CHANNEL 4 NEWS INVESTIGATION
UNCOVERS EVIDENCE OF FRAUD ON
A HUGE SCALE BY CONSERVATIVE PARTY
A CORRUPT ‘DEMOCRACY’?
For well over a year now, Channel 4 News and Michael Crick have been investigating whether the Conservatives overspent on their election expenses during the 2015 general election and three by-elections in 2014, and then failed to declare this spending thus breaking the rule of electoral law and cheating their way to power. The overwhelming evidence uncovered by Channel 4 News seems to indicate this is indeed the case. I know there will be many people out there who don’t know much about the story and only heard of it yesterday when the BBC, Sky News and press decided they couldn’t suppress the story any longer, so this is a basic guide to what has been discovered without any spin.
Despite the glossing over of the issue at the BBC, it’s important to stress that although the Party has been fined, this is NOT the important part or, indeed, the end. It’s the fact that dozens of criminal investigations are still taking/have already taken place and that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is now involved so this story is far from over and could have huge ramifications for the country and democracy as a whole. Despite the Conservatives attempts to play this down, this type of corruption is looked upon by the judiciary as an extremely serious breach of democracy and YOUR DEMOCRATIC RIGHTS.
When it comes to political campaigning in the run up to elections, there is always a limit to what each party and each candidate can spend which ensures there is a level playing field across the board. It’s part of the democratic rules – simple fairness.
- There is a national expense (for campaigning across the country); and
- a local expense (for campaigning in each constituency by prospective parliamentary candidates). Both have limits.
WHAT HAVE THE TORIES DONE?
The Conservative Party is backed by extremely wealthy people, but although it has a good financial backing, it lacks activists on the front line – the people who walk the streets drumming up business, delivering leaflets and spreading the message. It therefore relies on the wealthy and the press. (Remember THAT text message from David Cameron to Rebekah Brooks? ‘LOL’). In short, it is alleged that the Tories broke the spending limits by huge amounts by using buses to shift activists around the country and staying in hotels, in order to campaign for local candidates.
Cast your mind back to the big blue Tory ‘Battle Bus’ that travelled around the country in the run up to the general election. This was used to shuttle Tory activists to different constituencies around the country (because there are so few in number) so that they could help drum up support for local candidates. The campaigners would stay in local hotels and help deliver leaflets, knock on doors and wear rosettes ‘advertising’ a local candidate. The Tories mainly targeted areas of marginal seats. The buses were also used to send senior Tories to different areas to assist with focusing attention on local candidates.
Because these activists were campaigning on behalf of local candidates, the expenses incurred (including travel, accommodation etc) should have been declared in the local expense return sheet. They weren’t. Instead the Tories claimed that it was a national expense and consistently denied that activists were campaigning on behalf of local candidates.
WHEN WERE SUSPICIONS AROUSED?
Back in 2014 there were three big by-elections in which UKIP had very popular support. These were Clacton, Rochester and Newark. The Tories spent over £80,000 on accommodation costs for activists to visit and stay in these areas and therefore these costs should have been included on the local expenses return sheet. They weren’t. If they had have done, it would have taken them well over the legal spending limit.
Twitter was littered with mobile phone photographs taken by activists themselves showing the work they were doing. They were photographed carrying and delivering leaflets, wearing rosettes, knocking on doors and leaving hotels. When Channel 4 News began to broadcast their investigation, pictures quickly began disappearing from social media.
Then there is the matter of hotel expense invoices being sent to a Tory campaigner at her home address to keep it ‘off the record’, so to speak…
as well as two activists-turned-whistleblowers who came forward and admitted what had happened and news footage of people from the central Conservative office also helping out local candidates.
Channel 4 News scoured many electoral expense return sheets (even making a plea to the public to help out) and discovered that this deception had occurred nation-wide and that where the Battle Buses had targeted, the majority of Tory candidates had been successfully elected.
On 13th March 2017, it was announced that Craig Mackinlay, the MP for South Thanet, had been interviewed under caution over his expenses during the 2015 General Election. South Thanet was a very important target for the Tories as not only did it have a large UKIP following in the area but the UKIP candidate was the-then leader, Nigel Farage. It seems that a lot of money was thrown in that direction to target electors and increase their profile.
At the centre of the South Thanet Conservative campaign was a woman named Marion Little, a Senior Campaign Organiser based at Conservative central office (CCHQ) but who was sent to South Thanet where she spent some considerable time in a hotel running a team and coordinating the campaign for the Conservative candidate – Craig Mackinlay. Channel 4 News also obtained copies of some of Ms Little’s correspondence in which one clearly states:
We are running Craig’s campaign.
