Wednesday, 15 March 2017

We need a more extensive investigation into Parties electoral spending.

I'm sure that in many marginal Constituencies  peoples  recycle bags are overflowing with  leaflets (often unread) from at least two parties .
The same people may have received  numerous canvassers  at the door or by phone and wonder just what it is costing the parties involved
So the news that a Conservative MP has been interviewed under caution over his election expenses, comes as a surprise only in that there aren't a lot more.
Craig Mackinlay, the MP for South Thanet, is being investigated over alleged overspending in the 2015 general election campaign.
Mr Mackinlay defeated the then UKIP leader Nigel Farage in the ballot.
Karl McCartney, whose bid to retain his Lincoln seat is also being probed, says a draft report into the controversy has been withheld by Tory central office.
Seventeen police forces across the country are looking into whether some MPs' agents should have filed costs associated with battle bus visits to their constituencies in their local expenses.
The Tories said they had been campaigning "across the country for the return of a Conservative government" and, as a result, associated costs were regarded as national not local expenditure.
Mr McCartney has accused Conservative Central Office (CCHQ) of keeping back from MPs a draft report from the Electoral Commission on the investigation.
In an email leaked to Sky News, he wrote to the party chairman, Patrick McLoughlin saying MPs felt "completely cast adrift" and "left to fend for themselves".
The message continued: 
"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."
In a statement Mr McCartney said: "
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.
"This meant that they were not to be declared in our own election expenses."
The office of Craig Mackinlay, who was questioned on Saturday, said it would not be commenting.

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.?

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