The impact of Lord Ashcroft’s money on the election campaign can be clearly seen from the two marginal seats in Swindon, where Labour is defending small majorities. The Swindon Advertiser quotes South Swindon MP Anne Snelgrove who has described Conservative spending in Swindon over the past couple of years as “simply outrageous”.
“The simple fact is that between 2006 and 2008, Swindon Conservatives received £65,531 from Tory Central Office’s marginal seats campaign, which has been bank-rolled by Lord Ashcroft for years,” said Mrs Snelgrove.
“I’ll have to take [Conservative candidate] Robert’s word about their funding in the last two years as their accounts aren’t available yet, but the cash they have been throwing at our town is simply outrageous; they’ve spent over £108,000 on glossy leaflets and promotion from 2006 to 2008.”
The Labour MP for South Swindon said she believes the Conservatives could have resolved the issue over Lord Ashcroft 10 years ago when he became a peer.
“In that time, Lord Ashcroft has avoided paying over £100m in tax in this country,” added Mrs Snelgrove.
“That money could have been used to build new schools, improve our hospital or put more police on the streets; so yes, I think it is an issue that matters.”
In contrast the Tory candidate, Robert Buckland, complains that: “left-wing trades unions give Labour a guaranteed income of millions of pounds – indeed the Swindon Labour Party’s own manifesto proudly declares that it was ‘printed by the GMB’.
“Now we have the revelation that Unite – the union whose strike hit thousands of BA passengers – has contributed thousands of pounds directly to the Swindon Labour Party.”
Let us be clear. The money being given to the Labour Party by the trade unions is in no way equivalent to Lord Ashcroft’s money. Trade union members make voluntary subscriptions after they have paid their full tax, and the members of unions make collective, democratic decisions how to spend it. Lord Ashcroft used legal loop-holes to avoid tax that he was morally obliged to pay, and he is accountable to no-one. The decision of GMB and other trade unions to back the Labour candidates in Swindon is because we believe that a Labour government is more in the interest of our members than a Tory government. Whereas Lord Ashcroft is acting only in the interests of rich millionaires like himself.