While investigations into the potential breach of constituency spending limits by several Tory candidates continue, those defending the party are now facing a more intractable problem: what CCHQ got up to in the weeks leading up to last year’s General Election has not only been the subject of a variety of online analysis and comment, but has also been the subject of a number of books, thus causing a potentially serious problem.
Blog posts can be amended and, in exceptional cases, removed. Printed material, by definition, cannot. It’s out there. And one book that is not only out there, but has also been pored over at length in the last few days, is “Why the Tories Won: The Inside Story of the 2015 Election” by one Tim Ross, whose day job is as “Senior Political Correspondent” at the Telegraph. The book is there in his Twitter background.
Ross confirms the number of battle buses used in the campaign to be exactly that claimed by Mark Wallace in his Conservative Home post: after confirming that these buses were sent out on both Saturdays and Sundays, he tells “The buses were critical to moving party troops from where they lived to where the swing voters could be found. The central party paid for all the buses and trains, as well as hotels and hostels”.
There was more: “During the short campaign, the Tories deployed one train of fifty people and five buses - two in the North-West, one in the Midlands, another in the South-West, and a Special Advisor’s bus leaving CCHQ - every day”. So there were weekend buses up to those last few weeks, when they went out every day. Including a bus full of SpAds.
That last one has caused more than a few raised eyebrows - because the rules for SpAd participation in General Elections are specified very tightly. The Code Of Conduct for special advisors states “if a special adviser wishes to take part in an election or by-election campaign, he/she is able to do so in their own time and out of office hours. They may not use annual or unpaid leave for this purpose”. And there is more.
“With the agreement of the Prime Minister, special advisers can remain in post during the General Election campaign period. Those who remain in post to work on government business must ensure that they do not use official resources for party political purposes and that any participation in the campaign is in a special adviser’s own time and outside office hours”. So how did that bus get filled every day?
Other than at weekends, how is a SpAd going to do anything “in their own time and out of office hours”? They cannot use annual or unpaid leave. Unless the Tories have managed to figure out a way round the Code of Conduct - and there does not appear to be one - then every time that “SpAd Bus” went out on a weekday during the immediate pre-election period, the rules were broken and action should follow.
Perhaps the Tories will now take action against themselves. More likely they won’t, their media pals will continue with “the other lot did it too” and they’ll get away with it.