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Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Mirror Nails Dodgy Tory Expenses

While Michael Crick of Channel 4 News, and to a lesser extent the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog, have covered the apparently over-generous sums expended by the Tory Party on a number of by-elections in 2014, they did not pick up on the effect of the now-disbanded Road Trip organisation on General Election expenses. That job has now been done by the Mirror.
While several successful Tory candidates - including Graham Evans who won Weaver Vale by just 806 votes, and Karl McCartney whose majority in Lincoln was 1,443 - declared election spending that was within the maximum laid down, when the Road Trip cost was factored in, that spending was well over the legal limit. And the Mirror’s cost estimates have erred on the low side - so it could be a lot worse.

Evans’ response - and several of the other MPs identified by the Mirror gave identical replies - was to state “My election expense return for the 2015 election was completed and returned by my election agent in accordance with the law … It included all items authorised by my election agent for use in my campaign. I signed the necessary declaration on that basis … I am aware that CCHQ campaigned across the UK for the return of a Conservative Government, including in seats such as mine … Such campaigning would be part of the national return not within our local return”.

Well, up to a point. Here’s the difference: when David Cameron and George Osborne visited Crewe in the run-up to the General Election, in support of sitting Tory MP Edward Timpson, they did a visit and photo-op at a train maintenance facility outside town, but did not indulge in any canvassing. There was no walkabout, no contact with the public.

So that cannot be part of Timpson’s spending, and would rightly not have featured on the return made by his agent. But what the Road Trip volunteers were doing was very different. They were actively canvassing for the candidates in the constituencies they visited, interacting with the electorate and almost certainly at the request, or at least agreement, of the local party. They were part of the local campaign.

Therefore they should have featured on the agent’s returns for every one of those constituencies. And that is why the Tories could be in serious trouble. Moreover, the presence behind the Road Trip campaign, Mark Clarke, now expelled from the Tory Party, does not escape scrutiny: the Mirror has observed that “Tory activist India Brummitt invoiced the party £1,060 a day for her time over 10 days”.

Over a thousand quid a day “for her time”? Ms Brummitt, as Zelo Street regulars will be aware, is Mark Clarke’s long-term mistress. Not only may both of them have questions to answer about those eye-watering expense claims, but also the question has to be put to Crick and Staines - how did they both miss Ms Brummitt’s expenses? My information is that their information came from the same source.

As to the identity of that source, I will make no further comment. In the meantime, for reasons set out above, the Tories may have a lot of explaining to do.

5 comments:

Sack Theboard said...

Not sure why the word 'may' was necessary in that last sentence - but one body that can't take any action is, er, the Electoral Commission who admitted their impotence just yesterday: 'The law currently stops short of giving the Commission the power to enforce candidates' spending rules'!
http://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/i-am-a/journalist/electoral-commission-media-centre/news-releases-donations/electoral-commission-calls-for-new-powers-to-regulate-candidate-spending-at-elections

Unknown said...

Can we now look forward to 24 by-elections?

Gonzoland said...

@Sack Theboard:
You left out the last bit of the sentence "... and only the police can investigate if there's a problem."
Only the police then.

Anonymous said...

Presented with the obvious evidence, Crick could scarcely avoid the broadcast without accusations of collusion or cover up. But he could limit it, which is what he did. Then we got his usual red nose clown bullshit, the kind of stuff that's every bit as bad for genuine journalism as the tories and New Labour are for democracy. He's just a jeer on legs, an amplified megaphone of yells, a scraping of the bottom of the barrel of political "reporting." Tenth rate by any measure.

The principles involved here are vital. If they are not fully investigated and reported this country will slide down slowly into the kind of disgusting swamp typified by the corrupt US politics.

If this issue continues to be sidelined or minimised in the current manner we can expect our politics to become even deeper embedded in the Canary Wharf ghetto of corruption. Which is just one more reason mainstream media has become a bad joke on British history.

Malcolm Redfellow said...

when David Cameron and George Osborne visited Crewe in the run-up to the General Election, in support of sitting Tory MP Edward Timpson, they did a visit and photo-op at a train maintenance facility outside town, but did not indulge in any canvassing. There was no walkabout, no contact with the public.

A day on, and even after your tweet to me, I'm less than wholly convinced by the distinction. I posit it's more a matter of "tradition" — that party leaders do such things, make waves in local press, press the flesh, and move on. Meanwhile those same party leaders may not "canvass" and minimise public contact, but we've all witnessed exceptions to those rules. Consider Gordon Brown's disaster with Gillian Duffy.

My further assumption is that no major party would be wholly happy to have flying visits charged to the account. So watch this one get booted forcibly onto the longest grass.