With the launch of the Mirror’s “People’s Electoral Commission”, we can now see exactly how much all of those 330 Tory MPs elected to Parliament last year declared as their election expenses. Then we can compare the declared spending to some of the actions that took place in the real world - like the activist battle buses with inducements of free food and drink - along with large amounts of personalised mailings.
Those personal letters were rather numerous in the marginal seats the Tories needed to win in order to secure their majority. Typical of these is a personal appeal from David Cameron himself, on a letterhead titled “Rt Hon David Cameron, Prime Minister”, which was sent to swing voters in Hove, and probably many other constituencies. The first page of the letter looks innocuous enough, and the only personalisation is the address.
However, and here we encounter a significantly sized however, all that changes on the second page, as the prospective voter is told “you have the power to stop Ed Miliband and the SNP. You can do it by voting Conservative in Hove … Hove is one of the handful of marginal seats that will decide who governs Britain. If the Conservatives hold places like Hove, we will only need to win 23 more seats to form a majority Government and keep Ed Miliband the the SNP out of Downing Street … So how you vote on Thursday here in Hove will determine who governs Britain for the next five years”.
“Here in Hove” is the key phrase: this should have been declared as part of the local campaign, and all the postages should be there on candidate Graham Cox’s Short Campaign return (the letter was dated May 1st). But his figure for “Unsolicited Material”, at £7,810, suggests it was not (this would also include his “election addresses”, posters, cards, and other material, including postages).
The extensively personalised letters got yet more sophisticated, as one voter in the Bury North constituency discovered: the example sent out on behalf of David Nuttall - who won - is typical of hundreds, if not thousands, sent to addresses across the area. All of these were sent by post. All of them should have been declared as part of local spending. Yet Nuttall’s spending return shows a total postage cost of just £89.20.
Who picked up the tab for posting all those “Personal messages” from David Nuttall? Whether they were posted locally, or in London, that was a local campaigning item. Just as the Hove letter identified only that constituency, the Bury North one identified only one candidate, and even the target voter. That is why these letters are so damning.
To those can be added the visits from those Team 2015 battle buses, with their up-front promises of meals and bar tabs, and even some subsidised accommodation (Graham Cox in Hove appears to have additionally had visits from a number of SpAds, which would have potentially been in breach of their code of conduct).
So that’s more breaking of the rules. And there is more to come. Stay tuned, folks.