Electoral Commission Grilled Over Darren Grimes Cock-Up

The Electoral Commission had to face two Parliamentary Select Committees today after their humiliating defeat in court by Darren Grimes last Friday. Craig Mackinlay – who knows Electoral Commission incompetence only too well, took Chief Executive Bob Posner to task over their decision to relentlessly pursue Grimes while failing to fully investigate Remain campaign spending irregularities. Posner mumbles something about following those “strands” and “maybe” fining a couple of groups. They did nothing of the sort

Instead Posner makes clear that the Electoral Commission are still considering appealing against the Darren Grimes judgement despite having already spent half a million of taxpayers’ cash on the case, although Posner points out that part of that was on the Vote Leave aspects of the case. The High Court having previously found that the Electoral Commission caused the problem in the first place by giving Vote Leave incorrect legal advice

It’s worth looking at the specifics of the Grimes case. Guido was in the courtroom:

  • The Commission’s case against Grimes himself was nothing to do with the spending limit issue around Vote Leave. So they went after him on a technicality instead…
  • The Commission’s first charge was that he had not filled a form in correctly to register as an ‘unincorporated association’ rather than an individual. An issue they didn’t flag at all in their first two investigations into Grimes – which found nothing.
  • They then slapped a second offence notice on him for subsequently submitting an “over-complete” spending return. Kafka-esque.
  • The judge found their form itself was highly confusing and that Grimes had filled out the majority correctly, and to the extent he hadn’t it didn’t matter. The dispute centred around a single box…
  • The judge also found that the Commission had essentially constructed their case the wrong way round. In effect they assumed Grimes’s guilt first and then challenged him to prove his innocence beyond reasonable doubt.
  • This led them to exclude a large amount of evidence in Grimes’ favour. Precisely the opposite of how the law is meant to work.
  • The judge also ruled that even if they hadn’t been wrong on the offences themselves, the maximum £20,000 fine was still disproportionate. It was vexatious.

The full judgment is yet to be published, but the outcome of the case was clear. The Electoral Commission weren’t just defeated, their whole case against Grimes was thoroughly debunked. Their QC James Eadie didn’t even bother to turn up to hear the judgment. The fact that their apparatchiks are now considering dragging it out and blowing even more taxpayers’ money just to try to save face is beyond belief…

Corbyn Accused of Misleading Parliament Over Ferries Claim

Much to everyone’s surprise, Jeremy Corbyn actually asked a vaguely coherent set of questions on a big issue of the day at PMQs today, going on the attack over Seaborne Freight. However, in his excitement it appears that Corbyn may have actually got his facts seriously wrong, with Craig Mackinlay writing to Corbyn to challenge him over whether he misled the House with his claim that the Government’s decision had increased Thanet Council’s budget deficit by “nearly two million pounds”.

Bizarrely, the Mirror decided to make an underwhelming ‘Thug Life’ meme purely on the basis of Corbyn’s facial reaction when Mackinlay challenged him at PMQs. Funnily enough they didn’t make one when Corbyn had a similar reaction to Ben Bradshaw’s second referendum suggestion yesterday. Corbyn may well be ending up with egg on his face rather than a pair of photoshopped sunglasses…

Mackinlay Slams Electoral Commission as “Unfit For Purpose”

Craig Mackinlay, who after a staggering four-year legal battle was finally cleared of any wrongdoing last week by Southwark Crown Court, has launched a seething attack on the “abstract and confused law” that has wrought so much unwarranted stress for him and his family. Writing for The House magazine he declared that his “greatest annoyance is reserved for the Electoral Commission” who have a “responsibility to interpret the law into understandable guidance for candidates and agents and have extra-statutory authority to produce guidance and rules to assist the electoral process.” Something they have clearly failed to deliver on…

Last year the High Court found that the Electoral Commission issued incorrect advice to campaigners during the EU referendum. Mackinlay has called for all political parties to come together to create coherent, understandable law and consider the status of the Electoral Commission. His whole article is worth a read

Craig Mackinlay Found Not Guilty

Thanet South’s Tory MP Craig Mackinlay, who has been facing a protracted legal battle over his 2015 election spending in South Thanet, has been found not guilty of breaking electoral law by Southwark Crown Court. He had stood accused of failing to declare up to £66,600 on staffing, accommodation, advertising, and a battle bus during the bitter campaign against Nigel Farage.

