One participant in the debate over whether the Tories broke the rules on spending during last year’s General Election campaign has quietly, but firmly, stopped going after The Blue Team and intend has U-Turned and gone after any and every other party in an effort to play “Look over there”. Who might be the about turn specialist? Step forward the perpetually thirsty Paul Staines and his rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog.
Just three months ago, in a post headed “Crick Reveals More Tory Expense Fiddles”, they told “Channel 4 News last night exposed more allegations about Tory overspending in South Thanet. Michael Crick’s investigation revealed … More hotels booked that were not declared … CCHQ Campaign Specialist Marion Little personally booked hotel rooms in her name, registered to her”. Last month the Fawkes folks were still on the Tories’ case.
Flagging up Channel 4 News’ exposé, they concluded “If the Conservatives are found to have paid the hotel bills for Battlebus campaigners on locally focussed campaigns, then not declaring the accommodation could constitute a criminal offence”. And earlier this month they reckoned “The Electoral Commission is taking the Tories to the High Court to force them to disclose documents pertaining to the electoral expenses scandal”.
But the very next day the tone changed: now the Tories were’t so bad after all. “The good news for the Tories is this shows they did see battle buses as part of the national campaign all along, and demonstrates they were taking steps to abide by spending laws” was now the line. Fast forward three more days and the U-Turn was complete.
Now it was all the other parties’ problem, and mainly Labour. First off was “Labour Battle Bus Not Declared In Local Spending” and later the same day came “Two More Labour Candidates Didn’t Declare Election Buses”. The following day it was the Lib Dems allegedly at fault (in a constituency where the Tories’ spending is under scrutiny), and another go at Labour with “Another Labour MP Failed To Declare Campaign Battle Bus”.
Next day came an attack on Harriet Harman: “13 Labour MPs Didn’t Declare Hattie’s Pink Bus”. Then, those complaining about the Tories’ expenses came under fire, first former Lib Dem MP Adrian Sanders, and then the SNP, who had complained to the Met, were accused of not properly declaring the helicopter that carried party leader Nicola Sturgeon around Scotland. It was no longer about the Tories, but anyone else they could find.
Meanwhile, the smear was extended to the same Channel 4 News journalist the Fawkes rabble had previously been championing, as a lumbering Staines waddled up to Michael Crick in Smith Square and told him he should be looking at the other lot, because they were up to no good as well. The others were all frauds. Not the Tories.
Why the screeching U-Turn? Simples. As my good friend Peter Jukes put it recently, “Guido has become a wholly disownable branch of CCHQ”. The Tories need the Fawkes rabble to rally to the cause, if only by slagging off everyone else. Another fine mess.