Sunday, March 7, 2010

Police Raid Coleridge Brothels

Sounds like the police had an exciting last couple of weeks, after two suspected brothels were raided in Coleridge, on Perne Road and Lichfield.

In total, three people were arrested for people trafficking, sexual exploitation and immigration offences, and enquiries continue.

I think this type of of crime is fairly rare in Cambridge, but the police would welcome any further information and if you suspect that properties in your area are being used in the Sex Trade then please call 0345 456 456 4 or Crimestoppers 0800 555 111 where you can place an anonymous call.

Going off at a huge tangent, I a reminded of the ludicrous injustice of the press coverage of Lord Ashcroft over the last week - notably by the BBC.

Lord Ashcroft founded crimestoppers over 20 years ago - and since has put up many rewards that have resulted in convictions for very serious offences. He has also been a very significant donor to Anglia Ruskin University - which educated him and gave him the start of his successful business career. In short, he is a community minded philanthropist, of the type that this country should be very grateful for. He also donates money to the Conservative party, and one of his 'crimes' in the eyes of the Labour party (and therefore the BBC) is that he has tried to donate that money in a way it is most likely to be effective in helping secure the election of a Conservative government (by supporting marginal constituencies). Good - if I donate money to the Conservatives, it is also 100% because I want to see that money used to get Conservatives elected, and I'm yet to see any evidence that the sole intention of Lord Ashcroft's donations is anything other than to help facilitate the election of a Conservative government.

The real risk with large donors to a political party is where the party is so dependent on those donations that they are prepared to, for example, put the interests of the donor above the interests of the general electorate when deciding policy. Lord Ashcroft's donations at their current levels (less than 5% of the party's funding since Cameron became leader) simply dont come into this category. With Labour, it is not so much a risk, but a case of to what extent exactly public policy is being influenced by their major donors. There was Bernie Ecclestone and tobacco advertising, and their other individual donors (many of whom share Lord Ashcroft's perfectly legitimate 'non-dom' tax status) who seem to have remarkable influence over government. Why exactly was Lord Paul appointed to the Privy Council is a serious question that awaits an answer.

But the biggest paymasters of course are the unions. In 2009, over 60% of Labour's donations came from the unions. The mere threat of withdrawing this funding can change Labour policy, and it is at the unions behest that the country has embarked on the massive increase in the public sector wage bill, that is a key reason for the debt crisis that threatens to engulf the UK economy (particularly if Labour is re-elected).

As ever, there is a special brand of hypocrisy involved whenever the Lib Dems get on their high horse, as Vince Cable did at [deputy] Prime Ministers questions this week. You would never have guessed that the  Lib Dems campaign at the 2005 election was funded by a £2.4m donation from convicted fraudster Michael Brown - quite why they haven't had to pay back this money to the people it was allegedly stolen from I never could understand.

The bottom line is that democracies inevitably produce political parties - and unless you want (even more) of your taxes being spent supporting political parties you vehemently disagree with, the political parties need donors. Ideally lots of smaller donors so that no one donor can exert a significant influence. But none of this excuses the rank hypocrisy of Labour and the Lib Dems over this issue, or the extraordinary coverage given to Lord Ashcroft by the BBC over a number of days - when there are no allegations he has done anything illegal and broken any rules. Was it really more imporant to talk about Lord Ashcroft for a sixth day, after our Prime Minister had told the Chilcott enquiry the military had been given all the equipment it requested, and the General insisted they hadn't? We are about to go into a general election, the outcome of which could determine the prosperity of the Country for a generation if the crisis in public debt is not tackled - and this is where the media should be focussing their attention.


Andrew Bower said...

The mention of Lib Dem hypocrisy over that tangential issue reminds me that I'm still waiting for the Lib Dem County Councillor for Hardwick to publish the following comment on her latest blog post:

I'm sorry to hear about the personal setbacks, but Lib Dems complaining about negative campaigning is the ultimate example of the pot calling the kettle black (take most Lib Dem campaigning in Cambridge, for example).

You can't claim to be rising above the fray when your man in the House of Commons just used up his two questions at PMQs on Ashcroft instead of holding the government to account. Talk about "ignoring the real issues"!

Frugal Dougal said...

Both Labour and the Lib Dems are desperate to divert attention from the real prospect that the next Conservative Government might be Conservative; possibly Labour figures also fear more enquiries like Chilcott's on a variety of issues to try and work out what really went on from 1997-2010.

Anonymous said...

In the eyes of those who are not avid followers of politics, doesn't the argument between all parties over the "non-dom" issues re-enforce already negative opinions about politicians?

What's wrong with paying full taxes like most of the rest of the country? What sticks in the throat is that anyone in either the Commons or the Lords should seek to avoid paying taxes in the country that they are seeking to become or are a legislator in.

Philip Evans said...

To adapt the famous American slogan - 'No representation without taxation!'
Mr Ashcroft broke a closely argued agreement by which he was given a seat in the UK legislature if he undertook to renounce 'non-dom' status and thereby pay UK taxes. Why is he in such a high position in the party?

Andrew Bower said...

Philip, you appear to have been misled by Lord Mandelson and the poor quality of the press coverage on this subject.