The jury deliberated the case for  53 hours and 29 minutes, and while they found Mackinlay not guilty, senior Tory staffer Marion Little was found guilty of two counts of “intentionally encouraging or assisting offence under Serious Crime Act.” She was given a suspended sentence. The judge gave CCHQ a tongue-lashing as well…

Craig Mackinlay’s Agent Cleared of Expenses Fraud

Craig Mackinlay’s election agent Nathan Gray has been found not guilty of expenses fraud at Southwark Crown Court. Gray was cleared of one charge of falsifying election expense returns over Mackinlay’s bitterly contested fight with Nigel Farage for the South Thanet seat in 2015. The jury are still deliberating on charges against Tory activist Marion Little and Mackinlay himself…

Coup d’Etat at Dexeu

Tory MP Craig Mackinlay tells Dom Raab he has been shafted by May and Robbins:

“there was a coup d’etat”

Craig Mackinlay Court Trial Delayed

Hearing that Craig Mackinlay‘s trial for election irregularities stemming from his 2015 fight against Nigel Farage  – which was due to begin today in Southwark Crown Court – has been postponed. No date has been set…

Craig Mackinlay’s Mother Dies

Guido understands Craig Mackinlay’s mother has sadly died. She was reportedly taken ill after her son appeared in court on Tuesday, was rushed to hospital and passed away this morning. A sad turn of events for the family following a distressing few months. Our condolences. 

Mackinlay in Court Today

Appearing at Westminster Magistrates Court today:

Craig Mackinlay, 50, of St George’s Square, Pimlico, central London, charged with two counts of making a false election expenses declaration.

Marion Little, 62, of New Road, Ware, Hertfordshire, and Nathan Gray, 28, of Red Oak, Hawkhurst, Kent, each face three counts and one count respectively of making a false election expenses declaration.

Stay tuned…

UPDATE: Mackinlay pleads not guilty.

UKIP’s Feisty Biker Rev Versus Momentum Fan in South Thanet

It is too late now to change any nominations in South Thanet. Craig Mackinlay’s name will be on the ballot paper, he cannot withdraw or be replaced and the Tories cannot put anyone else up. Nigel Farage said this morning that he thinks the seat is now a straight fight between UKIP and Labour – Nige must be kicking himself that he didn’t stand this time round. Instead UKIP’s hopes rest with the Reverend Stuart Piper, a Harley Davidson riding man of God and former helicopter technician. A few years ago he spent £50,000 trying to clear his name when he was sacked as a hospital chaplain for alleged gross misconduct – he won his employment tribunal case. Could UKIP’s feisty Rev make it to Westminster?

The Labour candidate Raushan Ara is a local community worker who owns the Ramsgate Tandoori. On her Facebook page she regularly shares Momentum and Corbyn videos. 

Mackinlay’s majority over UKIP was just 2,812, and Labour were 5,000 behind the Kippers in third. Game on…

UPDATE: Tories bullish about Craig Mackinlay holding Thanet South despite facing charges. Lot of postal votes cast before CPS decision.

+ Craig Mackinlay Charged +

CPS statement:

“On 18 April we received a file of evidence from Kent Police concerning allegations relating to Conservative Party expenditure during the 2015 General Election campaign. We then asked for additional enquiries to be made in advance of the 11 June statutory time limit by when any charges needed to be authorised.

“Those enquiries have now been completed and we have considered the evidence in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors.

“We have concluded there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to authorise charges against three people.

“Craig Mackinlay, 50, Nathan Gray, 28, and Marion Little, 62, have each been charged with offences under the Representation of the People Act 1983 and are due to appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 4 July 2017.

“Criminal proceedings have now commenced and it is extremely important that there should be no reporting, commentary or sharing of information online which could in any way prejudice these proceedings.”

Trial after election…

UPDATE: CCHQ statement:

“The legal authorities have previously cleared Conservative candidates who faced numerous politically motivated and unfounded complaints over the Party’s national Battlebus campaigning.

“We continue to believe that this remaining allegation is unfounded. Our candidate has made clear that there was no intention by him or his campaigners to engage in any inappropriate activity. We believe that they have done nothing wrong, and we are confident that this will be proven as the matter progresses.

“The individuals remain innocent unless otherwise proven guilty in a court of law. The press, parties and those on social media should be aware of the provisions of the Contempt of Court Act and the strict liability rules against publishing anything which would prejudice the course of justice.

“There is a broad consensus that election law is fragmented, confused and unclear, with two different sets of legislation, and poor guidance from the Electoral Commission. Conservatives are committed to strengthening electoral law to tackle the real and proven cases of corruption that were exposed in Tower Hamlets in 2015.”

UPDATE: Farage reaction:

How Mackinlay Gained Financial Advantage Over Farage

The Electoral Commission report is conservative in its conclusions on Tory overspending in South Thanet. The Commission say they “cannot determine precisely” whether Craig Mackinlay breached his spending limit because of the party’s failure to keep records. Look closely however and is clear that Mackinlay breached his limit. 

