Second LibDem MP Faces Election Expenses Questions

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…

Swinson in Trouble Over “Vanishing” Election Expenses

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?

Sarah Olney Reported to Police Over Election Expenses

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 just £1,030 below the limit.

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?

CPS: No Further Action Against Tory MPs

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.”

McLoughlin v McCaffrey

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…

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…

Nick Timothy Was ‘In Charge’ of Thanet Campaign

The Tories have consistently denied that Downing Street chief of staff Nick Timothy worked directly on the expenses scandal-hit South Thanet campaign. CCHQ’s line has been that Timothy only “provided assistance for the Conservative Party’s national team“. Tim Ross’ book ‘Why the Tories won‘ – the authoritative inside account of the 2015 general election – tells a very different story. By this account Timothy was drafted in by Lynton Crosby to “take charge” of the Thanet campaign:

Lynton Crosby called in Nick Timothy, Theresa May’s special adviser, who had experience of working on successful by-election campaigns before the 2010 election. He was sent to take charge of the party’s flagging campaign to stop Farage in Thanet, where Henry Macrory, the party’s former press chief, and Marion Little, from CCHQ’s campaign team, were already on the ground. The CCHQ reinforcements found a campaign in Thanet devoid of effective messages, with no strategy for turning the tide….

Ross also places Timothy at a restaurant in Thanet when one Nigel Farage walked in:

On one otherwise unexceptional evening, Farage, his election strategist, Chris Bruni-Lowe, and a number of other team members were enjoying a meal and relaxing over a few drinks – or maybe more than a few, after a long day, one of those present recalls. At a table across the room sat the rival Conservative team, including Henry Macrory and Nick Timothy. Farage spotted the table of Tories and, ever the bon viveur, picked up his glass and wandered over to engage them in conversation. ‘So this is what I’m up against, is it?’ the UKIP leader joked, in an attempt to break the ice. But there was no sign of a thaw. The table of Conservatives put down their forks and turned to Farage, fixing him with a hard stare. ‘We all just kind of looked at him and didn’t really say anything. After a while he went away,’ one of the Tories recalls. Another source says the Conservatives muttered abuse at Farage and told him he was ‘splitting the right’ and risked allowing Labour to win. Farage quickly concluded his attempt to socialise with the enemy would be fruitless and so he left. ‘Well, if they want to be rude, fuck ’em,’ he thought as he returned to his table and sat back down.

The original Tory line on this is in danger of blowing up…

Top May Aide Nick Timothy Gets Crick’d

The long legs of top Theresa May adviser Nick Timothy allow him to run away from Michael Crick’s Tory election expenses questions…

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….

LibDems Given Maximum Expenses Fine, Broke Electoral Law, Referred to Police

The Electoral Commission has given the LibDems the maximum £20,000 election fraud fine, ruled they committed multiple offences and referred them to the police. Guido had previously told how LibDem candidates had split their spending between their local and national spend – they even had a handy spreadsheet used to cook the books. Time and time again the LibDems told us they had done everything above board. The Electoral Commission’s investigation uncovered 307 payments totalling £184,676 which the candidate had split between local and national spend, but which were missing from the national return. They have ruled that the LibDems committed multiple offences under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act and issued them with the maximum fine. They also slammed the LibDems for contributing to “damage to public confidence” and “detriment to transparency in politics”. Here’s the real kicker: the Electoral Commission notes that knowingly or recklessly making a false declaration is a more serious criminal offence, of which they believe the LibDems are guilty. They have referred the matter to the Metropolitan Police…

BUS-TED: Labour Hit With Maximum Expenses Fraud Fine, McNicol Broke Law

BUSTED

Labour has been hit with the maximum £20,000 fine after the Electoral Commission found a total of 107 invoices were missing from the party’s general election expenses return. Labour general secretary Iain McNicol was found to have committed an offence under section 82(4)(b) of PPERA in respect of the missing payments and a further offence under section 82(4)(b) in respect of the missing invoices. Labour have also been slammed for failing to declare payments in relation to their Labour Express and Labour Students bus tours, which were revealed by Guido. The Commission ruled:

“a further 49 payments relating to costs associated with the Labour Express tour and Labour Students tour, which should have been included in the party spending return”

The report is damning of McNicol:

“Mr McNicol failed, without reasonable excuse, to deliver to the Commission a campaign spending return which was a statement of all payments made by the Party in respect of its campaign for the 2015 UKPGE. In total 74 payments totalling £123,748 were missing from the Party’s 2015 UKPGE campaign spending return without a reasonable excuse. 54.

Further and in respect of the same return, Mr McNicol failed to deliver to the Commission all invoices and receipts for campaign payments of more than £200. Thirty three invoices and/or receipts were missing (in addition to those associated with the missing 74 payments), with a combined value of £34,392.”

