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 Sheriff MP’s Dewsbury constituency on March 7 2015. It appears up to 100 activists were transported on the bus to campaign in Sheriff’s seat during the long campaign regulated spending period. According to the Electoral Commission, this is local campaigning and should have been declared as part of the local campaign spend.

Yet Paula Sheriff’s long campaign declarations show Nil spend on transport:

The Electoral Commission say:

“If a battle bus 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.”

Paula Sheriff did not do so. This would appear to be a clear breach of the rules…

Proof LibDem Battle Bus Did Transport Activists

libs

Following this morning’s story, a LibDem HQ spin-doctor categorically denied their battle bus was ever used to transport activists across the country:

“The only bus we ever had was Nick’s tour bus, which carried journalists and his staff, which is different to offering transport to bring activists into a seat to campaign. I would’ve loved to have the extra money to spend on transporting activists, but it simply didn’t happen.”

The LibDem spokesman insisted a Guardian report claiming the bus was used to transport activists “was wrong”. 

Here is photographic evidence of the LibDem battle bus being used to transport activists:

lib dem battle bus

According to LibDemVoice, these pictures show “Chipping Barnet candidate Marisha Ray and friends about to board“. Inside was campaigner “Alex Feakes and his daughter”. The article even confirms where these activists were ferried: “The bus’s maiden voyage took it from London to Oxford West and Abingdon”. These people aren’t Clegg’s team or members of the press. The LibDem battle bus demonstrably was used to transport activists, despite the party saying “this simply didn’t happen”. You just can’t trust those lying LibDems…

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. At the time the Guardian reported the bus was used by the LibDems to ferry activists from London to constituencies around the country so they could deliver leaflets. It was used for local campaigning in individual seats, just like the buses hired by the Tories and Labour

Below is the short campaign spending return submitted by Duncan Hames. Despite the bus being used for his local campaign, Hames declared Nil transport costs:

As you can see, Hames’ spending limit for the short campaign was £15,236.61. He came very close to the limit, within just £98, spending £15,138.20. If he had declared the bus in his short campaign spend, Hames would have breached the rules. This is therefore going to be a particularly tricky one to explain. The Tories were at it, so were Labour, and so were the LibDems…

UPDATE: Despite briefing the Guardian that the bus “will take party campaigners around the country over the next six weeks running up to the general election”, the LibDems now deny that ever happened and say this bus was only ever used by Clegg, his staff and press, and no door-knockers. Worth reading the Guardian report of the bus tour however:

“Activists, the majority of whom had been bussed up from London, visited nearby residential streets to deliver leaflets and put up the 300th Lib Dem stake board in the constituency.”

The LibDems say that report was wrong and all of this didn’t happen…

CCHQ’s Battle Bus Guidance Revealed

battlebus

Where do the Tories stand on the election fraud scandal? They are bang to rights on failing to declare £38,000 of hotel bills for Tory activists, blaming an “administrative error”. The issue of transport – the fabled “battle buses” – is contested. There are three outcomes here. Are CCHQ right when they say they’ve done nothing wrong? Did they breach the rules on national and local spending? Or was there a conspiracy to hide spending from the official declarations?

Leaked emails reveal CCHQ told their local campaign teams that the cost of hotels and battle buses would be “accounted for out of central campaign spend”. It stressed transport within the seat was not included: “For legal reasons the Battlebus cannot ferry people around the seat”.

The arrangement had the “personal sponsorship” of Grant Shapps, was “signed off” by Lynton Crosby, Stephen Gilbert and Lord Feldman, and was “supported by Deborah Feldman’s Team in CCHQ“. That’s Lord Feldman’s sister.

The good news for the Tories is this shows they did see battle buses as part of the national campaign all along, and demonstrates they were taking steps to abide by spending laws. So they can argue there wasn’t a conspiracy to hide the cash. The bad news? If the cops find it should have gone down as local spend, the party chairman and his sister are implicated…

MPs Pay Family Members £21 Million

snouts

+ 139 MPs’ family members employed on the public payroll +

+ 1 in 4 MPs have employed a relative +

+ Relatives’ salaries “significantly higher” than other employees +

+ Pay rises awarded “at twice the rate” +

IPSA releases its consultation on MPs’ expenses this morning – the most eye-catching revelation is that MPs pay family members more than other staff, and are more likely to give pay rises to family members. As of March this year a total of 139 “connected parties”, which means MPs’ family members and those with a close business association, were on the payroll as secretaries and assistants. 1 in 4 MPs employed a connected party in the last parliament. £21 million of taxpayers’ money was sent by MPs into the bank accounts of relatives…

IPSA admits that “controls to prevent misuse of funding on employing connected parties were limited”, adding:

“their salaries were significantly higher than the average across all MPs’ staff. Salaries of connected parties had also risen at twice the rate of other staff”

Family members are paid on average £5,600 more than other staff.

