The investigations into spending by the Tory Party at the last General Election have progressed not necessarily to their advantage: the attempt by the party to stop the Police obtaining extra time to examine goings-on in the South Thanet constituency was thrown out earlier this afternoon after Channel 4 News hired a lawyer to fight their corner. And if that was not bad enough, the party’s canvassing spend is now under scrutiny.
Paid canvassing is illegal. But the Tories’ national spending return contains several items marked “Market Research/Canvassing”, and the totals billed are in the eye-watering category. Add to this the suggestion already advanced that there may have been instances of “push-polling”, designed to lead the targeted voter to a pre-determined conclusion - which is unethical but in the UK not illegal, and eyebrows start to be raised.
How much has been spent against “Market Research/Canvassing”? And who is involved? Zelo Street has totted up the numbers, so you don’t have to.
CTF Partners Limited - £2,698,240
Messina Group Inc - £389,653
Club La Costa - £832,185
Blue Telecom - £315,205
Cheshire And Wirral Area Conservatives - £46,787
Other Organisations - £500,603
CTF Partners is the UK arm of the organisation headed up by Lynton Crosby and Mark Textor. Messina Group is US election guru Jim Messina. Blue Telecom we will learn more about later. And how Cheshire And Wirral Area Conservatives come to be paid more than £46,000 for “Market Research/Canvassing” is thus far a mystery.
Just to emphasise here - these amounts are additional to all those previously pitched on this blog as being potentially liable to be (at least partly) declared locally, items that could bust local spending limits. What we have here is a grand total of £4,782,673 over which there is a very large question mark, on at least two criteria.
One, if there has been any “push-polling” - and this was alleged against the Tories by Mark Reckless during the Rochester and Strood by-election campaign which was precipitated by his defection to UKIP - the Tories have explaining to do.
Two, if there is any local element to any of these exercises, it should be charged to the local campaign. Even if all that effort was spread over (say) 100 target seats, that’s more than £47,800 a seat. Just 10% of that apportioned locally would bust every seat’s spending limit, with many already potentially bust from having to apportion part of the direct mailing and Battle Bus costs. It’s that important.
So there’s another avenue for Channel 4 News, the Mirror, and all the others attempting to shine a little light on this murky business. And the Tories’ failure to block enquiries into the South Thanet campaign does not augur well for them in the future.