Thursday, 2 June 2016

Alleged Tory Election Expenses Fraud Should Lead to 33 By-Elections

The Independent reports that the judge who has granted Kent police more time to fully investigate the allegations of fraud in the Parliamentary seat of South Thanet, at last year’s general election, said that if it is proven, a by-election would need to held in the constituency. Normally there is a 12 month limit on investigations under the Representation of the People Act.

Judge Justin Barron said "The consequences of a conviction would be of a local and national significance with the potential for election results being declared void."   

The Independent piece is in the context of this giving Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader, a second shot at winning the seat, where he lost in last year’s general election by around 3,000 votes. It seems it takes a UKIP angle to get this story some coverage in the mainstream media. There has been one previous story in the Independent about this scandal and one in The Guardian, the Whig press as I like to call it, but little elsewhere.

The original story was broken by Channel 4 News where they say that over the country 33 constituencies are involved with 29 winning Tory MPs involved, and up to ten police forces involved. All of these constituencies were marginals at the election, which is why they were targeted. 

The main allegation in all these cases is that spending on a campaign battle bus, as well as election material handed out, naming the local Tory candidate, was only declared as national spending, and within those limits.

Accommodation for staff who worked on some local campaigns, including in South Thanet, weren't declared at all. If the staff were helping with the local campaign then it should have been declared as a local expense.

These alleged false declarations of these constituencies has taken spending above the limit allowed, which is against the law. The Electoral Commission is also conducting an investigation.

I know, as a former election agent for eight years in my local Green Party, how careful you have to be with spending returns, as agent I could have finished up in jail, if I made a false declaration. But it is not just the election agents who gets in trouble if spending limits are breached; the candidates also sign the declarations. We have never come near the general election spending limits, but in local elections we did run it close in our target wards. 

If the allegations are true, and the police at least think they are worthy of further investigation, some sitting MPs could be sent to jail. At the very least these MPs (and other losing candidates) are likely to be barred from holding public office, which will entail the elections being re-run.

With the Tory government only holding a 12 seat overall majority, if they lose some of these by-elections, they could become a minority administration, with all of the problems that brings, in trying to get legislation through the House of Commons. 

Basically, it would be a lame duck government, and a fresh general election would surely follow within months. And without the gerrymandering of constituency boundaries in the Tories favour, which has long been the plan.

It never rains, but it pours for the Tories at the moment, what with a rebellion breaking out amongst Tory MPs over the government’s handling of the EU referendum campaign, and a certain Boris Johnson MP staking out his claim to the party’s leadership, post referendum.

We live in very volatile political times, all kinds of things could happen in the next six months or so.    

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