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
47, Rue Imaginaire
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.