Norwich MP did not take cash from Ashcroft

Shaun LowthorpeNorwich MP Chloe Smith has defended her election campaign funding arrangements after being challenged to reveal if she had received cash from under-fire Tory peer Lord Ashcroft.Shaun Lowthorpe

Norwich MP Chloe Smith has defended her election campaign funding arrangements after being challenged to reveal if she had received cash from under-fire Tory peer Lord Ashcroft.

Tory funding has been in the spotlight after it emerged that the peer and deputy party chairman, who had given assurances that he would be based in this country as a condition of getting a peerage, was a 'nom-dom' and therefore not liable for paying tax on his overseas earnings.

Lord Ashcroft has helped the Tories up their campaign in marginal seats across the country, where success will be vital if the party is to form the next government.

But Miss Smith, who won the Norwich North seat last year in a by-election, insisted she had not received any direct funding from the peer or his company Bearwood Corporate Services either before during and after the election after being challenged by her Labour rival John Cook.

However, she conceded she had received cash from Central Office coffers, which may have included donations from the peer, but these would not have been specified.

'I have never received direct funding from Lord Ashcroft, or Bearwood Corporate Services,' she said. 'I have received funding from the central fund, but my understanding is that that's a very small fraction.

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'When you consider Lord Ashcroft's funding is 1pc of the Conservative Party, that's by anybody's definition an extremely small percentage.'

Mr Cook said: 'We saw how much cash the Tories threw at Norwich North during the by-election campaign. People will wonder how much of that came from Lord Ashcroft's millions. I challenge Chloe Smith to refuse further donations received directly or indirectly from Lord Ashcroft and to pay back any such cash that has already been received until Lord Ashcroft pays all the tax he has been avoiding during the last 10 years in which he was not a British tax-payer.'

But in a letter to Mr Cook, Miss Smith's agent, Margaret Eastham, also took issue with Labour funding, particularly from trade unions.

'Since you are evidently concerned about 'non-doms' contributing to political parties, can I have your assurance that your campaign in Norwich North will accept no support from Labour's central funds,' she said. 'As you must know, some of Labour's biggest donors are reported to be 'non-doms' - including Lord Paul, Sir Ronald Cohen, who gave more to the Labour Party last year than Bearwood gave to the Conservatives, Lakshmi Mittal, Sir Christopher Ondaatje, Sir Goolam Noon, Mahmoud Khayami, and David Potter.

'These 'non-dom' donors have given Labour over �10.5m between them. Surely you would not accept financial support from sources of which you personally disapprove?

'Lord Ashcroft has never had - or even asked for - any influence over Conservative policy-making. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the trade unions. They provided more than 60pc of Labour's funding in 2009 - whereas Bearwood Corporate Services provided just 1 per cent of Conservative Party funding. In return, the unions demand, and get, huge influence over Labour Party policy.

'If you are opposed to donors buying influence, will you refuse to accept support from trade unions?'