Written by Gordon Prentice
Sunday, 18 October 2015 00:00
votes. The polls tell us seven out of ten Canadians want to see the back of
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his jaded Government.
The Conservative campaign has plumbed the depths, reaching a new
low on Saturday when Harper and the Ford brothers joined the Party faithful at a rally in Toronto.
Harper allowed himself to be photographed with former Toronto mayor, Rob Ford, who, at various
times, has smoked crack, consorted with gangsters and threatened to kill people. And
he lies. All the time.
Little wonder, then, that I read in the press today (Sunday)
that a lawyer who used to be on the PM’s staff says the Conservatives have lost
the moral authority to govern.
The nation’s leading conservative newspaper, the Globe and
Mail, ties itself in knots arguing for the re-election of a Conservative Government
but without Harper. They want him to disappear.
We shall see how the anti-Conservative vote breaks but the
polls point to a resurgent Liberal Party under Justin Trudeau, gaining ground at the expense of an
overly-cautious NDP, nailing its flag to fiscal conservatism just when Canadians are
looking for something different.
The Conservatives will lose this election but the shape of
the new Government is harder to predict.
Some kind of Liberal/NDP coalition or arrangement is on the cards.
Last Updated on Monday, 19 October 2015 02:53
Written by Gordon Prentice
Tuesday, 22 September 2015 20:39
Michael Ashcroft asserts in the foreword to his new book “Call
Me Dave” that he discussed his tax status with David Cameron in 2009 in detail.
On 2 March 2010, Cameron said:
“Clearly the full details of
Lord Ashcroft’s tax status are something between him and the Inland Revenue and
those full details are only known by him and the Inland Revenue and that is as
it should be for him as for anyone else.”
We are told that Cameron only found out about the peer’s non
dom status in February 2010.
On Monday morning, 1 March 2010, just as the Ashcroft
revelations were breaking, I bump into David Cameron in Portcullis House. He
says with a beaming smile:
“Well, you’ve got what you wanted now.”
In one sense that was true. My three year long battle using FoI legislation had
finally forced the tax cheat to show his hand and tell the world he was a non
But I believe now as then that Cameron had been complicit. He, William Hague and others knew about Ashcroft's tax dodging long before 1 March 2010.
In his book on the 2010 General
Election, Minority Verdict, Ashcroft tells us he felt let down by the Conservative leadership who
“could have mounted a more spirited defence” of his actions when he finally
revealed his non dom status after a decade of evading the issue.
If Ashcroft really wants to wound David Cameron, we need to know where and when this conversation took
place and if there were any other people present. It is in Ashcroft’s DNA to
cheat and dissemble so his word alone is not enough.
Last Updated on Saturday, 26 September 2015 02:42
Written by Gordon Prentice
Sunday, 30 August 2015 21:32
I see Caroline Flint will constantly remind Jeremy Corbyn of
the recipe for election success if she is elected Deputy Leader. Emulate Tony Blair.
Caroline will never allow the Blairite flame
to be extinguished.
In the old Blair days, prepared questions for the great man to answer
at PMQs were regularly handed out by the whips to backbenchers who had been
drawn high up in the weekly ballot. Those MPs who wanted to ask their own
question were asked to give the whips the gist of it so they in turn could give the
Prime Minister the heads-up. I never participated in this charade. If someone
is clever enough to be PM they should be able to think on their feet like the
rest of us.
Whatever the controversy of the day, Caroline Flint would always
stay on message, parroting the line to take, never forgetting a word.
Well, not always.
I recall being in the Commons Chamber for Prime Minister’s
Questions on 15 November 2000 and she was springing to her feet every few minutes.
She hadn’t been drawn in the ballot but she was doing her best to catch the
Blair had just finished answering a question from the Northern Ireland
MP, Jeffrey Donaldson, who wanted an assurance there would be no reform of the
RUC while the IRA were still active.
Blair sat down and a host of Labour MPs stood up, hoping to
be called next.
Michael Martin spots Caroline on her feet and calls out her name.
She replies: “Someone else has already asked my question so
I’ll sit down”
I squirm with embarrassment for her – as do others - but she
seems totally unfazed.
Later, she is roasted alive in the press.
The late great Simon Hoggart in one of his Guardian sketches
at the time, dubbed her “the greasiest Labour MP of all”.
He went on: “Even in the new Labour Party Ms Flint is
regarded as something of a hard-line toady, an aardvark-tongued bootlicker, a
member of an active service unit in the greaser’s provisional wing.”
Ouch! Even after all these years his words still pack a punch.
Anyway, maybe she has hit the ceiling career-wise.
