Magazine article The Spectator

What Is Foreign Money?

Magazine article The Spectator

What Is Foreign Money?

Article excerpt

In the aftermath of the Archer degringolade, there is a renewed controversy over foreign donations to British political parties, and in particular over the affairs of Mr Michael Ashcroft, the treasurer of the Conservative party. There is also a clear attempt to convict Mr Ashcroft of guilt by association. Lord Archer did wrong; he is a Tory. Michael Ashcroft is also a Tory, so he too must have done wrong. In a wider sense too, we are being encouraged to believe that all Tories, being part of Mr Blair's fabled `forces of conservatism', are guilty of terrible crimes.

But just because it suits some newspapers' purpose to blacken the Tory party, it is not necessarily true that every Tory accused of anything is guilty as charged. Before being swept away by hysteria, it is important to examine the specific charges against Michael Ashcroft.

What has he done? Like many a rich man before him - including prominent supporters and financial backers of the Labour party - he is trying to organise his affairs to minimise his tax liabilities. He has, therefore, channelled political donations to the Tory party through an offshore trust, the Belize Bank Trust. But where is the wrongdoing in all that?

Nor is there any reason to draw analogies with the Chinese government's attempts to influence American politics by contributing to the Democratic party. It should be clear to the meanest intelligence that there is no comparison between Belize and China. Belize is a small Commonwealth country, with close ties to the United Kingdom. It is inconceivable that there could ever be a significant conflict of interest between Britain and Belize. Nor is Michael Ashcroft some shadowy foreign figure who may operate in this country but whose loyalties lie elsewhere. Over many years, he has demonstrated his commitment to Britain and has made a useful contribution to the increasing entrepreneurial success of the British private sector.

There is nothing unpatriotic about his involvement in British politics. On the contrary: a healthy democracy needs a healthy opposition. Were it not for Michael Ashcroft's efforts, our current opposition would be in an even weaker state than it currently is in. Mr Ashcroft may have brought in money from a foreign country, but there is absolutely no evidence that he has sought to acquire influence on behalf of a foreign government. His donations in no way intrude on British sovereignty, and it is not clear that they in any way breach the Tory party's rules.

There is an even more fundamental point. …

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