The Trough Bites Back

A version of this previously appeared here.

In a form of relentless message discipline that, back then, only Labour could manage, the two most common words from the mouth of a Labour MP before the 2010 election were ‘Lord’ and ‘Ashcroft’.

Ask any one of them a question about anything and the answer, unfalteringly, came back the same. The name of this apparently shadowy, nom-dom, Billionaire, Tory-peer.

Lord Ashcroft, when not building galleries at the Imperial War Museum, paying widows generous sums for their husband’s war medals or starting Crimestoppers, was busy engaging himself in British politics. This engagement included not only mouth-watering donations of the type post-Blair Labour could only dream of but significant tactical and organizational input into the Tory efforts in key marginal constituencies.

To cash-strapped Labour these were seen as significant assets to the Tories and the turning of him into a stick with which to beat them made a great deal of tactical sense.

One of the ways in which this effort worked was that upon forming a government David Cameron refused to give a job to Ashcroft. And in doing so he made an enemy of him. The campaign to make him toxic and as such diminish the influence in government that this extremely rich individual had was, to that extent, successful.

5 years on and Lord Ashcroft has given a lesson in the providence of the old expression ‘revenge is a dish best served cold’. He has used his money to drag up anything he could find on the man that turned him down, put them to paper via the aptly named ‘Biteback Publications’, and has signed a deal with the Daily Mail to serialise these ‘revelations’ in a mainstream publication.

The nugget that has cut through most so far is one that wouldn’t have ever been printed as standalone story even by the worst tabloids, namely, the prime minister and a pig’s head.

And what fun we are having. Twitter was a joy in the hours after the Mail hawked their lone and anonymously sourced tale of student antics. So much so that mention of any other topic seemed somehow misplaced. Joke upon brilliant joke flowed and there was much rejoicing.

Some, however, deemed to take it a bit more seriously. It has started to be used toward political ends.

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The rise of Corbyn has surely meant to be about rejecting such politics? In trying to make a grubby story like this of significant moral import, you are not only bedding down the new habit of making what a young person did at university serious news in politics, you are also aiding the influence of a nom-dom billionaire in our political life. Something which not so long ago was considered, by the very same people, about the worst thing the Tories were doing.

With this story, a bete noir of Labour supporters has now become their warmest friend. And with him the Daily Mail, normally the only organization more hated by them than the Tories. If the best you can say to this embracing a story such as this is, ‘well they do it’, then there is a lack of self-respect, because who in good faith would be content with that?

This then has left you a choice, for those that care about influence in politics, for those that think such power shouldn’t be held by a single rich man, be aware that you are empowering him against the person that didn’t do what he asked. The clear lesson from this will be that when a billionaire says jump, you jump or the same people that forced you to cut ties with him will be those rejoicing in his subsequent revenge. And Ashcroft is barely concealing that this is revenge.

If all is fair, if you are willing to do and say anything that supports your side then that is a view. Stick to it and never complain when the shoe is on the other foot. But the principle here seems fairly clear and it goes beyond your personal or even political dislike of David Cameron.

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