Senior members of David Cameron’s Conservative government are becoming increasingly annoyed by Lord Ashcroft, the billionaire political pollster who was cast out of Cameron’s inner circle and now, according to a fantastic deep dive in the Financial Times, enjoys annoying them.
Today, for instance, Ashcroft teased the upcoming release of his unauthorised biography of Cameron, and strongly hinted that Britain’s prime minister will not like it one bit.
More importantly, the FT story suggests that Cameron and his allies dislike Michael Ashcroft — who made his fortune with Hawley/ADT, an industrial cleaning services supplier — because he keeps telling them uncomfortable truths.
Prior to 2010, Lord Ashcroft’s polling — described by the FT as the most detailed available — was exclusive to the Tories. But between 2010 and 2012, Ashcroft fell out with the UK prime minister, and Cameron brought in alternative polling resources. Ashcroft has since provided his services to the other parties, too.
Crucially, the FT says that Ashcroft is reporting that Cameron has much higher negative associations with voters than the Conservatives believe (or are interested in hearing about):
One attendee says: “He shows David Cameron first and it is quite damning: ‘Cameron’s out of touch, he’s not one of us’. Ashcroft doesn’t write the script, he is reporting what he finds, but he does delight in tweaking the tail a bit.”
The FT suggests that Cameron may be refusing to listen to advice he actually needs to hear precisely because it is negative — Cameron has long been dogged by a reputation that he is better acquainted with the price of bow ties than the price of milk.
Naturally, it’s about class, too. Ashcroft is a self-made billionaire who didn’t go to Oxford or Cambridge. Cameron went to both Eton and then Oxford:
One Conservative who has known him [Lord Ashcroft] for two decades says: “Michael is somebody who craves respect. He feels a lot of powerful people look down on him because he didn’t go to Oxford and he had to earn his money the hard way through office cleaning and buccaneering deals.”
One ally says: “He is a businessman who approaches politics with a business approach: he tries to work out how to get elected from the evidence.
Could it be that the Tories have managed to give away their secret weapon — a conservative billionaire (who was once the party’s chief fundraiser) who also has access to the best political information in the country?
“It’s not helpful,” retorts one senior Conservative cabinet figure, angry that the former party treasurer is now arming the enemy. “He is giving away polling that only we can afford to do to our competitors. It kills our competitive advantage. For a Tory peer to do that, well, it’s annoying but he’s done it now.”
There is one more wrinkle in the Ashcroft story: He will imminently publish an unauthorised biography of Cameron, titled “Call Me Dave.” The bio will compete with another book that Cameron has cooperated with. Ashcroft today said that the other book will be garbage:
Number 10 is so eager to assist that aides have been reading and correcting draft chapters. It will be a pleasant surprise if his book is not merely a sanitised account.
However, my focus is on character: what made the man; how he got to the top; and how he used his power.
I have made it clear that my book, a collaboration with former Sunday Times Political Editor Isabel Oakeshott, will be objective. Nonetheless Cameron is suspicious. It is no secret that he dislikes the prospect of what he dismissively labels “the Ashcroft book”.
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