Hogwash: Cameron, Ashcroft, and the steaming pile of Oakeshott

Unlike the fauxporters in the Tim Hunt scandal I need to start by declaring my interests.

I am a Conservative party member and activist, and a former MP. I am a columnist, and sometimes I am a journalist (as with Tim Hunt). I am a follower of David Cameron and loyal to him, although George Osborne and Sajid Javid are slightly closer to my personal conservatism.

Additionally, I am a friend of Lord Ashcroft whom I have always admired, and I received money from Lord Ashcroft (before I knew him) as one of the marginal seat candidates the party supported in 2009. I raised a lot of money on my own, incidentally, and I took the seat in the 2010 election.

Lord Ashcroft donated money to the Conservative party and he targeted it at marginal seats. He made us prove how we would use it. My Labour opponent had far more money and reach than I did, with union funding and party-branded red and yellow government funded leaflets. Ashcroft wanted the Conservatives to win and took a businessman’s approach.

This was extremely public spirited of him. It can’t be emphasized enough that at this point, Ashcroft already had his peerage, his title. There was nothing further of any significance to be done for him. Ashcroft also commissions polls and lets the public see them. He supports our military massively. He saves Victoria Crosses for the nation. He is a man of huge public service and public achievement. In addition to all the above, Ashcroft commissioned research and showed it to the Tory party. Without him, Gordon Brown might be Prime Minister today.

The UK public doesn’t like rich men and women, it often seems, whereas America admires them. Ashcroft’s career is heroic. He started in poverty with an actual outside loo. I think he is something of a genius. And for all the sneering, to give away millions and millions to the nation and to politics is a highly selfless act. I have said the same about J.K. Rowling’s one million pound donation to Labour, calling on Twitter for it to be rewarded with a peerage. Without these donors, there will be laws and public funding. Donating to your party is selfless. Ashcroft already had the title. He wanted to work, to contribute.

I think it was wrong of the Prime Minister not to keep a clear promise to Lord Ashcroft and then blame it on Nick Clegg. Ashcroft deserved to be a minister. His ability is quite evident, his passion for our military unmatched and he had worked for our party  at the highest level for many years. Without Lord Ashcroft Cameron would probably not have become PM. I say that with regret. I don’t like criticizing the PM whom I admire. But I need to start there. There was no good reason, no moral reason, not to keep the promise to Lord Ashcroft. It was wrong not to do so.

Ashcroft is the more to be admired because he scorns to lie. He will not say that he is not angry. Is the book ‘revenge’? It’s portrayed that way. I do not think so, however. To my knowledge, Ashcroft is interested in the Prime Minister and wanted to cover him in depth – good, bad, warts and all. I know for a fact too that a version of the book could have come out before the election, and he held it back out of party loyalty. I know further that Lord Ashcroft could have published during party conference. Want revenge? Pig-gate during conference. Release it the day of Cam’s speech.

And here’s the but – the bacon buttie, if you will.

The book (I shall buy it) has smeared the PM in ways no journalist ever should. Ashcroft ought not to have released it in its present form. He made the mistake of relying on Isabel Oakeshott, a former journalist, presently the contempt of the entire UK press corps. She had a good reputation. She was senior. She was meant to do the legwork and the research. Ashcroft clearly believed her and as a non-journo, would not be aware that you need to actually double-source stories or see some proof.

Here’s what Oakeshott did – she ruined her own reputation and grossly harmed that of Michael Ashcroft. Whatever else the book has to say it will now not be believed even if true. I am angry at her for insulting the PM but more so for the damage she has inflicted on Lord Ashcroft, who paid her to help him research an in-depth biography. He had to trust her judgement.

Oakeshott knew how her quote would be spun – Ashcroft did not. She was the national editor, he is a businessman and pollster. I would bet Lord Ashcroft is shocked and dismayed at how this one unsourced piece of hogwash (eye thank yew) would ruin all the other parts of his work. It was Oakeshott’s job as a journalist to say to her co-author who hired her, ‘Look, we can’t use it because we can’t stand it up.’

