Conservative Diary

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Lord Ashcroft and ConservativeHome


On Sunday I reported the fact that Lord Ashcroft has become the majority investor in ConservativeHome.  ConservativeHome is part of a new company that will be chaired by Stephan Shakespeare, who previously owned 100% of ConservativeHome. The investment is significant. It is another sign of the blogosphere's emergence as a power in the media marketplace. The investment will help ConHome to expand. The support of a major figure like Lord Ashcroft is a signal that the centre right does not intend to rest on its laurels when it comes to using new media for political communication. I am very grateful to Lord Ashcroft for the confidence he has shown in us. The first fruit of our new financial stability will be evident tomorrow morning at 9am.

The big issue raised by Lord Ashcroft's investment is the question of independence. It is a question raised by Daniel Finkelstein's team of leader writers in this morning's Times. "Will the site be willing, in future," the leader asks, "to challenge the [Ashcroft-funded] target seat campaign or to question Lord Ashcroft’s tax affairs if they become a hot political topic?" Those are fair questions (from a newspaper that has sometimes been obsessed with Lord Ashcroft) and let me attempt to reassure readers.

  1. The major campaigns of this website will still be determined by our grassroots polls. On the eve of Tory Conference, we'll be publishing our grassroots manifesto (trailed here). ConHome will remain the home of the grassroots and that will mean we'll sometimes clash with CCHQ and with Lord Ashcroft.
  2. I, for example, do not agree with Lord Ashcroft on donations to political parties. He thinks there should be no limits. I do support limits. Jonathan Isaby, my co-editor, agrees with Lord Ashcroft. I'm still of the view that Lord Ashcroft's 'Smell the Coffee' report of 2005 was a flawed document. It seriously neglected, for example, the importance of social justice as a key to Tory renewal. It was a more socially liberal document than if it had been written by the average Tory member. Lord Ashcroft will not be above criticism from this website when it is merited.  
  3. Lord Ashcroft has given firm assurances that he will never interfere with our editorial judgments. I'm confident in those assurances. And let me be absolutely clear: If he were ever to instruct me to change an editorial line, I would resign without hesitation. I do not expect to need to.
  4. One of the reasons I'm confident that a confrontation with Lord Ashcroft won't arise is the experience of others who have worked for him.  Iain Dale, for example, has noted that Total Politics has never been subject to any editorial pressure from Lord Ashcroft.
  5. Stephan Shakespeare is Chairman of the company that owns ConHome. On a two person board he has the casting vote. I report to Stephan on business matters as I have for the last three years. Stephan and I discuss politics all the time but he has never required or even asked me to change an editorial position.

As I wrote on Sunday, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. Over time this site will remain a vibrant home of grassroots opinion or it will wither. Jonathan Isaby and I have no intention whatsoever of letting it wither. Our new financial strength means the best of ConHome is yet to come.

Tim Montgomerie


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