I've just got home from the LibDems to read of the row that has been developing of the purchase of 57% of ConservativeHome and PoliticsHome by Lord Ashcroft. Let's start with a declaration of interest. Lord Ashcroft owns 25% of my company Biteback Media, which publishes Total Politics, and is the 85% owner of Biteback Publishing. And also for the record, I haven't talked to Michael Ashcroft, Tim Montgomerie or Stephan Shakespeare before writing this.
Today Andrew Rawnsley resigned from PoliticsHome. Funny, I thought he already had. He doesn't seem to have written a word on the site for three months. Read his reasons HERE. Stephan Shakespeare responded with THIS statement. Since then various left of centre personalities have publicy resigned from the PoliticsHome panel. Their reasoning is that they think PoliticsHome will become a tool of the right.
Have they not noticed that it has been owned and run by Stephan Shakespeare, an avowed Tory, since its inception in 2008? The same Stephan Shakespeare who was behind 18 Doughty Street? He assured the panel at the time the site would be politically neutral and it has been.
I experienced these very same accusations when I started Total Politics. People on the left (understandably) treated my assurances that it would be politically neutral with some scepticism. After all, if Dale and Ashcroft were involved it stands to reason doesn't it, that it would be biased? Except, no it doesn't. No one raises those accusations now. Even Kevin Maguire has publicly said that he can detect no right wing bias in the magazine. And I would challenge anyone else to. And that's for two reasons. Firstly, we have a politically balanced editorial staff who have striven to ensure that no accusation of partisanship can be levelled. And secondly, because Michael Ashcroft has better things to do that peer over the editor's shoulder. Ask Sarah Mackinlay or Ben Duckworth if they have ever been influenced by Michael Ashcroft. In fact I don't think either of them have ever clapped eyes on him, let alone had a conversation with him. Ask Sarah or Ben if I have ever tried to influence their editorial direction.
PoliticsHome is a new service - a news aggregator. It doesn't have much of its own original content.
So to those who have resigned from the PoliticsHome Panel I ask this question: what makes you think Lord Ashcroft would want to influence the editorial direction of PoliticsHome when it is transparently clear that he has never done it with Total Politics? To Tom Harris, I say: why are you happy to write for Total Politics but then resign from the PoliticsHome panel? To Denis MacShane, I say, why are you happy to be on the Total Politics editorial board, but have resigned from the PH panel?
What you are doing is playing the very sort of politics you accuse the right of playing. That's your perogative, of course, but it makes you all look damn silly and rather like sheep who are quite happy to be herded by the likes of Sunny Hundal (who was also happy to write for Total Politics - perhaps he'd like to return the cheque...). I'd expect the likes of Tom Watson to behave in this partisan way, but I'm disappointed that Catherine Mayer, Matthew Taylor and Lynne Featherstone appear to have fallen for it too. Should I now boycott the RSA panel I am speaking at on Thursday lunchtime because Matthew Taylor has politicised his position as its director? No. Because I wouldn't be so pathetic.
But hey, you know what, it's a free country. I look forward to PoliticsHome proving that it has the integrity and self belief to continue with its stated mission. And when it does, those who have indulged in the politics of the school playing field can feel slightly ashamed.
And I say again: why is being owned 57% by the Conservative Lord Ashcroft any different to being 100% owned by the Conservative Stephan Shakespeare? Cos I am buggered if I know.
PS Cue stream of comments saying Dale's an Ashcroft lackey. Water. Duck's. Back.