The Scottish papers think they are onto something with LibDem expenses at this year’s election. Yesterday the Herald accused Jo Swinson of omitting thousands of pounds worth of claims from her expenses return, which if declared would have put her over the limit. Today they are going after new LibDem MP Christine Jardine, claiming voters were sent personalised mail which was not accounted for in her spending return, and that if she had declared this £3,000 of expenditure in her local spend she would have bust her limit by £1,350. The LibDems are protesting their innocence, as they did before they were given the maximum fine by the Electoral Commission after the 2015 election. Expect more LibDem names to come out in the next few days…
Here we go again… LibDem Jo Swinson is feeling the heat north of the border after thousands of pounds were apparently left off her election expenses declaration. The Herald reports Swinson claimed her spending had come in £210 below the limit, but only after £7,000 worth of claims were left undeclared. Swinson says money was spent on items that were never used so she didn’t declare it – other claims were declared as national spend in a move reminiscent of Nick Clegg’s controversial election expenses last time round. One to watch, who’s up for another summer of election fraud stories?
Richmond LibDem Sarah Olney has been reported to the police over her election expenses. Stuart Coster, a local independent researcher who is not affiliated to any party, has sent a dossier to the Met detailing what he claims is evidence that Olney failed to declare between £5,157 and £15,414 of expenses during last year’s by-election. Olney’s spending return for the Richmond by-election was
Coster claims to have found undeclared leaflets, missing freepost address costs, telephone canvassing costs and undervalued services. The LibDems obviously deny any wrongdoing and note the timing is suspicious, but the police have confirmed they are looking into it. In the event this went really badly for Olney there could be another by-election after the election on Thursday. Haven’t the people of Richmond suffered enough?
Statement from the Crown Prosecution Service:
“We have considered files of evidence from 14 police forces in respect of allegations relating to Conservative Party candidates’ expenditure during the 2015 General Election campaign.
“We considered whether candidates and election agents working in constituencies that were visited by the Party’s ‘Battle Bus’ may have committed a criminal offence by not declaring related expenditure on their local returns. Instead, as the Electoral Commission found in its report, these costs were recorded as national expenditure by the Party.
“We reviewed the files in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors and have concluded the tests in the Code are not met and no criminal charges have been authorised.
“Under the Representation of the People Act, every candidate and agent must sign a declaration on the expenses return that to the best of their knowledge and belief it is a complete and correct return as required by law. It is an offence to knowingly make a false declaration. In order to bring a charge, it must be proved that a suspect knew the return was inaccurate and acted dishonestly in signing the declaration. Although there is evidence to suggest the returns may have been inaccurate, there is insufficient evidence to prove to the criminal standard that any candidate or agent was dishonest.
“The Act also makes it a technical offence for an election agent to fail to deliver a true return. By omitting any ‘Battle Bus’ costs, the returns may have been inaccurate. However, it is clear agents were told by Conservative Party headquarters that the costs were part of the national campaign and it would not be possible to prove any agent acted knowingly or dishonestly. Therefore we have concluded it is not in the public interest to charge anyone referred to us with this offence.
“Our evaluation of the evidence is consistent with that of the Electoral Commission. While the role of the Commission is to regulate political finances and campaign spending, the role of the CPS is to consider whether any individual should face criminal charges, which is a different matter with different consideration and tests.
“One file, from Kent Police, was only recently received by the CPS, and remains under consideration. No inference as to whether any criminal charge may or may not be authorised in relation to this file should be drawn from this fact and we will announce our decision as soon as possible once we have considered the evidence in this matter.”
Craig Mackinlay case still open…
UPDATE: Cleared Tory MP Karl McCartney calls for heads to roll at Electoral Commission:
“It is clear that those who lead the Electoral Commission who followed and allowed this action to take place are politically-motivated and biased – actions that have rendered this organisation wholly unfit-for-purpose. In these circumstances, the positions of the Executive Team and Senior Management Group – from the Chief Executive down to her side-kick, Louise Edwards, who has spearheaded many, if not all, of these one-sided enquiries – are now untenable and I believe that they should resign forthwith.”
— Sky News (@SkyNews) March 16, 2017
Tory chairman Patrick McLoughlin not happy with Sky’s Darren McCaffrey asking questions about the Tory election fraud, grabbing his phone in a vain attempt to prevent him filming. McLoughlin is usually pretty amiable, tensions must be high in CCHQ…
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…