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 this.
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 Conservative Home, 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.