By Ray Fleming

I have used this space recently to criticise UK politicians for wanting official inquiries made into matters of relatively small importance on which the public could quite easily reach its own conclusions. However, I think that Lord Mandelson was right yesterday to call for an inquiry into the background to the case of Lord Ashcroft, the Conservative Party's deputy chairman, who appears to have broken a written undertaking he gave ten years ago to establish British residency. The undertaking was a necessary condition for approval of the peerage he subsequently received; it was also relevant to his tax status in Britain, and therefore to his large donations to the Conservative party, since his principal home appeared to be in Belize.

Yesterday David Cameron continued his practice of refusing to answer questions about the Lord Ashcroft case. It would certainly be interesting to know for how long Mr Cameron has been aware of the facts that Lord Ashcroft admitted to on Monday. There is no doubt that the combination of the cover-up by Lord Ashcroft for ten years and the failure of senior members of the Conservative party to clarify matters earlier have damaged the party's reputation. It would now be interesting to know in which marginal constituencies Conservative candidates have benefitted from the special Ashcroft-funded programme of advice, support and assistance in the drive to oust Labour or Liberal Democrat candidates who had only narrow majorities at the last election.