is to go there myself."

Just 8 years later another Michael, Ashcroft, not Foot was proposed for membership and a seat on the ermine clad benches of the 738

Restricted papers show for the first time that the now Lord Ashcroft’s peerage was dependent on him giving a pledge to become a British taxpayer after years of overseas exile. So why didn't he keep this most solemn promise?

Michael Ashcroft has been bankrolling the Conservative Party for many years, it is estimated that he has so far donated over £4.5m. My own defeat in 2005 in Northampton South, I am sure was in many ways partly due to "additional donations" to the Northampton South Conservative Association be them direct or through central office and in the forthcoming general election Ashcroft’s millions will once more play a huge part in the Tory's plans both locally in Northampton and also across the Country.

But when Mr Ashcroft was first blocked for an expected peerage, partly on the basis of his tax exile status, William Hague lobbied hard to get him the honour. He wrote to Tony Blair, who as Prime Minister had to approve all peerages: “Mr Ashcroft is indeed non-resident for tax purposes and has been for some years, during which time his principal business interests have been abroad. He is, however, committed to becoming resident by the next financial year in order properly to fulfil his responsibilities in the House of Lords".

A letter from the chairman of the Honours Scrutiny Committee, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, to Mr Blair on March 22, 2000, makes clear that tax exile is at the heart of the trouble. “We hope you will agree to invite Mr Hague to let us have firm evidence of an unequivocal decision by Mr Ashcroft that he will have taken up residence in the UK, on a permanent basis, before the end of this calendar year,” the late Liberal Democrat peer wrote.

The very next day Mr Blair wrote to Mr Hague with the humiliating news that his treasurer had been blackballed for a peerage again. Mr Ashcroft did not waste a moment. The same day, Mr Hague asked him to put his promise into writing, which he did. Mr Ashcroft produced a signed, witnessed document phrased to meet the exact requirements of Lord Thomson.

“I hereby give you my clear and unequivocal assurance that I have decided to take up permanent residence in the UK again,” the businessman wrote.

There was no mention of the word tax but there was no need. Mr Hague’s prediction of tens of millions flooding in to the Treasury had set the scene for a tax bonanza which some have estimated now if it had been paid to be around £127m.

The list of new working peers was published on March 31 2000 including Michael Ashcroft.

So what price do we put on the honesty or lack of it of all those involved? or of the system itself?

Lord Ashcroft claims it was agreed he would only become a "long-term resident of the UK", which would allow him to keep his non-dom status, and of course continue to allow him to avoid UK taxes whilst at the very same time allow him to continue to participate in the passage of law of the UK within the House of Lords.

This whole unsavoury affair in my view undermines Parliament as much, if not more than the recent MP's expenses row, the revelations that our MP's feathered their own nests should not have come as too big a surprise to most of us, but the thought of our democracy being open to monetary influence and broken promises makes me the sadder still that we are losing the last great men of our parliamentary history at a time when our politics are so broken and in such need of their inspiration and example.

Michael Foot was an atheist, but I hope if there is a form of afterlife that he is justly rewarded for all he gave to us, after all he told us clearly enough whilst he was here what would become of our system once we allowed privilege in, and he may also agree now that is now far harder for a poor man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for rich man to buy a seat in the House of Lords?

Michael once refused to offer up names of those who should be elevated to the Lords and then angered the establishment by saying that there might be a few good ex MP's who were in need of an income, The Lords it seems wanted men of money not standing. Michael Foot was a man of principle, in his 42 year parliamentary career he threw off all of the trappings of his office, and he served the nation and the electorate who loved him for one reason alone, which is better said in his words than mine.

"We are not here in this world to find elegant solutions, pregnant with initiative, or to serve the ways and modes of profitable progress. No, we are here to provide for all those who are weaker and hungrier, more battered and crippled than ourselves. That is our only certain good and great purpose on earth, and if you ask me about those insoluble economic problems that may arise if the top is deprived of their initiative, I would answer, 'To hell with them'. The top is greedy and mean and will always find a way to take care of themselves. They always do."

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