As well as photographs taken by Buzzfeed that shows how the campaign was being orchestrated by CCHQ and Marion Little in Thanet.
Channel 4 News also discovered that not only had Ms Little booked £14,000 worth of accommodation for bigwigs from CCHQ at The Royal Harbour Hotel in Ramsgate, but the invoices were sent to her home address, rather than being added to the local spending return sheet.
Three main Conservative bigwigs staying at the hotel were Henry Macrory, Nick Timothy (who is now Theresa May’s Joint-Chief of Staff), and Stephen Parkinson (another of Theresa May’s advisers at 10 Downing Street). The latter two claimed that they just happened to be staying at the hotel working on the national campaign. The Commission disagreed, concluding:
Two Political Advisers based in the Royal Harbour Hotel, in fact played key roles in determining Mr MacKinlay’s campaign messages and in drafting campaign material promoting Mr Mackinlay’s electoral success.
Some of those shuttle-bussed in to help Mackinlay were Co-Chairman Grant Shapps and Boris Johnson. On polling day, none other than both Co-Chairmen – Grant Shapps and Lord Feldman – were bussed in to South Thanet for one final push.
REPORTING THE MATTER
After Channel 4 News began reporting on discrepencies, UKIP submitted a complaint to the Electoral Commission in regards to South Thanet, and the whole thing snowballed. Police forces began to get involved and eventually asked for an extension of time to continue to investigate.
THE CONSERVATIVES TRIED TO HALT THE POLICE INVESTIGATION
Amazingly, in June 2016, the Conservatives sent a top lawyer, James Laddie QC, to Folkestone Court in an attempt to stop the investigation and halt the extension. They lost, with the judge concluding that the matter was so serious that it required investigating.
ELECTORAL COMMISSION INVESTIGATION
The Electoral Commission – the regulator specifically set up to ensure that there is no corruption involved during election campaigns – undertook the biggest investigation they have ever mounted lasting over a year, and this week they released their findings. Overall it gave a damning verdict. It states:
The Conservative Party repeatedly broke the law by failing to properly declare its election expenses during the last general election.
They also stated that:
The Conservative Party’s 2015 UK Parliamentary general election spending return was missing payments worth at least £104,765.
Separately, payments worth up to £118,124 were either not reported to the Commission or were incorrectly reported by the party. A portion of this amount should have been included in the Party’s return but wasn’t.
In addition, the Party did not include the required invoices or receipts for 81 payments to the value of £52,924.
Finally, the Party failed to maintain records explaining the amounts it invoiced to candidates in three 2014 by-elections, for work on their campaigns. Therefore the accuracy of the amounts could not be verified.
THE CONSERVATIVES HINDERED THE INVESTIGATION
Not only did they also find that the Tories had mis-reported their election expenses, the Commission was forced to apply for a High Court order to force the Tories to produce requested evidence and the cost of this unnecessary court action had to be taken from the public purse. The Conservatives have been fined a massive £70,000 for the national spending returns – a record amount in the Commission’s history but a drop in the ocean for a party funded by the most wealthy in society. When the Chief Executive of the Electoral Commission, Claire Bassett, was interviewed she admitted that their limited fine levels was something they were very concerned about and had called for greater powers as some of the larger parties will just see it as ‘a cost of just doing business’.
Police forces from the following areas have already sent 12 files to the CPS regarding candidates expenses (some files contain cases for more than one MP):
- Avon & Somerset
- Devon & Cornwall
- Greater Manchester
- Metropolitan Police
- West Yorkshire
- those who are still investigating and are yet to submit files to the CPS;
- those under investigation based at Conservative HQ;
- Due to a time limit on referrals to the Electoral Commission, the police have until 9th May 2017 to submit any further files over to the CPS.
In total there are 20 Conservative MPs under investigation and three who have been questioned by police:
- Will Quince, MP – Colchester – Cleared of wrong-doing.
- David Morris, MP – Morecombe & Lunesdale – Cleared of wrong-doing.
- Craig Mackinlay, MP – South Thanet – See above
On top of that, the Electoral Commission has referred the former Tory treasurer and chief executive, Simon Day, to the Metropolitan Police over allegations of breaking the law, concluding:
… Mr Simon Day, the registered treasurer of the party until April 2016, committed three contraventions under section 41 and two offences under section 82(4)(b) of PPERA.