IPSA are so concerned that they are consulting again on the issue of connected parties, but only for new staff. MPs already had a 10% pay rise and earn three times the average wage, yet a quarter of them have employed family members on up to £55,000-a-year on top. Stay tuned – Guido will name and shame the piggies shortly…

Rotten Robertson at the Races

Robertson Race Course

Last month Guido looked at the murky goings on around Tory MP Laurence Robertson, who was then referred to the Standards Commissioner over allegations of cash-for-access. Well, he’s at it again…

Robertson has received four fully-funded racecourse trips from bookmakers Gala Coral, Ladbrokes and William Hill, as well as two further trips from course owners The Jockey Club. In total, that’s £3,466 of free trips to Aintree, Cheltenham and Chepstow, with the priciest trip costing a whopping £800. Such generosity is only to be expected – in December Robertson raised a couple of helpful questions in the Commons in favour of the so-called “racing right”, a key issue for the racing industry and large bookmakers.

Last month it was cash-for-access claims, this month it’s completely coincidental freebies. Time for a stewards’ inquiry…

Osborne Exempts “Politically Exposed Persons” From Money Laundering Checks

MPs complained earlier this year that they are being hounded “like African despots” following anti-money laundering checks from banks like HSBC. These checks are designed to ensure money isn’t being funnelled into criminal gangs or other corrupt arrangements. Charles Walker was furious that MPs and their families are on the list of “Politically Exposed Persons”, the automatic anti-money laundering watch list used by banks:

“It is ridiculously heavy-handed for banks to treat British MPs and their families in this aggressive way. They should be targeting crooked despots and dictators, not MPs’ grannies.”

Because politicians’ family members would never be involved in anything dodgy…

George Osborne this afternoon accepted an amendment to the Financial Services Bill which will see some Politically Exposed Persons and their families exempted from these anti-money laundering rules. Ministers will now “exclude… specified categories of persons” from the list of so-called PEPs, as Osborne says it is “disproportionate” for banks to include MPs and relatives on the watch list. Mossack Fonseca will be able to whisk MPs and their families through the account opening process…

Feldman Gets Cricked

An out of breath Michael Crick at his best…[…]

+ READ MORE +

Standards Chairman Quits Over Conflict Allegations

Kevin Barron, chairman of the Standards committee troughers’ union, has stepped aside after being embroiled in a conflict of interest row. You almost couldn’t make it up.

Dear Kathryn,

You may be aware of an article published in the Daily Telegraph today entitled “MPs Standards Chief in breach of Rules”.

[…]

+ READ MORE +

Cash-For-Access MP Faces Standards Commissioner Probe

Laurence Robertson, the Tory MP at the centre of a cash-for-access row following Guido’s two stories yesterday, has been reported to the Standards Commissioner. Edward Buxton, who was Labour’s candidate in Robertson’s Tewkesbury seat, writes to Kathryn Hudson:

Dear Mrs Hudson,

I wish to refer you to the recent allegations that have been made regarding my local Member of Parliament Laurence Robertson and his award of a parliamentary pass to a lobbyist​. 

[…]

+ READ MORE +

Cash-For Access Tory MP Paid £30,000 By Lobbyist’s Client

This morning Guido revealed a Tory MP has given a parliamentary pass to a lobbyist who paid him thousands of pounds. Laurence Robertson was paid £10,000 by a firm run by Jennifer Bryant-Pearson, for whom he subsequently arranged a parliamentary pass.[…]

+ READ MORE +

Tory MP Cash For Access: Pass For Lobbyist Who Paid Him Thousands

A Tory MP has given a parliamentary pass to a lobbyist who paid him thousands of pounds. Laurence Robertson, the infamous cad who employed both his wife and girlfriend on the taxpayer, has authorised access to the parliamentary estate to Jennifer Bryant-Pearson.[…]

+ READ MORE +

Jim’ll Fix It Staffer Alleges Drugs, Glory-Holes and BBC Corruption

SAVILLE

A former BBC employee who worked on Jim’ll Fix It gets in touch with his experience of Television Centre in the 1970s. Here is his account of drugs, glory-holes and widespread corruption:

I worked there through part of the period.

[…]

+ READ MORE +

Electoral Commission Investigating Tory Election Spending

They say in a statement:

The Electoral Commission has today announced that it has opened an investigation into allegations regarding the Conservative Party spending return at the 2015 UK Parliamentary General Election

The investigation opened by the Commission today focuses on whether the Conservative Party met their reporting obligations under the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act (PPERA) 2000, specifically:

  • whether the spending reported by the party in its 2015 UKPGE campaign spending return, in relation to the Royal Harbour Hotel Ramsgate, was notnational campaign spending and therefore should not have been included in the party’s return;
  • whether spending on the Premier Inn Margate was national campaign spending and therefore should have been included in the party’s 2015 UKPGE campaign spending return.
[…]

+ READ MORE +

Cops Called on Tory Hotel Overspend

Labour’s defeated Newark candidate Michael Payne has called the police in to investigate the Tories’ apparent by-election overspend. Watch Michael Crick’s report and read Guido’s story from this morning to see what they will be looking at. Now to see if this actually goes anywhere…[…]

+ READ MORE +



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Quote of the Day

Heather Wheeler talks to Burton Mail about her tweet…

“It was a tongue in cheek pop after the European Parliament tweet – it was purely that. I also wanted to congratulate Team GB on a brilliant result and thirdly congratulate the Commonwealth countries who also did very well. Fourth, I am also looking forwarded to establishing new trade agreements. That was it – nothing more. Let’s just enjoy the summer!”

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