Ladbrokes today puts Caroline Flint at 14/1 and a
Corbyn/Flint team at 16/1. Clearly, the bookies don’t believe she is even close
to getting elected.
And the latest apocalyptic broadside from Blair will help Corbyn
Last Updated on Monday, 31 August 2015 02:48
Written by Gordon Prentice
Sunday, 16 August 2015 20:47
It was a speech that was widely trailed. Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown was to speak
out on the leadership contest.
And today (Sunday) the Guardian’s Michael White reminds us
that for Gordon Brown in 2007 the pursuit of power was everything.
When Blair was forced out in 2007 Broon was determined there should be no other
challenger for the leadership. I nominated John McDonnell because I felt
strongly there should be a contest. In the event no-one other than Broon crossed
the threshold. Arms were twisted and inducements offered to MPs and there
was, of course, no election just a coronation.
My old friend and constituency near neighbour, Jack Straw, who was Broon's campaign manager at the time, talks
about this quite candidly - and unapologetically - in his autobiography,
"Last Man Standing" (page 492):
"...an MP needs the nominations of one eighth of the Parliamentary Labour
Party to get on to the ballot paper... The task here was to sign up 291 Labour
MPs so that no other candidate could stand.
There was, of course, a Faustian pact between Broon and
Broon would overtly support an increasingly unpopular Blair in
the 2005 general election in return for a cast-iron assurance by Blair that he would step
down in mid-Parliament, allowing Broon to succeed him.
Broon had a long history of manoeuvring against Blair, going way
back to the supposed agreement at Granita Restaurant that would allow the Party
leadership to be carved up on a 50:50 basis. So many years for you; so many for
me. That's the way it was in those days.
Jack wonders aloud in his autobiography if, perhaps, it
would have been better to have a contested leadership election in 2007, before dismissing the idea:
"There has been much talk since that it would have been
better, for Gordon as well as for the Party, if there had been a proper contest
for leader. It certainly would have strengthened his legitimacy. But life is
not quite like that. I've never met any candidate for any office who wouldn't
have preferred an unopposed win. There's enough risk in politics without
manufacturing it. If I'd been the favoured candidate for party leader, not
Gordon, and was within sight of blocking off other contenders by perfectly
legitimate means, would I have tried to do so? Of course."
We are not told what constituted “legitimate means”.
I think lots of good people are repelled by the kind of machine
politics that delivers the premiership without the risk and inconvenience of
a nominating election – even one held in the controlled environment of a PLP that had largely been lobotomized by New Labour.
Elsewhere, things are stirring in the undergrowth. A leadership survey taken by Labour International last month
shows Labour members living overseas (like me) are backing Corbyn by a wide margin
over Cooper, with Burnham and Kendall trailing. This tells me something strange and unusual is happening.
And earlier today I hear from a former MP and old friend who tells me he will be
voting for Corbyn even though he is largely unconvinced Labour will win the next
election under his leadership.
But, he says, Corbyn may set the Party on the road to
understanding what it is for.
It seems to me this is a necessary first step if we are ever to get back into power.
Last Updated on Monday, 17 August 2015 21:57
Written by Gordon Prentice
Tuesday, 30 June 2015 21:59
Last week the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC)
decided the trial of the former Premier of the Turks and
Caicos Islands, Michael Misick, on corruption charges could go
ahead without a jury.
Misick and his fellow defendants – former TCI politicians –
appealed to London
on the grounds that the trial judge, Mr Justice Paul Harrison, did not have
security of tenure – essential for guaranteeing judicial independence – and that
they should, in any event, be tried by a jury.
The JCPC dismissed the appeal saying Judge Harrison was
brought out of retirement specifically to hear the Misick case and that a fixed
term appointment in these circumstances was not unusual.
A Turks and Caicos Islands
jury would have to be drawn from a tiny pool of only 6,000 “belongers” out of a
population of over 30,000. The JCPC remarked:
“There has already been relentless publicity, both in favour
of and against the defendants, and there seems no sign of it stopping, whether
or not the proceedings are pending. This case is so unusual, and the background
to it so controversial, that it can readily be seen that it would probably be
impracticable to find a jury composed of those with no prior knowledge of, or
opinion upon, the issues at stake, and that even if such were possible, the
identity of jurors would inevitably become known, thus exposing them to
inevitable extra-evidential opinions and/or information, whether innocently
communicated or not.”
That assessment is certainly true. When I was in the Turks
and Caicos for the trial scheduled for December 2014 (which was postponed
pending resolution of the Misick appeal) I asked any number of local people for their
views on Misick and got a lot of blank faces. Local politicians
were also circumspect.
