Ever since January 20th 2016, there has been talk in the air of an election that was bought by the Conservative Party.
An election that despite the polling data and despite the predictions of the bookies and media commentators, returned a result that left everybody in shock. That day was Thursday May 7th 2015. For the first time in 23 years the British public had returned a majority Conservative Government, despite the previous 5 years of budget cuts and austerity measures that had left the country reeling.
On January 20th 2016 a Channel 4 News investigation had found evidence surrounding 3 by elections in 2014, that suggested the by elections in Newark, Rochester and Strood, and Clacton had not accurately recorded the spending returns of the Conservative Party.
As well as this there was evidence unearthed from the 2015 General Election indicating the same offences had taken place but on a much larger, dare I say grander scale. A scale which now seems to show that some very serious offences had occurred. The offences of which I refer to are that of electoral fraud.
Now it is no secret that all political parties have in the past been punished by the Electoral Commission for misdeclared spending returns. In October of 2016 The Labour Party were themselves fined £20k for spending breaches totalling £120k. The Liberal Democrats in December of 2016 were fined £20k after their spending returns failed to include receipts totalling £180k for 300 payments. In the case of The Liberal Democrats this case was also passed to the Police to see if any criminal offences had taken place.
In the case of The Labour Party and The Liberal Democrats neither parties faced criminal investigations.
January 20th 2016.
It was on this day that the detailed accounts showing all of the spending returns were released to the public. Whilst these accounts show that during the campaigning period for the General Election that the Conservative Party outspent The Labour Party by nearly £3million, buried in the accounts there seemed to be some “creative accounting” regarding the Conservative Party spending returns both nationally and locally.
On January 22nd it became evident after analysis of the spending returns of the Conservative Party there was a very large discrepancy in the local spending return for the candidate in Thanet South, Craig Mackinley. It was in this seat that the Conservatives had gone to war to stop the UKIP candidate and party leader Nigel Farage from winning a seat in the House of Commons.
The spending returns appeared to show £14k of hotel bills had been declared as part of the national spend when in actual fact it should have been attributed to the local spend. The reason for this, is that the hotel bills were specifically for campaigners from the Conservative Party, who were promoting the local candidate in a bid to defeat Nigel Farage. But had they been declared locally this would have pushed the local spend over nearly double its £15k limit.
The offences that had been committed in this decision to declare the spending as national as opposed to local are very serious indeed, as the spending limits are in place in order to ensure a level playing field between all candidates to stop the richer larger parties effectively buying an election victory.
It was on this day the Electoral Commission began their investigation into the spending returns of the Conservative Party.
Forward to February 29th 2016 The Daily Mirror, published a damning article detailing how 29 Conservative Party MPs had under declared their election spending returns during the 2015 General Election. The allegations that were now starting to mount up against the Tories were massive, across the social media networks discussions were awash with news of a stolen election, an election that been bought by the richest of all British political parties. Twitterstorms were being organised almost weekly as there seemed to be a perceived lack of news from our main broadcasters. People were talking of by elections, re runs of the General Election and the possibility of MPs being sent to prison.
If these allegations were true it would be the biggest scandal to ever hit the world of British politics.
Now it is worth remembering the Conservative majority in the House of Commons is only 12 and with 29 MPs now implicated in this scandal, the potential exists for Tory majority to be completely wiped out leaving the Conservatives with a minority Government and seeking a coalition or there would be calls for a motion of no confidence and the possibility of a General Election being called.
The Battle Bus
It was in April of 2016 that the Tories admitted that they had failed to declare the spending for the BattleBus which they had used during the campaigning period but brushed it aside claiming this was “an administrative error”.
It was again after a Channel 4 News investigation, over the course of one month a treasure trove of undeclared hotel bills, internal emails and page after page of social media transcripts and spending that was apparently kept off the books was unearthed. In total 14 seats were won in the South West by the Tories, this enabled them to paint a blue wash of conservatism across the South West of England virtually wiping out the Liberal Democrats.
The Tories maintained that the BattleBus was always a national spend however evidence shows that exact opposite, namely the fact that campaigners were briefed en route to local constituencies about the candidate of the constituency and as to what their local issues were, in fact they were all given a script from which to answer from should any questions from potential voters arise.
Now under the Representation of the People Act 1983, costs incurred promoting a local candidate in an election must be declared as such. If they are not or they are declared as a national spend. The candidate in question and their election agent have committed a criminal offence.
Criminal Investigations Begin.
It was in May of 2016 representatives from 19 Police forces met with the Electoral Commission to discuss what was known, and to see if any criminal investigations needed to be opened into the spending returns of The Conservative Party from the 2015 General Election.
It was decided that criminal investigations needed to be opened however time was already running out. Under the law, there is a statute of limitation that limits any investigations into electoral fraud to 1 year from the date of the offence being committed. The Police had to apply to the courts for an extension of 1 year in which to conduct their investigations. It was at this point the face of the allegations changed, when the Conservatives went to court to prevent Kent Police from gaining an extension, the Government lost their bid and Kent Police were awarded the extension needed. The judge said,
“If the allegations are found to be true then last year’s election result in South Thanet could be voided”
It was at this point the other investigating forces also secured extensions to carry out their own investigations into implicated MPs.
Over the course of next 10 months the news went relatively quiet as to how the investigations were progressing and the wider public especially non Tory voters were started to get worried about a white wash. However those fears were allayed when this month, March 2017 the allegations and investigations were blown wide open. With a Channel 4 News expose, with two campaigners who claimed to have been a part of the BattleBus tour.
The couple called the Kinsells, said
“ We worked for the local candidates and MPs to ensure that they won their seat and we were sent wherever they thought we would help.”
The couple said that during the tour they were given voter specific data, scrips, and that they were distributing leaflets on behalf of the local candidate. They stated that they have offered to meet the Electoral Commission to present them with their evidence, as they have the police.
It was in this same week, only a week ago that news surfaced that MPs were being interviewed.
The Electoral Commission also released its findings from their own investigation, in which they fined the Conservative government a record £70,000.
The scandal that is Tory election fraud was going into overdrive, MPs were being interviewed under caution in relation to the allegations. Craig Mackinley was held for 6 hours by Kent police and interviewed in relation to his spending returns. It is also known that Karl McCartney MP for Lincoln has been interviewed, as has William Wragg MP for Hazel Grove.
It is now understood that files from 13 police forces nationwide have been sent to The Crown Prosecution Service, for a decision to be made on whether charges should be brought against potentially two dozen MPs. As I said earlier bear in mind the majority the Conservatives hold in ten HoC is only 12. The files sent to the CPS is double that. If all 24 MPs are charged and convicted it would be unprecedented and would throw the Conservative Party into utter turmoil. The consequences would be as such, 24 Tory MPs potentially facing 1 years imprisonment, an unlimited fine and a 5 year bar on holding any public office. It would also mean that Theresa May’s government is now a minority just as she plans to take the country out of the European Union. This couldn’t have come at a worse time for her.
But a bigger question remains, if 24 MPs are convicted of Electoral Fraud, does that prove that the Government is in power fraudulently ergo all legislation and budgets passed since May 2015 are they themselves fraudulent?
What happens now?
The Crown Prosecution Service now has 10 weeks, in which to decide to allow the relevant police forces to press charges against the implicated MPs.
So by the last weeks of May we may well see prosecutions being sort.
If prosecutions are sort, will there be by-elections definitely. Will there be a General Election quite possibly.