As I read it, her alleged “source” doesn’t even claim to have witnessed the pig incident. But he says he knows somebody who did and has a pic. So it’s not single-sourced – it’s zero sourced. She hasn’t got a witness. She’s got a guy who says he knows a guy who knows.

And what about the fiction over friction? Cameron is not accused even of “having sex with a pig” as mad Corbynites claimed on twitter. He’s accused of something I won’t repeat here involving cooked food and placement of bits thereon, not a sexual act. It was an “initiation ceremony” for a society he wasn’t in. There’s nothing to it, other than that one shouldn’t get drunk and take clothes off. But she, Oakeshott, made something out of it. She knew that the pure fiction of this ninicident (Not an incident) – even if true – would be turned into a fictional sexual act. Not even her doubtless imaginary source claims that the guy he says he knows saw a sexual act. What if there were a photo? We’d have no idea what it showed without a reliable eyewitness account, either. Oakeshott’s alleged, citation-needed “source” does not say he was even there.

I am reminded of Private Eye sending up Mohammed Al Fayed’s account of the “nurse” who saw Princess Diana in the tunnel

 

Signed

Nurse N’Existe-Pas

47, Rue Imaginaire

Paris

Since Oakeshott is prepared to try to ruin a man by printing a nonecdote from a non-witness who says he knows a witness who won’t talk, why should we think the non-witness even exists?

Nothing else in this book matters. Nobody will now believe a word of it. Cameron is above it. His wife and children have a right to be angry. Lord Ashcroft hired the wrong woman. He ought not to have published this book, that is true. David Cameron ought to have kept his promise, that is also true. Isabel Oakeshott is not a politician who should be keeping promises or minding her manners, but of the three, she is  – or she was – the sole journalist, whose job is to have integrity and present the truth, warts and all. That’s what Ashcroft wanted and the fact he held publication shows that mere ‘damage’ was not his aim.

But Oakeshott did not give us “warts and all”. She gave us hogwarts. And in so doing she damaged the reputation of both David Cameron and Lord Ashcroft.

She may well work again, sensationalism sells. But her reputation as a journalist is finished, and rightly so. She’s made a pigs’ ear of the work Ashcroft hired her to do. I, meanwhile, shall not forget that despite this silly story, Lord Ashcroft helped David Cameron save the entire UK from a disastrous Labour government. That really matters, to Ashcroft’s credit and Cameron’s. That will last. That has affected the economy of the UK, has affected 65 million people. That is why I am, though a fan of David Cameron’s, still extremely proud to know Lord Ashcroft and am still extremely grateful to him.

We all make errors of judgement – some at college and some afterwards. I’m for moving on and getting on with the job – in this case, protecting the nation from Corbyn and Labour.

24 comments

  1. Chris · September 22, 2015

    no one likes or agrees with you

  2. Chris · September 22, 2015

    it was foul and disgusting and if it turns out to be true that’s enough of a morally repulsive act to have a vote of no confidence

  3. nigelpwsmith · September 22, 2015

    Chris, I disagree with you. But thank Lord Ashcroft that we live in a country with a Conservative government and not in the Marxist state that Comrade Corbyn wants – where it would be a crime to think contrary to the wishes of the state!

    • louisemensch · September 22, 2015

      hear hear. I can live with Chris not liking me. And I am unfussed by the actual allegation the non-witness says his friend made (which wasn’t a sexual act).

      • Radovan Resnik · September 22, 2015

        In what way wasn’t it a sex act?

  4. John · September 22, 2015

    Chris…..as foul and disgusting as Comrade Corbyns support for the cowardly, pira death squads?

  5. Frank MacGill · September 22, 2015

    Do “rituals” involving nudity or exposure ever happen in Oxford Tory circles? If so, why? What is the purpose?