This investigation looked at Labour’s national spend, the police are still investigating individual candidates such as Cat Smith. Despite finding at least two offences committed, over a hundred invoices and over a hundred thousand pounds missing, all the toothless Electoral Commission can do is award a small fine…

Police Granted One-Year Extension to Investigate Cat Smith

Lancashire Constabulary confirm they have been granted a year-long extension to investigate Cat Smith’s election expenses. Here we go…

How Guido uncovered Cat Smith’s expenses irregularities:

Labour Spin Buses Were National Campaign, Internal Report Says “Dedicated to Marginal Seats”

Crick covered Guido’s story last night that the Tories had lawyered up in their row with the Electoral Commission. Meanwhile, the Labour press office are spinning a line responding to our revelation that 17 of their candidates failed to declare battle buses. Labour tell the Times:

“This was part of a nationally branded tour so the transport costs are rightly national spend. Labour’s spending is within the law and the rules set out by the Electoral Commission.”

Below is taken from page 25 of Harriet Harman’s official internal Labour General Election Report. In their own words, Labour admit that the four buses were “dedicated to supporting marginal seats”, not the national campaign. The report explains how campaigners worked “with nearby marginal seats and given incentives to prioritise work in those areas”.

lies

There it is in black and white: Labour’s buses worked to support marginal seats, not the national campaign. Electoral Commission rules are clear, this should have been declared as part of each local campaign. Bang to rights…

Electoral Commission Expenses Fraud Chief Ranted Against Tories

LOUISE

The Tories have sent the Electoral Commission a lawyer’s letter after it emerged the staffer who spearheaded the Thanet election expenses inquiry had made a string of anti-Tory comments. Louise Edwards is the Electoral Commission’s Head of Regulatory Compliance – it was her who provided a witness statement to the police on the Commission’s behalf in Thanet. Her Facebook page is full of anti-Tory rants, including:

“Louise Edwards cannot believe that she lives under a tory PM again! what is wrong with people?”

“just don’t understand what people were thinking – do they not remember the Tories before?”

“doesn’t want to live under a tory government”

The Tories say Edwards is guilty of making misleading statements to court. Will she survive the week?

Tories Demand Electoral Commission Investigates Labour, LibDems and SNP

Tory MP Charles Walker writes to the Electoral Commission demanding they investigate Hattie’s pink bus, the LibDem battle bus, the SNP chopper and Labour’s four undeclared battle busesCircular firing squad…

BUS-TED: Labour Didn’t Declare Expenses in 17 Key Marginals

BUSTED

Labour candidates in 17 key marginals failed to declare battle buses packed with activists in their election expenses. According to the party’s official General Election Report, Labour Students operated a fleet of four buses “dedicated to supporting marginal seats across the country”Electoral Commission rules are clear: “a portion of the cost of that bus should be allocated towards the candidate’s spending limit…”

buses

The schedule below shows the buses – known as “Brad’s Bus”, “West Mids Wheels”, “The NUS Bus” and “Woolas’ Wagon” – carried activists to 17 key seats. None of the Labour candidates declared the buses or accommodation costs of putting up activists, as required by law…

New MPs including Cat Smith, Margaret Greenwood and Chris Matheson did not declare these transport costs, despite benefiting directly from campaigners bussed into their constituencies. This is incontrovertible evidence of a widespread failure to declare election expenses across the country. It is the bombshell that explains why Labour did not go after the Tories over their own election fraud. Guido will be handing his evidence over to the police…

Clegg’s Costless Magical Mystery Tour

clegg-bus

As police confirm they are investigating Nick Clegg’s campaign expenses, Guido thought he would focus on another example of his undeclared costs. Clegg’s battle to retain Sheffield Hallam declared zero expenditure for transport costs, despite paying for loyal activists to travel to campaign for him (as well as paying for their accommodation). Clegg himself traveled around the constituency in a big yellow campaign bus five times according to Press Association reports. Yet he declared not a penny in transport costs!

It can’t be a national campaign cost if he tours his own local constituency – five times. Do they really think we wouldn’t notice a big yellow bus?

pizza party nick clegg

Elsewhere on social media – as with Cat Smith’s campaign manager Ben Singleton – evidence of undeclared campaign spending is being deleted. Too late… we took screenshots.  Also inadvisable to destroy evidence as arguably it could invite a “Conspiracy to Pervert the Course of Justice” charge…

LibDems: Deceiving Here!

CLEGG-SPEND

On Wednesday evening Nick Clegg’s lawyers sent Guido a three-page letter demanding we take down our story Nick Clegg Cooked the Books for £17,652 or else they would sue. They also threatened The Telegraph for following up our story (who complied).[…] Read the rest

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