In the TCI, people know all about the British Caribbean Bank and Lord Ashcroft but it is not something they want to talk about - especially to a curious outsider.
I don’t know if Michael Ashcroft is still a belonger – he may
have given it up as being no longer worth the candle in the same way that he recently
renounced his seat in the House of Lords.
But even though he will not be in the Turks and Caicos for
the trial his presence will be felt. Ashcroft will be following it closely.
After all, he is, or was, a close friend of Michael Misick.
The trial, scheduled to begin in December 2015, is expected
to last three to four months.
Labour’s Leadership contenders and the Greek referendum
As I was reading Joseph Stiglitz’s piece in the Guardian it occurred
to me that I still don’t know the views of all the Labour leadership hopefuls
on the forthcoming referendum in Greece.
Wouldn't it be terrific to hear where they stand on this momentous event which is unfolding as I tap tap tap this out.
I think I know where Jeremy Corbyn stands but, as for the
others, who knows?
A critique of the situation facing Greece would tell us more about the candidates and where they are coming from than any number of carefully scripted personal manifestos.
Last Updated on Monday, 17 August 2015 21:59
Written by Gordon Prentice
Wednesday, 06 May 2015 00:00
In the end it was brutal.
The Progressive Conservatives ruled Alberta for an unbroken 44 years and,
yesterday, they were trashed.
It is an astonishing end for a Party that most pundits believed
could never be beaten in this low tax/no tax oily corner of Canada.
The left leaning NDP came from absolutely nowhere to take 53 seats
leaving the PC with a rump of 10 seats – not even enough to form the official opposition.
This mantle will now be worn by the right wing Wildrose Party.
For all its alleged imperfections, first-past-the-post is impressively
efficient at getting rid of unpopular governments and sweeping the old guard
With PR systems, defeated politicians often re-emerge on Party
No matter how hard you try, you simply can’t get rid of them.
Jim Prentice, the premier until yesterday, resigned as an MPP
even before all the ballots were counted in his riding. He has gone for good.
All eyes will now be on the NDP.
Canada will be stunned if the Party replicates this astonishing success in the federal election in October.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 06 May 2015 20:05
Written by Gordon Prentice
Monday, 13 April 2015 00:00
The trial of Michael Misick, the former premier of the Turks
and Caicos Islands, has been put on hold until the Judicial Committee of the
Privy Council (The UK Supreme Court sitting when hearing appeals from UK Dependencies and some
Commonwealth jurisdictions) can rule on whether his case can be decided by a
judge alone, without a jury. Misick and other former TCI politicians are charged
The Judicial Committee’s expedited hearing will take place
in London on May 11 and 12.
Five years ago, Michael Ashcroft sued the Independent
newspaper for alleging that he was, in some way, improperly involved with
Misick. In the July 2011 judgment in the High Court, Mr Justice Eady, wrote:Â
An inference is invited that
the Claimant (Michael Ashcroft) authorised a loan by the British Caribbean Bank
evidenced by a document dated 14 March 2007 signed by his son Andrew Ashcroft.
His authorisation is to be inferred from the size of the loan, the fact that Mr
Misick was the Premier, the fact that earlier loans had been made to him in
2004, and the potential gains to be made by Michael Ashcroft’s commercial
interests in the Turks and Coaicos Islands from supporting a corrupt Premier.
But the key assertions underlying all this are Michael Ashcroft’s “ownership
and control” of the British Caribbean Bank and the claim that his son was “in
thrall” to him and “acts in accordance with his will.
The Judge, in effect, told the Independent to put up or shut up. He said the newspaper
needs to give “their best
particulars of Michael Ashcroft’s role in granting the loan and, specifically,
of the nature of the favourable terms.”
…it cannot suffice to put
forward a case to the effect that Michael Ashcroft simply must have been
involved in some way or another. They need to come off the fence and decide
exactly what the charge against the Claimant is.Â
The Independent was unable to meet this requirement and
Misick’s trial is expected later this year.Â Courteney Griffiths QC, pulled out from representing Misick some months ago,
allegedly because his expenses were not being fully covered.
Ashcroft’s interests in Central America and the Caribbean
are, of course, well documented. “Lord Ashcroft’s Millions” looks at how the
peer made his money in Belize and in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Written by Gordon Prentice
Wednesday, 08 April 2015 01:22
A round of applause is, I think, deserved for Ed Miliband’s decision to scrap non-dom status.
This is not something that Tony
Blair – in thrall to big money – would have contemplated in a thousand years.
move will come as a blow to my bête noire, the tax cheat Michael Ashcroft.