WHAT HAS THE PRIME MINISTER SAID?
Yesterday, Theresa May gave a short interview in which she claimed that the Tories fully complied with the Electoral Commission’s inquiries throughout their investigation and that they would be paying the fine. This is in stark contrast to what the Electoral Commission claimed, as on page 10 of their report it states:
The Party did not cooperate fully .
The report also accuses the Tories of
…unreasonable, uncooperative conduct.
which is reinforced by the fact it was forced to apply to the High Court in order to gather requested evidence that the Conservatives weren’t handing over.
It is, however, important to remember that Theresa May was not leader of the party at the time – it was David Cameron and his advisers, including Lord Feldman, who doesn’t come out of the Electoral Commission’s report very well. There are scathing criticisms aimed at Lord Feldman who was then Co-Chairman, not just by the Commission but by some of the MPs involved.
The Conservatives still maintain that local candidates properly declared their spending amounts.
WHAT’S GOING ON?
- Interestingly, now we have a lot of infighting and MPs claiming the bigwigs from the Conservative central office took over their campaigns and so the finger of blame should be aimed at the Tory bigwigs, not the candidates. (This also corroborates the allegations against Marion Little).
- Grant Shapps (AKA Michael Green) also alleges that Nick Timothy orchestrated a ‘Stop Farage’ campaign at South Thanet.
- And CCHQ are spinning the matter stating that any omissions on local spending returns were simply due to “oversight” and are trying to play down the matter by stating that “other parties have done the same thing”.
- UKIP are so adamant that they feel there will be a conviction in South Thanet, that they are preparing to choose a new candidate for any up and coming by-election.
HOW THE PRESS REPORT IT
As I explained earlier, the Tories heavily rely on the press to spread their message and propaganda and following the Commission’s announcement it needed to attempt damage limitation. Their links to the press was perfectly illustrated by the BBC’s Tory-loving political presenter, Laura Kuenssberg (who has many ‘insiders’ in the Party) and who not only couldn’t quite bring herself to Tweet that it was Conservatives being investigated, but also tweeted this:
There was no ‘mistake’ and her overt Tory bias should not be funded by the licence fee payers. She should report FACTS not propaganda.
In contrast, Channel 4 News spent most of their entire programme with their chests puffed out and wearing the results of the Commission like a badge of honour. (And rightly so – it’s proper old-fashioned investigative journalism that the mainstream media fails to deliver nowadays).
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
In the long run, if the CPS finds there are cases to answer and decide to send the matter to trial, it could result in those MPs being disqualified and by-elections being held in those areas where deception took place. If the Tories lose their seats, it means the Conservatives will lose their majority in government (they have a small majority of just 12 at the moment) and they could either decide to risk governing the country with a minority OR recall another general election (which would be the democratic thing to do – especially in view of the fact the country is governed by an unelected leader too)!
OTHER SEEDY GOING-ONS
- Last year allegations of bullying and sexual harassment among young activists emerged, following an investigation in to the suicide of one young activist, Elliot Johnson, who was just 21. Grant Shapps (then Tory Chairman), appointed Mark Clarke as a director of the RoadTrip2014 (which was the battle buses). Clarke becomes embroiled in Elliot’s death when a recording is released of him interrogating Elliot.
- Deputy Chairman, Robert Halfon, then claims Clarke had attempted to blackmail him over his affair.
- Clarke is banned from the Conservative Party for life. However, it then emerges that senior Tories were aware of complaints by young activists despite previously denying it and David Cameron even invited him to Chequers to celebrate the election success.
- After increasing pressure over his role in the matter, Grant Shapps resigns.
- Whilst the Devon and Cornwall police investigate electoral expenses, the Conservative candidate running for the role of Police & Crime Commissioner, Alison Hernandez, secures the position and oversees all the work that local force undertakes.
- Whilst the police investigations proceeded in to South Thanet and the by-elections, Marion Little collected her OBE awarded for ‘services to politics’.
- Whilst the police investigations proceeded, and despite being named in conjunction with discrepancies at a by-election, Andrew Feldman – close friend of David Cameron – was awarded a peerage.
I do congratulate Channel 4 News for their ongoing investigation and their refusal to let the matter drop. Whether you love or loathe the Tories, the fact is that they have completely ignored our democratic rights in order to purchase the top spot in Westminster, and to add insult to injury, Cameron instigated the Brexit referendum then did a runner when the result backfired and we are now governed by an unelected Prime Minister.