    • louisemensch · September 22, 2015

      No.

    • shaunjlawson · September 22, 2015

      Frank, I went to Oxford, though am not a Tory. No rituals I was aware of surrounding the Tory Reform Group, which I went to for a while because my good friend was President (my best moment: yelling at everyone else to wake up and smell the coffee shortly before the 2005 election. They all wanted to move right AGAIN; I told them goldfish learn more quickly and David Davis would not be the answer. The speaker, Alan Duncan, agreed with me – and up popped Cameron a few months later).

      In fact, the only weirdness I was ever aware of was a website called Oxford Gossip. Run by 1 Tory student, supposedly about who was shagging who, but which featured this same sole student having about 20 different logins, So he’d sit and debate with himself for months.

      Yes, people there drunk too much port – but there was no difference in how Oxford students (of all political hues) behaved than how students across the country behave. Getting drunk, having sex, having a good time and learning about the world is what most students anywhere do. Thank God for that too,

      In short: the stereotype about Oxford Tories is precisely that. A stereotype, with no basis in fact.

  6. Pookie · September 22, 2015

    To suggest that Ashcroft was unaware how the quote would be spun is naive at best, insulting to his intelligence at worst, a village idiot would know what the result of a quote like that would be, it doesn’t even require spin. To suggest that only “mad corbynites” are saying that he had sex with the pig is preposterous, everybody’s saying it, except, perhaps, mad Tories like yourself

  7. Paul Matthews · September 22, 2015

    I guess you didn’t see Newsnight last night – maybe you can’t get it where you are. The BBC was quite fair – they said the story was pretty dodgy.
    They interviewed Oakeshott. She was asked if she believed the pig story and she completely ducked the question. Then a minute later she was talking about the importance of integrity!

    I’m inclined to agree with another of their interviewees who said it’s a silly story that will have no effect and soon be forgotten.

  8. Pingback: Hogwash: Cameron, Ashcroft, and the steaming pile of Oakeshott | 6eman
  9. mraemiller · September 22, 2015

    “My Labour opponent had far more money and reach than I did, with union funding and party-branded red and yellow government funded leaflets.”

    I object to this. In 2010 depsite 5 years of fundraising Gavin Barwell outspent the Croydon Labour party at the general election by about 10,000 … going right up to the electoral limit …and slightly beyond (he had to seek relief in the high court). In 5 years the most that could be raised from central party funds and off the membership was (off the top of my head) about £25,000. Most of the Ashcroft candidates in marginals spent up to their limits and sometimes went over by mistake …this was discovered by a joint investigation by Channel 4 and https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/ who have seemingly nothing better to do than go round town halls reading election expenses returns. But anyway …these are top of my head figures … but the fact is …we weren’t spending to the limit the Conservatives were. Even under Gordon Brown the party was strapped for cash.

    Secondly to claim that government money was diverted to party funds for leaflets which is what the second part of your statement is saying (“union funding and party-branded red and yellow government funded leaflets”) is accusing your opponent of a criminal offence. I wont comment on Union money …. but I find it hard to believe that your Labour opponent had more money than you. If he did I advise you to ring up Lord Ashcroft and ask him why he favoured Zak Goldsmith and Gavin Barwell over you …because they certainly did alright.

    Actually the ceiling for the short campaign isn’t that high – many parties reach it in marginals.

  10. Richard Bartholomew · September 22, 2015

    You’ve left out one player in all this: the book’s publisher, Iain Dale. Dale is oddly very tetchy about the story; when someone asked him if he’d seen the supposed photograph, his response was that “It’s none of your business whether I have seen it or not.” Obviously, this means he hasn’t seen it, but for some reason he’s not happy to confirm that’s the case.