Until today, I had thought Ashcroft’s resignation from the House of Lords would allow the “proud tax avoider” to take
up non-dom status once again. I had assumed that with a battery of tax lawyers
at his side he would have been able to persuade a pliable Revenue and Customs that he
is domiciled in Belize or wherever his heart now is.
Impertinently, he intends to remain “Lord Ashcroft”. After his announcement,
"Retired Lords keep their title and can use the facilities of the house
should they wish to.”
Ashcroft has been preparing the ground for his exit from the Lords with
On 22 July 2014, in a written Lords question he asked how many peers had not attended a single sitting of the House since the 2010 general election. We
learn there is a long list of stale and utterly useless peers (including the “Canadian”
Conrad Black, jailed in the United States for fraud) and, clearly, Ashcroft even then was looking for a way out.
Ashcroft was a complete passenger, rarely contributing to the work of the Lords
even though he was appointed as a “working peer”. It was all bogus.
His dribble of written questions over the years were on his pet subjects such
as the Turks and Caicos Islands and benefit fraud.
He last spoke in the Chamber over six years ago, on 4 December 2008.
Last Updated on Friday, 10 April 2015 00:47
Written by Gordon Prentice
Thursday, 26 February 2015 00:00
I am keeping my fingers crossed that the Labour leadership will have the courage to include in the forthcoming Labour
Manifesto a clear commitment to abolish non-dom status.
In 2008, under the Blair Government, the rules were tweaked
allowing non-doms to continue to enjoy special tax advantages if they paid
£30,000 every year to HMRC.
We now learn that HSBC Chief Executive, Stuart Gulliver, is
a non-dom despite living in the UK for years. He has a house in Hong Kong and says he
is going to retire there. As if! (The MPs on the Treasury Select Committee who
grilled him were terrific.)
Seems to me all British Citizens should pay UK tax on their
world-wide income. We could follow the example of the United States who taxes
her citizens wherever they are. And here in Canada – where I pay tax – I am
obliged to declare my worldwide income, such as it is, to the Canada Revenue
Agency. Double taxation treaties prevent people being taxed twice.
With special tax treatment under their belt, buttressed by
tax secrecy, non-doms have been laughing in our faces for years.
Ashcroft mocks us all
Yesterday, 25 February, the notorious tax cheat and former
non-dom, Michael Ashcroft, in a Lords written question, smugly asked the
Government to explain:
“what they consider the difference between tax avoidance and
aggressive tax avoidance.”
The Minister, Lord Deighton, explained:
“Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) distinguish between tax
avoidance and tax planning. Tax avoidance is bending the rules of the tax
system to gain a tax advantage that Parliament never intended. It often
involves contrived, artificial transactions that serve little or no purpose
other than to produce a tax advantage. It involves operating within the letter
– but not the spirit – of the law."
"Tax avoidance is not the same as tax planning. Tax planning involves
using tax reliefs for the purpose for which they were intended. For example,
claiming tax relief on capital investment, saving in a tax-exempt ISA or saving
for retirement by making contributions to a pension scheme are all legitimate
forms of tax planning. While such actions may reduce the total amount of tax
paid, they are not tax avoidance, because they involve using tax reliefs in the
way that Parliament intended when it passed the relevant legislation.”
Ashcroft "a proud tax avoider"
In September 2013, Ashcroft told a bunch of turnip heads at a Labour
Party conference fringe event that he was “a proud tax avoider”. He reportedly
received a “polite round of applause”. The self-confessed “notorious tax
avoider” only gave up his non-dom status in 2010 because my successful FoI
request forced him to. He still thinks tax is something you pay when you
absolutely can’t avoid it.
Indeed, Ashcroft and his fellow peer, Lord Fink, have at
least two things in common. They were both Treasurers of the Conservative Party
and they believe tax avoidance is OK.
Fink says he doesn’t object to Miliband accusing him of tax
avoidance. “Because you are right: tax avoidance, everyone does it.”
In October 2010, not long after Ashcroft had come out as a
non-dom, he used a written question in the Lords to ask, tongue in cheek,
whether the Coalition Government expected citizens “to organise their tax
affairs in order to maximise tax payable”.
He was told by the Commercial Secretary to the Treasury,
“The Government expect citizens to
pay tax that is due by law. The Government will take action against tax
avoidance schemes that claim to produce results completely at odds with the
intentions of Parliament.”
