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Sunday 15 May 2016

Tory MP’s Battlebus Problem

As the story on the Tories’ General Election spending threatens to become the kind of fire that would be difficult for the party to put out, a war of words has been going on between Jon Craig of Sky News (“first for breaking wind”) and Chippenham MP Michelle Donelan over whether one of Mark Clarke’s “battle buses” visited the constituency in the run-up to polling day. And Ms Donelan still has questions to answer.
Chippenham’s MP, another of those with links to the Young Britons’ Foundation (YBF), the organisation still mired in the aftermath of the Tory Bullying scandal, is keenly aware that her election expenses are under scrutiny after press reports that she may have gone over the constituency limit by over £1,000. Craig has got hold of email correspondence which names Chippenham as one area visited by one of the controversial buses.
Specifically, the emails appear to come from none other than Emma Pidding, who was close to Clarke. As Craig told on Twitter, “Emma Pidding's Chippenham Roadtrip email says ‘free drinks - paid for by Team2015 - and dinner’ & ‘support our candidate, Michelle Donelan’”. Ms Donelan responded “check the date on the email - it was before the regulated expenses period. In fact in November!
So she is saying the bus visited in November 2014, and so before the period under scrutiny. But Craig has persisted, saying “Tory HQ disputing my report on battle bus expenses, claiming it didn't go to Chippenham. But I have email from Emma Pidding showing it did”. And there is evidence of activists promoting the Battle Buses.
Ms Donelan is adamant: they “were mostly local activists campaigning for me - 3 from London drove up & had battle bus posters with them to promote bus”. But that’s not true, is it? There are five, not three, clearly identifiable Battle Bus posters in that photo, and in any case, why just turn up to a constituency it wasn’t visiting in order to promote it?
Check the photo: from centre left to right of shot, we can see “#BATTLEBUS2015” … “BATTLEBUS2015 ON THE ROAD” … “#ONTHEBUS” … [at rear] “#BATTLEBUS2015 JOIN US” … “I’M GOING #ONTHEBUS ARE YOU?” The second of those posters was held by Alexandra Paterson, then chairman of Conservative Future, the Tories’ youth wing, who wrote about that visit for the Blue Guerilla blog.
And, although she told “On the campaign trail, I was out canvassing for Michelle Donelan in Chippenham on Saturday with the Conservative Women’s Organisation, #LadiesThatLeaflet. Michelle is wonderful candidate and it is crucial this seat is a Con Gain on May 7th. I would encourage anyone that can go out and help Michelle to get on the train to Chippenham, this is a seat where you can make a real difference”, most of those in that photo are men. The event took place less than a month before polling.

Why were there all those Battle Bus placards? By that stage in the campaign, there should have been no need for drumming up more recruits. And why make it look as though there was a Battle Bus event when Ms Donelan so emphatically claims there was not? Jon Craig may not be giving up on this like of questioning just yet. And if Michelle Donelan is really lucky, Michael Crick of Channel 4 News might get a sniff. More to come on this one.


Nich Starling said...

I'd suggest you take screen shots before the Tories take those blog posts down.

Unknown said...

Tim the photo cannot possibly have been taken in November. The (cherry?) tree in the background is in flower - it must have been taken spring.

GCU Grey Area said...

I suggest someone in Chippenham goes and takes a photo pdq to confirm the location, and type of tree.

Oh, and just in case the tree has an 'accident', like the one in the modified CP logo at the start of the original post.

Unknown said...

GCU Grey Area (great name btw) - I (re)posted the same photo on twitter yesterday, showing who had posted it and with the date.


GCU Grey Area said...

Can anyone confirm whether that photo was actually taken in Chippenham? The constituency offices are a long way out of the centre of Chippenham, off London Road. The surroundings don't match.

I can't get any location data off any of the versions of that photo online.