For the second time in a year I find myself under attack from
Peter Oborne. Last June the redoubtable Telegraph
columnist claimed I had been against the formation of the coalition from
the start, which was wrong, and that I was trying to push the Tories to the
right, which was also wrong. I was very happy to correct his misapprehensions.
Peter’s new assault is equally wide of the mark, and I am
pleased to be able to set him straight once again. He now asserts I am “engaged
in an open, menacing and extremely public campaign against David Cameron”.
Curiously this supposed campaign, which Peter says is being waged principally
via Twitter, includes my congratulating the Tory leader on his performance at Prime
Minister’s Questions, but we are not to let that detract from his point,
apparently. “Overall,” he declares, “Lord Ashcroft’s denunciations of David
Cameron greatly outweigh any praise”. I will make three points in response to
First, my tweets are occasionally mischievous, and I am sorry
if some of them have not been to Peter’s taste. But he overstates their
“menace”. For example, he seemed to regard as the height of treachery the
statement that I was not surprised by predictions that UKIP would win next
year’s European elections. But this idea is widely accepted in politics; I have
said so several times before, arguing that if it came to pass the Tories should
not panic and could still win in 2015. Sometimes I use Twitter to promote
pieces on ConservativeHome, which you can hardly blame me for as I am its
owner – and as the editor Paul Goodman has astutely pointed out, calling it a “right-wing
and often anti-Cameron website” is as fair as calling Peter a “right-wing and often
anti-Cameron journalist”. And if I sometimes link to other articles that make
unhappy reading for Downing Street – well, I’m not a Tory press officer.
Second, Peter makes the excellent point that Twitter is not
the ideal medium for complex or thoughtful arguments. Quite so – which is why I
write at greater length elsewhere, especially on ConHome and my own research and
commentary site, LordAshcroftPolls.com. Nobody reading my wider
observations on politics and polling, rather than selectively quoting from my
Twitter feed, could conclude that I was pursuing an anti-Cameron crusade. They
would certainly not find any denunciations.
Finally, since stepping down after nearly five years as
Deputy Chairman in 2010, I do not have a formal role in the Conservative Party.
Since that time I have used my more independent position to conduct political
research on a scale which to the best of my knowledge has not been seen before
in this country. The results are published for all to read alongside my comment.
No doubt some of this is uncomfortable for the Tories but I have often pointed
out that it shows Cameron to be the party’s biggest asset – hardly the “vicious
and damaging public criticism” that Peter accuses me of indulging in.
My research has won a reputation for being objective and
professionally conducted. My analysis is balanced, based on the evidence. Overall,
my political commentary amounts to a prolonged reminder that the winning party
will be the one that pays attention to the voters and their priorities. I hope
that party will be the Conservative Party – but I think I’m more use to it as a
truth-teller than a cheerleader.