Police Investigating Shadow Minister Over Election Expenses

Detectives have launched an investigation into shadow minister Cat Smith after Guido revealed a string of anomalies in her election expenses. Last week we reported that several thousand pounds were missing from the Labour MP’s spending declarations. Smith herself refused to comment, though her election agent denied wrongdoing. In the past few days Lancashire Police have received a number of complaints from members of the public, and last night they confirmed that detectives have launched an investigation. This is the first police investigation into a Labour MP over 2015 election expenses…

Worth noting that the Cat Smith case is different from all the other election expenses stories. Smith’s spending irregularities are not about battle buses or hotels for activists. Much more worryingly, this is about how she declared her office rent and staffing costs, many thousands of which were not declared in her campaign expenditure. As an individual case, this is more serious than any of the other election fraud stories of the last few weeks. Read Guido’s original story showing how Smith’s declarations were a work of financial fiction here

Sturgeon Ducks Chopper Question

Nicola Sturgeon faced a grilling from Kay Burley this afternoon following Guido’s revelations about the SNP’s helicopter spending during the general election. Sturgeon didn’t answer the key point that the chopper was used to campaign for local candidates…

SNP MP Swerves Questions About Own Party’s Spending

Pete Wishart is the SNP MP who wrote to the Met demanding a full investigation into Tory election fraud. Yet Pete had no answer when the Daily Politics asked him about Guido’s story on the Nats’ own spending:

Jo Coburn: “It’s been alleged that Nicola Sturgeon’s helicopter tour at the last election included some local campaigning. Are you confident that the cost of that helicopter was all properly declared?”

Wishart: “Listen, we want national leaders to go to constituencies…” 

JoCo: “Yeah but that wasn’t my question. Are you confident it was properly declared?”

Wishart: “There’s always what about if-ery and all this sort of stuff…”

The Nats insist the helicopter was rightly declared as national spend, but the Electoral Commission say that if it was used for any local campaigning – as it was – the cost should be divvied up. The MP who called the cops on the Tories has no answer…

SNP Chopper Not Declared Properly

Last night the SNP wrote to the Met Police asking them to investigate the Tories for failing to properly declare their election battle buses. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone…

Back during the election campaign, the SNP used a helicopter to fly Nicola Sturgeon around Scotland. This was declared as part of the SNP’s national spend, which would be fine so long as Nicola only used it for national campaigning, limited to talking about the SNP’s policies and why voters should back her party as a whole. Yet Sturgeon used her chopper specifically to campaign for local candidates as well – for example Peter Grant in Glenrothes, Stephen Gethins in North East Fife, and Drew Hendry in Inverness. The Electoral Commission tells Guido that if a party leader travels to campaign on behalf of a local candidate, some of the travel costs should be declared as local spend:

“If the travel promotes both the local candidate and national policies, then a portion of the cost of that bus should be allocated towards the candidate’s spending limit and a portion towards the party’s national spending limit.”

Sturgeon’s helicopter visited 12 constituencies and was used for local campaigning, so according to the rules some of the cost should have been declared as local spend. It wasn’t. Drew Hendry and Callum Kerr became MPs but would have bust their limits if they’d declared the chopper. Bold of them to call the cops…

UPDATE: An SNP spokesman responds:

“Unlike the Tories the SNP did not transport and pay hotel costs for party activists in marginal seats. Transporting the party leader around the country is national campaign expenditure and the SNP correctly registered it as such with the Electoral Commission.”

But the Electoral Commission say that if a leader did any local campaigning, as Sturgeon did, the cost should be split…

Crick Crick’d

Michael Crick finally touched on the Labour expenses fraud on Wednesday, having previously devoted his coverage to the Tory version of the story. After a brief chase around Smith Square, Guido caught up with him for a chat. On the other parties, he promises “more in the next few days”…

LibDem Who Complained to Police About Tory Election Fraud Broke Spending Rules

Former LibDem MP Adrian Sanders has been at the forefront of police complaints about election spending fraud. He even wrote a template letter for concerned constituents to dob candidates in to the cops:

“The criminal offence allegations if proven are very serious indeed. They may have determined who governs our country. It strikes at the very heart of democracy. It therefore affects everyone whether or not they reside in one of the constituencies mentioned in the media. If you want to help get this matter investigated a letter along the following lines to your Chief Constable might assist…”

Oh really…

The Representation of the People’s Act 1983 states that only candidates can send Election Addresses to voters. It explicitly says that only “a candidate” can “send free of charge for postage” an election communication, and that these must be candidate-specific rather than part of the national campaign. The Royal Mail confirm “a candidate mailing that is designed to secure the election… in another electoral constituency is unacceptable“. By definition candidates’ Election Addresses are therefore local spend and must be declared as such…

Adrian Sanders has confirmed to Guido that this was his invoice for his Election Return. As you can see, the £4,900 cost was split between national and local spend, in manifest breach of the rules:

When Guido phoned up Sanders to ask for an explanation, he angrily replied:

“You’d better report me to the police then. If you think there is an error here, report me to the police.”