Lord Ashcroft was required to become resident in order that he be able to attend the house regularly; he did so and as a consequence started paying UK taxes. He has no case to answer. Simples.

Andrew Bower said...

Anonymous, re your first paragraph: I'm sure it does reinforce such views. We do not wish to prolong the subject because there is no case to answer and it is a big distraction from the real issues, but others have tried to keep it alive. We have tried here to provide a little balance by praising the activities of a public-spirited person. There is also something pernicious about the lazy journalism of creating false moral equivalences, as they have tried to do with Lord Paul, who has a much more serious case to answer.

Re. your second paragraph, this seems to be slightly incompatible with the first one as you are joining battle yourself now. Lord Ashcroft does of course pay tax on his UK earnings. There is a case to be made for requiring all parliamentarians to pay tax in the UK on their foreign earnings too, which the Conservatives have said they would require and Lord Ashcroft has said he would comply with. Until yesterday Lord Paul's position was that he would rather not sit in the Lords than comply - some commitment to the UK!

Chris Howell said...

The comments really illustrate quite how irresponsible the reporting from the BBC has been over the last couple of weeks, as they have clearly been very successful in pushing Labour's disingenuous agenda on Ashcroft.

Ashcroft agreed to be resident in the UK, and pay UK taxes - as I understand it, he does, and no agreements have been broken.

Most of the planet does not pay UK taxes on all their worldwide income. It should be obvious that trying to charge a taxpayer tax in the UK on the whole of their worldwide income as soon as they set foot in the UK isn't going to be an optimal strategy for a Country - particularly for a country with such an oppressively high tax take as the UK.

So complex tax rules are put in place to meet the desire to gain some tax revenue from people who could be based in any of a number of locations, and all the evidence to date suggests they have been complied with, and the UK has benefited hugely from the presence of Lord Ashcroft.

'All politicians are the same' seems a common reaction to all these issues - people are obviously entitled to draw their own conclusions, but there is a real risk here. For example with MPs expenses, if all MPs, regardless of whether their abuse of the expenses system was cynical criminality or one minor breach (or even no breach at all!) are treated with the same disdain, it is hardly going to help improve relative behaviour in future - they might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.

Similarly, if you don't think large donors should be able to buy disproportionate influence over politicians, there are risks in equating (or in the BBC's case treating as vastly more significant) donations from someone like Lord Ashcroft who funds a tiny part of Conservative income and does not appear to be motivated by the desire to change policy, and the unions, who fund a much greater share of Labour, and are pretty blunt about their desire to change policy in their favour all the time. We will reap what we sow.

David Vincent said...

If everything is as straightforward as Chris and Andrew are making out, I am not clear why the Conservative leadership have been so reticent in their statements about Ashcroft's tax arrangements over the years and months. Why didn't they just say, "he pays UK tax on a small amount of his income, but no tax at all on the vast majority of his earnings, which are still subject to the tax regimes of Belize, the Cayman Islands and similar tax havens". It is only the shilly-shallying of Wm Hague and others that has made this an issue. Of course, some of us might have felt that when he said he would become "resident" that meant he would pay UK tax on all his earnings, but no doubt that was our own naivety. The only defence being put forward now seems to be the statement that all political parties are funded by rich tax-dodgers, and an attack on the BBC (which should presumably remind everybody that the Conservative party appears to have done a deal with Rupert Murdoch to slash the BBC in return for his support). No wonder no-one has any respect for any form of politician any longer.

Chris Howell said...

David - nobody is claiming the situation is straightforward - and your suggested explanations wouldn't work to 'clear things up' as they materially misrepresent the situation in some key regards.

Andrew Bower said...


Your wild postulation about Murdoch and the BBC doesn't sit very well with your earlier complaint that as a serious blog you felt we shouldn't have allowed a comment from 'anonymous' that you thought contained unjustifiable claims, which is a shame because I thought you were good for a serious debate.

Of course politics will attract rogues on all sides because of the alure of power, but by putting all politicians in the same boat you are doing a disservice to the goals of truth and public service.

My subjective view, which I strongly believe, is that New Labour, more than anyone, has so debased politics through lies and cronyism that some people can no longer see the wood for the trees and assume "they are all the same". I don't know why Labour attracts this the most but I suspect it has something to do with the command and control nature of socialism which might permit a culture of the end justifying the means.

David Vincent said...

It is sad that all politicians are lumped together but, as with the expenses issue, this is what happens. And, yes, it does a major disservice to the quality of governance. Chris says that the Ashcroft affair is not straightforward, Andrew seems to think it is. What is not deniable is that a member of the House of Lords - a legislative assembly - is not paying UK tax on most of his income, but says that he will agree to do so when the law is changed. And that he - and his party collegues - have kept all this quiet for ten years, allowing people to misunderstand his true position. Is this not the same as those MPs who said their expenses were "within the rules" (as in many cases they were), but were still pilloried? People still seem to have half an idea that a higher standard should apply to those in public life. Perhaps they are wrong. There is a certain irony in this debate being attached to a post about brothels.

David Vincent said...