    • Ant · September 22, 2015

      Spot on, Richard. I saw that. The following day on his radio show Dale – whom I like as an interviewer – disgracefully tried to dodge his responsibility as a ‘publisher’ by ‘blaming’ his authors. Indeed he was given an embarrassing basic lesson in journalism ethics by Peter Kellner, a guest who had no idea Dale was ‘publisher’. I use inverted commas because it is clear Dale has limited editorial or legal experience and in this sorry tale is clearly Ashcroft’s lapdog – Ashcroft being his co-shareholder in his failing publishing company which is in desperately need of a hit. It is laughable that Louise has missed all this in her appraisal, and to pin all responsibility for this grubby episode on Oakeshott is absolutely ridiculous. All three are equally culpable, especially Michael ‘babe-in-the-woods’ Ashcroft.

  11. shaunjlawson · September 22, 2015

    Hi Louise, just returning the favour. But the above article: is this self-parody?

    1. What did Lord Ashcroft do to “deserve to be a minister”? Give lots and lots of money? If he wants to be a minister, let him stand for election! It’s bad enough he effectively bought a peerage, let alone the lunacy you’re suggesting. His name was dirt throughout the GE2010 campaign; absolute dirt. He lost you votes. And you think, after paying no tax at all until that point, he should’ve been rewarded with a place in the government? Am I talking to a democrat here? His behaviour wasn’t ‘public spirited’. It was party spirited.

    2. Lord Ashcroft is an experienced man very well versed in public life. Your piece treats him like some poor, helpless toddler who was somehow misled by an evil, nefarious journalist for years. That’s an insult to him. His tweets today show he has no problem with how the book’s being serialised at all; he’s openly parading his grudge (a grudge that he failed to buy his way into a major government position) for all to see. Yet you still support him!

    3. Cameron’s “wife and children have a right to be angry”. You work for The Sun. Since when has that EVER stopped that comic printing whatever the heck it liked about whoever the heck it liked? And unlike Cameron, 99.99% of those whose lives it destroys don’t have the money or power to do anything about it.

    4. As I suggested on my blog, it seems to me you go out of your way to excuse the TRULY powerful and uber-wealthy, and only take down the less powerful and less wealthy. I’m not going to call that cowardly; it’s actually only realistic, even shrewd in some respects. But Lord Ashcroft co-authors one of the most bitter, grudge-filled political books ever seen… and you criticise the object of his grudge, shower the accuser in praise, while reserving all your ire for someone who bears no more than equal responsibility,

    Ashcroft v Cameron? Ashcroft’s a shark. Cameron’s a pretty boy. Say no more, squire.

  12. nigelpwsmith · September 22, 2015

    The person who was most surprised at all this was Charlie Brooker. He had no idea that the storyline of his first Black Mirror play (National Anthem) would be played out for real. He said it was surreal.

    Just as in the drama, this story will blow over and people will forget it, except to greet Dave with an occasional “Oink!”

  13. Danny from Corby · September 22, 2015

    You were so loyal to David Cameron that you walked out of a marginal seat for selfish reasons half way through Parliament, thus giving Labour an easy gain.

  14. yossarian · September 22, 2015

    You’re proud of backing-up and sourcing your comments so can we see some evidence please that the government funded labour campaign leaflets?

  15. johnshepherd · September 22, 2015

    “He started in poverty with an actual outside loo.”
    Looks like some bad smells have followed him around as well, eh ?
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Ashcroft#Controversy

  16. James · September 23, 2015

    Lord Ashcroft is an intelligent man. He knew exactly what he was doing. To solely blame Oakeshotte may help to keep Ashcroft on side with you, but that doesn’t fit his actions. How can you square this with his petulant “stabbed in the back” tweet on Tuesday?

    Ashcroft is a business man, he would have run this book past his lawyers and will have costed the unlikely event of a Cameron lawsuit.

    As for Oakeshotte, she also knew exactly what she was doing. You can bet she’s bring paid well for her services. If she co-driver Ashcroft’s promised autobiography, your whole article will need to be rewritten…

  17. Pingback: » David Cameron, the Pig Story, and the Media: Some Thoughts Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion

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