Ashcroft, who conned his way into
the House of Lords 15 years ago when he promised to bring his tax affairs on
shore, asked Sassoon in December 2012:
“whether (the Government) apply any
principles of acceptability to legal tax avoidance practices; and, if so, what
are those principles.”
playing it with a straight bat, replied:
vast majority of individuals and businesses in the UK pay the tax that is due
and on time. The small minority that try to bend the rules to achieve a tax
result, which Parliament did not intend, put a greater burden on the majority.
That is why the Government are taking action to tackle tax avoidance by, for
example, changing the law to close loopholes and by introducing a general
anti-abuse rule to target artificial and abusive tax avoidance schemes.”
Corruption in the Caribbean
Ashcroft – a citizen of Belize, a British citizen and a belonger of the Turks
and Caicos Islands - clearly believes he is home and dry with all his dodgy tax
dealings now far behind him, ancient history. The BBC's Panorama looked for evidence and there are lots of loose ends waiting to be tied up.
The trial of Ashcroft’s old friend, former Premier, Michael Misick, on
corruption charges will take place in the Turks and Caicos Islands later this
year. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London is considering
whether the trial can proceed without a jury. (Every second person in the islands has the surname "Misick". I exaggerate for effect but only slightly.)
When I was in TCI in December
2014 I saw for myself the impact developers have had on the island. Beautiful pristine beaches in Crown Land sold off to shady characters with off-shore bank accounts. I also
spoke to local politicians and checked out Michael Misick’s mansion, now up for
sale, reportedly built with a little help from his friends.
Last Updated on Friday, 27 February 2015 18:25
Written by Gordon Prentice
Sunday, 22 February 2015 21:58
Next Wednesday (25 February 2015) the Treasury Select
Committee will try get to the bottom of the shocking tax scandal at HSBC.
The one man who could shed some light of things, Lord Green,
the Bank’s Chief Executive from 2003-06 and Chairman from 2006-10, is not in
front of the committee and reports suggest he may not be called before it.
Green was recently doorstepped by BBC Panorama, but refuses
point-blank to discuss his role.
The FT quotes a spokesman for Andrew Tyrie, the Committee
chair, saying the committee will not be calling Green as it doesn’t want to
“drag up the past”.
I read that my former colleague, John Mann, is unhappy about
this – and well he might be. He should press the Select Committee to summon
Green before them.
This is not as easy or as straightforward as it sounds.
Five years ago, my Freedom of Information request on the
undertakings Michael Ashcroft gave to secure his peerage, was finally
published. It forced Ashcroft to admit that he was a non-dom and had been ever
since he cheated his way to a peerage.
He also misled his friend William Hague, then Leader of the
Opposition, who wrote to the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, on 23 May 1999:
“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. This decision will cost him (and benefit the Treasury) tens of millions
a year in tax yet he considers it worthwhile.”
The Public Administration Select Committee embarked on an
inquiry into Michael Ashcroft’s peerage but we knew we had to move quickly.
Then, as now, a general Election was in prospect.
The Committee asked Lord Ashcroft and William Hague to give
oral evidence. They declined. I recall being told at the time that there was a
Parliamentary convention preventing select committees summoning members of the
Commons or Lords.
In any event, the Chair of PASC, Tony Wright, received a
letter from the then Conservative Shadow Leader of the House, Sir George Young,
dated Wednesday 17 March 2010 informing us they weren’t going to appear before
us. Sir George accused the Committee of being partisan before bluntly stating:
“In the days immediately preceding the dissolution of this
Parliament, this inquiry inevitably risks being seen as partisan. I am writing
to let you know that my Parliamentary colleagues who have been invited to
attend are not inclined to do so.”
He went on:
“I think it best if these sorts of issues are explored in
the round, and on a genuine cross-party basis, in the next Parliament.”
The whole truth of the Ashcroft deception, with all the
twisting lies and distortions, would have been exposed if PASC had insisted on
bringing Ashcroft and Hague before it. The convention should have been tested
to destruction with the Committee reporting to the House that two key witnesses
were refusing to co-operate. But we were right up against the wire with the
election a month or two away. (The Committee had to make do with Hayden Phillips, the mandarin who waved the peerage through.)
I was hugely frustrated by this stonewalling and I recall
Tony Wright telling me we had done as much as we could and to let it rest.
But history may be in danger of repeating itself. The
scandal of HSBC should not be swept under the carpet until the next Parliament
– which may mean never.
The Treasury Select Committee needs to assert itself and
insist that Lord Green comes before it - and give evidence under oath.
Postscript on Ashcroft: Cabinet papers released to PASC in 2010 detail the extent of Ashcroft's deception.
Last Updated on Sunday, 22 February 2015 22:44