My complaint about the "anonymous" post (apart from its anonymity) was the use of loaded and largely meaningless language, rather than the inclusion of specific "wild postulations", which can at least be debated. I think it is no accident that the Murdoch press chooses to side publicly with the Conservative party at a time when that party is lending itself to a majot assault on one of Murdoch's main competitors, the BBC. Whether there were specific discussions between the Murdoch people and the Conservatives about the timing of these matters I do not know. I would be surprised if there were no contact at all, although I do not for one moment suggest that money changed hands.

I am not clear on Conservative policy about removing the commitment to even-handed reporting on UK TV (which still exists, despite your complaints about the BBC). I do not want to see a UK equivalent of Fox News. I do not want to see the BBC limited in its ability to publish free news on its web-site, or to compete with commercial broadcasters. I have no particular objection to the BBC making money to part-fund its broadcasting. I would like to see the BBC pay less to its "stars" and executives, but I would also like to see ITV, Sky et al do the same. (And I would like the banks to pay less to their brokers and executives as well).

An assault on the BBC is one of my major fears should the Conservatives come into power, and every time I see further accusations of "BBC irresponsibility" from Conservative sources, those fears become stronger.

Equinox said...

The Anonymous posting was from me - I'm still getting used to responding to blogs and that was my first posting.

That initial post was not an an attempt to flag up the wrongs of one political party - hence why I wrote about "anyone" as this issue applies to all political parties that have, or are aiming to get their candidates elected to the Commons or appointed to the Lords.

Andrew, I take your first point in your response, and again aim to focus on the issue rather than the personalities. For me, my view is that anyone who is or is seeking to be a UK legislator should pay full taxes on their earnings. I view it as one of the responsibilities that goes with the priviledge of being a legislator in either House in the Palace of Westminster. Others may disagree - that's fine.

In my second paragraph - yes, in that sense I do "join the battle" but not from one that seeks to put one political party over another. I'm as saddened as anyone with a passion for politics to see how low in the public's esteem politics, politicians, civil servants and local government workers are currently held.

Why did I start posting on this forum? The first because I spent my entire childhood living down the road that the blog is named after, and second because Chris Howell happens to be one of my local councillors. That makes me one of his constituents.

Why am I posting semi-anonymously? Because I work in the public sector and feel that it would be improper of me with regards to who I work for to use my real name. It's one of the other reasons why I'm not interested in taking party-political sides - I jealously guard that neutrality.

In general, the blog issues you write about are local and in general those are the things that I intend to comment on from the perspective of a constituent.

I do have an academic interest in managing public services and improving public administration - and improving the public's understanding of it. One book I would recommend on the "depoliticisation" of politics (if there can be such a term) is a book by Professor Colin Hay which is titled "Why we hate politics." See the description at as to why.

Andrew Bower said...


Thanks for taking an interest in and commenting on the blog. We do not shy away from being challenged by and debating with people who do not always agree with us.

For the avoidance of doubt, the discussion between David and me about an anonymous comment was about a different comment on a different thread. Anonymous and pseudonymous comments are welcome.

The Conservative Party's position is, as yours, that people should be taxed on their worldwide earnings if they sit in the legislature.

However, given that there is a good case for the status of being non-domiciled to exist, as Chris has outlined, I don't think it would be fair to characterise someone holding such a status in this context as being equivalent to the classic "it was within the rules" excuse we've heard from MPs (see David's comment above), and I think it is unfair for people to be vilified for tax avoidance (rather than evasion) when it is not only perfectly legal but widely practised and even encouraged by the government (e.g. using your ISA allowance).

We chose to say some words in praise of Lord Ashcroft because after a week of waking up to him dominating the Today programme and seeing his name dominate most bulletins on BBC News 24 throughout the day we felt the there was a very significant imbalance in reporting on the issue that we wished to help correct. Perhaps we would have been less keen to finger Lib Dem and Labour hypocrisy on the subject if they hadn't been trying to push this as much as possible. So yes, there's an element of "but they started it" but we believe the initial imbalance was unusually extreme.

Frugal Dougal said...

I'm quite relieved that pseudonymous comments are welcome...

David Vincent said...

I am not sure I see the distinction between Ashcroft's tax dealings and the expenses issue. I do not deny that he has acted legally. Whether he actively misled his friend William Hague, or whether they both knew 10 years ago that Ashcroft's "firm commitment" to become resident in the UK did not include a commitment to pay UK tax on all his income, remains unclear. I simply feel that, like MPs claiming expenses, there is some justification for holding active politicians and active members of the HoL to a higher standard than simply obeying the law. It is wholly disingenuous to compare Ashcroft's tax (non-tax) dealings in Belize and elsewhere with an ordinary person buying an ISA. Lord Ashcroft actively chose to avoid paying tax on large amounts of income, some of which he gave to the Conservative party, some of which he gave to ARU and other charities and some of which he spent on planes, boats and Victoria Crosses. He also chose not to tell anyone (even it seems his close friend William Hague) that was the case until very recently. I am sure Lord Ashcroft has several worthwhile qualities, including a dislike of violent crime, but I think people are entitled to think something less of him because of the choices he has made and the sources of his largesse.