Yesterday at Prime Minister’s Questions, Dennis Skinner asked the question that a lot of pundits and observers are also asking: “Will the Prime Minister give a guarantee that no Tory MP who is under investigation by the police and the legal authorities over election expenses in the last general election be a candidate in this election?” The expenses scandal, which so many thought was last year’s story, was back.
And Skinner had not finished: “Because if she won’t accept that, this is the most squalid election campaign that has happened in my lifetime”. Theresa May did not accept it at all: “I stand by all the Conservative MPs who are in this House and who will be out there standing again campaigning, campaigning for a Conservative government that will give a brighter and better future for this country”. That could be problematic for her team.
The Independent showed how problematic: “A spokesperson for the CPS confirmed to The Independent on Tuesday evening that any charges would have to be made before the date of the general election, which Theresa May wants to hold on 8 June subject to a vote in Parliament tomorrow. This means the CPS's announcement must by law fall while the MPs are campaigning for re-election, before 8 June”. So how bad is the problem?
“The Crown Prosecution Service last night confirmed it was considering the prosecution of over 30 people for breaking the strict election spending limits”. Some of those 30 people could be MPs, others merely losing candidates. So who might be in the frame? Well, sitting next to Ms May yesterday was Scottish Secretary David Mundell, whose campaign expenses reported a Nil return for transport costs.
As Zelo Street revealed last May, this may not be the full story: Mundell’s campaign was assisted by party volunteers, many of whom made 200 mile round trips in the process. And 200 miles was nothing to Tory activist Fiona Keen, who went as part of the RoadTrip 2015 team to Dover, Great Yarmouth, South Thanet (twice), Broxtowe, Kingston-on-Thames, and Sutton and Cheam. All to very little exposure on the candidates’ expense returns.
Ms Keen was not the only Tory activist to give the game away on the 2015 campaign: Londoner Amir Sadjady joined the RoadTrip 2015 gang as they journeyed all the way to Yeovil as part of their campaign to unseat Lib Dem David Laws. There was a visit to a restaurant afterwards - looking rather like an inducement. And later he was seen brandishing personalised leaflets in Ealing Central and Acton.
Another keen activist, Souheir Mortada, showed how much was being piled into Hove, to support Graham Cox, who lost. Nothing on the expense return. In nearby Brighton Kemptown, there was another piling-on of activists to help Simon Kirby over the line. His expense return doesn’t have that on, either. The Chippenham campaign of Michelle Donelan disputed Sky man Jon Craig’s claim that the Battle Bus visited.
But Craig had the email that said it did. And as I pointed out, there was a “virtual” or “metaphorical” bus of 50 people dispatched regularly from London by rail, which could have explained all those bodies in the Chippenham area. More potential irregularities.
Some of those candidates are now MPs, and are standing again. Not a good look.