Mackinlay reported short campaign expenses of £14,837.77. His short campaign limit was £15,016.38, meaning he was £178.61 below the spending threshold. The Electoral Commission says Mackinlay did not declare expenses for his South Thanet team to stay at the Royal Harbour hotel in the short campaign between 20 April and 7 May 2015. Given Mackinlay was just £178.61 away from busting his limit, this alone puts him over. And that’s before going anywhere near the pro-rata salary costs of CCHQ officials being added to the bill.

More generally, the Electoral Commission concludes:

“the inclusion in the Party return of what in the Commission’s view should have been reported as candidate spending meant that there was a realistic prospect that this enabled its candidates to gain a financial advantage over opponents”

Apply this specifically to South Thanet, and it is clear that because Mackinlay breached his spending limit he “gained a financial advantage” over Nigel Farage. UKIP will say, with some justification, that this is grounds to re-run the Thanet election…

Tories Fined £70,000 | Treasurer Faces Charges | Thanet Could Be Re-Run

The Electoral Commission report into Tory election spending is out. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Tories fined £70,000
  • £104,765 missing from 2015 election return
  • Another £118,124 not reported or reported incorrectly
  • A further 81 payments to the value of £52,924 missing
  • Registered Tory treasurer and former Tory party CEO, now CFO, Simon Day committed three contraventions under section 41 and two offences under section 82(4)(b) of PPERA
  • Day committed an offence in relation to spending in South Thanet in 2015
  • Tories overspent in Newark, Rochester & Strood and Clacton by-elections in 2014

The Tories admit fault: “This is the first time the Conservative Party has been fined for a reporting error. We regret that and will continue to keep our internal processes under review to ensure this does not happen again”. This means that Labour, LibDems and the Tories have all had maximum fines for breaching electoral laws in 2015.

Guido’s take is that the Tories will probably get away with just fines for the by-election over-spends in Clacton, Rochester & Strood and Newark. South Thanet however looks likely to be re-run. Eighth time lucky for Nige?

Mackinlay Interviewed Under Caution

Tory MP Craig Mackinlay was interviewed by police under caution for six hours last week over his election expenses in South Thanet, the Sun and Telegraph are reporting tonight. Kent Police are meeting with the CPS on Tuesday 21 March to discuss a possible prosecution. Here we go…

Tory Aide Charged With Rape

The Met Police say they have charged Tory MP Craig Mackinlay’s researcher Sam Armstrong (above right) with rape following an alleged assault on the parliamentary estate:

“Samuel Armstrong, 23, was charged on Thursday, 2 March with two counts of rape and one count of sexual assault by penetration. He has been bailed to appear at City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Friday, 31 March.”

More trouble in Thanet…

Tories Braced for Charges Over South Thanet

With this morning’s maximum fine and referral to police of the LibDems, which follows Labour’s maximum fine for expense irregularities, attention inevitably turns to the Tories’ spending. The focus will be South Thanet where the Tories ran a highly professional “Stop Farage” effort deploying some of their top operatives. All this was helpfully documented for the police in Tim Ross’ book Why the Tories Won: The Inside Story of the 2015 Election. Guido sources say that Conservative HQ is bracing itself for the police investigation resulting in criminal charges.

South Thanet misspending a not an Electoral Commission matter. It is a police matter and potentially a criminal offence under sections 81, 82 and 84 of the Representation of the People Act 1983. Back in June Craig Mackinlay, the Tory who beat Farage, failed to block police extending the time available for their investigation of his election expenses spending. The Tories – in a very rare move – tried to block the police from further investigating the campaign. Guido believes that the South Thanet campaign will prove to be the biggest overspend by any political party in any individual seat ever. Guido understands the Tories spent over £200,000 to stop Nigel Farage winning the seat…

Could 2017 see Nigel Farage in parliament? When Guido asked him if he would stand in a re-run in Thanet he was ambiguous about it. Never say never, Nige….

Tories Fail to Block Police Investigation in Thanet South

craig-mackinlay-thanet-south

The Tory who stopped Nigel Farage winning in Thanet South has failed to block police extending the time available for their investigation of his election expenses spending. Why did the Tories try to block the police from investigating this seat – unlike in the twenty or so other seats where similar allegations have been made? Guido believes that this will prove to be the biggest overspend by any political party in any individual seat ever. Guido understands the Tories spent over £200,000 to stop Nigel Farage winning the seat…

Kay Burley Burns Tory MP

“We are a broad-church” insisted new Tory MP Craig Mackinlay to Sky News earlier.

 “You know what happened in that TV programme?” replied Kay Burley. “Lots of people die.”

Brutal…

Caption Contest (Lab-Con Thanet Edition)

thanet

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