He then hung up. If he’d declared it correctly, he’d have been £783 over the maximum limit…

13 Labour MPs Didn’t Declare Hattie’s Pink Bus

Since Guido started looking at Labour’s battle bus spending, readers have been in touch to ask where Harriet Harman’s famous pink bus fits in. Well, it’s a very good question. Electoral Commission data shows that 13 Labour MPs who claimed they spent nothing on transport benefitted from activists transported into their constituencies in Hattie’s pink van. Among those who didn’t declare are the new London mayor Sadiq Khan, five shadow ministers  – Gloria De Piero, Judith Cummins, Jo Stevens, Clive Lewis and Mike Kane – as well as Paula Sherriff, Naz Shah, Rupa Huq, Joan Ryan, Tulip Siddiq, Margaret Greenwood, Clive Efford and Ruth Cadbury. Oooops…

Now, Labour listed the pink bus as a national expense costing £5,000. Yet if it carried anyone who did any campaigning in local seats, as Labour boasted it did at the time, Electoral Commission guidance suggests some of the cost should have been declared by individual candidates. Jo Stevens had £10 left over to spend in the short campaign before reaching the legal limit, if she’d declared the pink bus she’d have gone over…

Shadow Minister’s Missing Money Mystery

Cat Smith is a Shadow minister and leading Corbynista who worked for Jezza before he became leader. While investigating Labour’s election spending trickery, Guido came across a series of anomalies in Smith’s declarations. They raise questions about potentially thousands of pounds of missing money.

From December 2014 until the election, Labour rented a campaign office in the Fleetwood constituency Smith went on to win. The office is listed online with an annual rent price of £8,950. Yet throughout the entire long and short campaign, more than four months, Smith declared just £1544.60 in office rent for her HQ. Her election agent admits to Guido they only declared 50% of the rent because, they claim, the building was also used for council campaigning. They also say they agreed a price £1,000 below that advertised. This is the building from where Smith’s general election campaign was launched and entirely organised, yet she got round the rules by claiming it was only half used by her…

In the long campaign Smith declared £692.25 in staffing costs, in the short campaign she declared another £576.88. Yet the job advert for the Fleetwood organiser stated that the salary was £22,547 per annum. Remarkably, Smith claims her organiser Ben Singleton spent just 12.5% of his time on her general election campaign, and spent the vast majority helping the national campaign and council candidates. Believable? Well, during the election Singleton tweeted exclusively about Smith, and not about any other candidate. He was self-evidently a local rather than national campaigner. This is perhaps the most suspicious part of Smith’s declarations. She didn’t declare thousands in spending by claiming her main organiser barely did any work for her…

UNIONS

Throughout the long and short campaigns, Smith declared £8,210.49 for postage paid by trade unions and another £1,050 on letterheads. Unlike other candidates, she declared nothing for envelopes. Typically candidates declare a grand plus on envelopes for that amount of postage. Smith’s election agent says her envelopes were provided by Labour “centrally“. But they were used for her local campaign and were not declared…

Smith appears to have declared nothing for office stationery, printer costs and miscellaneous sundries. Despite this being highly irregular, Smith’s election agent claims it is a “moot point” and that they were all “one-off” items which “would not need to be declared“. Conveniently, this reduced her final spending declaration and meant she was able to spend more on other things…

Crucially Smith’s declared spending was just £2,000 under the limit. If it is found that any of the above was not declared properly, she would have exceeded her permitted spending, in breach of electoral law. Her declarations are clearly a work of financial fiction, she has made fraudulent representations – a criminal act…

Another Labour MP Failed to Declare Campaign Battle Bus

This tweet shows Tom Watson and Jon Ashworth taking the Labour Express battle bus to Paula […]

+ READ MORE +

Top LibDem Avoided Overspend By Not Declaring Battle Bus

This video shows the LibDem election battle bus rocking up in Duncan Hames’ Chippenham constituency on April 29 2015. […]

+ READ MORE +

Two More Labour Candidates Didn’t Declare Election Buses

This morning Guido revealed Labour’s election battles buses had not been declared in local spending, the exact same trickery which engulfed the Tories in an election fraud scandal. Well, it appears to be widespread…

On April 4 2015, MPs and […]

+ READ MORE +

Labour Battle Bus Not Declared in Local Spending

Labour should be shouting from the rafters about the Tory election fraud scandal, instead broadcasters report that they can’t get Labour MPs to comment on the issue. Alan Johnson, ambushed by Andrew Neil on This Week, said he knew nothing. […]

+ READ MORE +



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