"We didn't create this mess, the clever dicks at CCHQ did, and I don't see their professional reputations being trashed in the media much."
The Conservative Party advised us that the so-called campaign 'battle buses' were, as at previous general elections and in keeping with the practice of both the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats, a national campaign expense.The office of Craig Mackinlay, who was questioned on Saturday, said it would not be commenting.
"This meant that they were not to be declared in our own election expenses."
A Channel 4 News investigation obtained further undeclared receipts showing more than £38,000 was spent accommodating activists at hotels across the country, as part of the BattleBus2015 campaign. The spending was not declared to the Electoral Commission in accordance with the law.
The investigation has also obtained evidence that the BattleBus campaign was focused on local candidates, suggesting the accommodation costs incurred should have been declared on local candidate spending returns, if so this could constitute a criminal offence.
If local campaigning had taken place, 24 of the 29 constituencies visited by BattleBus would have exceeded the legal spending limits set out by law. 22 of these seats were won by the Conservative
The campaign focused on 9 key seats in the South West, a Liberal Democrat stronghold, 10 seats in the Midlands and 10 in the North, both targeted at holding or taking seats from Labour.
The BattleBus campaign was conceived by the now infamous Party operative Mark Clarke, the so-called “Tatler Tory” who is accused of bullying a young Tory activist Elliott Johnson, who committed suicide. Mr Clarke denies the allegations.
In documents obtained by Channel 4 News, Clarke conceived a plan to bus an army of activists to key marginal seats in the last 10 days of the election campaign. The plan was signed off by Conservative chiefs.
According to a document seen by Channel 4 News, the operation would be “solely persuasion-based targeted door to door campaigning” and would be “used to stimulate further local campaign support. The resource can be centrally controlled and move.. to meet local or national immediate need.”
The Conservative Party hired four coaches, which were wrapped in special BattleBus2015 livery, at a total cost of £34,937.The coaches were deployed in the key battlegrounds across the country.Activists were offered a five-day trip, including free accommodation, food and transport in return for a contribution of just £50.The volunteers were to be accommodated in hotels in three regional “hubs” – Taunton and Glastonbury in the South West, Tamworth in the Midlands and Bolton in the North.From each base, the activists were deployed to a different key marginal each day.
This however is really the tip of the iceberg and I wonder how much the returning officer or the Electoral Commision in many consituencies probes the electoral expenses that Parties claim they spent.
The Electoral Commission state that
Rules on spending and donations
There are limits on candidate spending at elections and controls on the sources of funding for that spending. After the election, candidates’ agents must account for the costs of campaigning and donations to the campaign in a spending return.
Returning Officers must receive spending returns from all candidates by a certain date, which varies depending on the election. The Returning Officer is then responsible for making the returns available for public inspection.
At major contests, such as UK Parliamentary elections, Returning Officers send copies of the spending returns to us. We can then use these returns to monitor compliance with the rules and publish headline spending and donations data from these returns on our website.
The Parties know that this a mammoth task but , there are probably times when there are glaring examples of Parties seeming to be paying for elections on the cheap.
Maybe the Returning Officer role should be strengthened where they see all electoral communications in both the run up to a election and the campaign.
I wonder how many elected candidates would survive such probing.?