Ashcroft is in clear after donor probe

LORD Ashcroft was yesterday cleared of making illegal donations to the Tory party.

The Electoral Commission said that £5.1m of donations made through one of Ashcroft’s firms were “legal and permissible”.

Following a fourteen month investigation, the commission concluded that Bearwood Corporate Services was “carrying on business in the UK” – a key condition for companies giving money to political parties.

But it criticised the Tories for failing to cooperate with its investigation, saying that party officials refused to be interviewed.

Meanwhile, the Conservative party said leader David Cameron only learned that Lord Ashcroft was a non-dom last month. Earlier this week, the peer and deputy chair of the Tory party revealed he didn’t pay tax on foreign earnings.

A clean bill of health from the commission will come as a relief to Ashcroft, but he could soon be called in front of a group of influential MPs.

Labour MP Gordon Prentice, who chairs the public administration select committee, said he would hold a “special one-off inquiry” into Ashcroft’s peerage and tax affairs on 18 March.

Three Tories on the committee said they would not take part in the grilling, accusing Prentice of political point scoring.

Most of Ashcroft’s donations have been used to fund campaigns in marginal seats, but a poll yesterday suggested that the Tory lead is slipping in these key battlegrounds.

According to a YouGov/Channel 4 News poll of 60 key marginal seats, the Tory lead over Labour has slipped from seven to just two points.

The Tories are now on 39 per cent, down four points compared to the start of February, while Labour has gained one point to 37. The Liberal Democrats have gained three to 15.

YouGov co-founder Peter Kellner said, if the results were repeated across all marginals, the Tories would win 315 seats – 11 short of a majority.

• The YouGov daily tracker poll for the Sun today showed the Tory lead at six per cent. The Tories were on 38 per cent, no change, with Labour on 32 per cent, no change. The Lib Dems were on 17 per cent, down 2 per cent .