Isn’t it ironic how sometimes events happen so close together that put each other into context? This week we’ve seen the sad death of former Labour Party Leader Michael Foot, and renewed controversy over Lord Ashcroft’s residential status.
Michael Foot had a long and illustrious career in politics. First standing for election in 1935, he was a well-respected writer during the war. After being elected as an MP in 1945 he eventually served as a minister and shadow minister, before taking over the Leadership of the Labour Party in 1980. In hindsight, he was never going to lead Labour into Government – deeply unpopular and riven with factions, it was an achievement to hold the party together. Despite his appearance Foot was a skilled orator and regarded as one of the best debaters of his generation. Much like Hague in 1997, he had the misfortune of taking over when his party was at its lowest ebb.
Yet for all his skills, he was remorselessy mocked for his appearance. The media even lambasted him for appearing at the Cenotaph on remembrance day wearing a donkey jacket. Pictures show that it was in fact a duffel coat. Perhaps not as smart as those around him, but there will have been plenty of men his age wearing donkey jackets who fought and died in the war. Some of his left-wing policies alienated him from the public, such as his staunch support for unilateral nuclear disarmament. And his notorious 800 page manifesto was ill-judged. Yet against all those errors, one thing shines out: Foot was a man of principles and integrity, someone who had little style but substance in droves.
Compare that starkly with Michael Ashcroft. Deputy Chairman of the Tory Party, he has regularly made large multi-million pound donations to the party. Often these donations are targeted specifically at marginal seats. Hence a wealthy and unelected official is dictating the electoral policy of a party.
No matter how unsavoury that sounds, it is not unusual. To a large extent all parties rely on wealthy benefactors. Its not good, but its a fact. Yet what makes Ashcroft’s involvement all the more murky is his duplicity in his residential status. He is registered as a resident of Belize for tax purposes. In fact, he is also that country’s representative to the UN. How can he be a Belizean diplomant AND a deputy chairman of the Tory party?
Nominated for a peerage some time ago, he was rejected due to his residency status. He was eventually accepted, and promised to become a full British resident. Not only did he neglect to do this once the furore had died down, but he has been misleading about it too. You’re either British or you’re not – make your mind up mate! You shouldn’t be able to manipulate British politics AND be a tax exile.
It just goes to show – no matter how wealthy you are, and no matter how many Victoria Crosses you collect, you cannot buy class. Rather an honest man in a donkey jacket than a snake in a suit.