New legal opinions issued by advisors to Britain’s elections regulator, the Electoral Commission, have revealed that the Conservative Party may run into huge problems with the upcoming by-election in Rochester and Strood, having already blown over £40,000 on their “open postal primary” selection process.
The Conservative Party had originally thought it had found a loophole in Electoral Commission rules which would allow it to promote two potential candidates to the households of Rochester and Strood, in the knowledge that one of them would be selected to be the candidate in the by-election on November 20th. The winner of the Tories’ primary process will go head to head with UKIP defector Mark Reckless.
Rochester residents have already received up to two electoral addresses, referring to the candidates Anna Firth and Kelly Tolhurst by name, or by reference to a previous communication. This means, given the size of the constituency, that the Tories will have to declare over £40,000 of expenditure in printing and postage costs.
The advice, seen by Breitbart London, dictates that a candidate “is someone to who, before the date of the vacancy, was declared… to be a candidate, or who (after that date) was declared by [themselves] or others to be a candidate, or who comes to be nominated”.
Arguably, the two Conservative primary candidates have already been called “candidates” and been referred to as such by others. While the advice acknowledges that due to there having not been a candidate up until today, “This means that expenses… are not… being incurred by the open primary,” it also states the following:
“However, the open primary is, at least potentially, beneficial to the one who is selected as Conservative candidate for he [sic] will already have had the attention of the electorate drawn to [her]”.
“In this regard section 90ZA (5),” relating to election expenditure, “must be noted. In relation to election expenses a reference in part II of the 1983 [Representation of the People] Act to a candidate at an election includes (where the context allows) a reference to a person who becomes a candidate at the election after the expenses are incurred.”
This means that the new Tory choice is liable for expenses incurred before being selected in the primary. The advice gets even more specific and technical about the expenses being incurred.
Discussing the context of the primary, the advice states that the material would evidently not have been delivered to Rochester homes if there was no election period about to take place. For this reason, it says, “Further, attention, in context of the election, is drawn to the candidate”.
“The whole exercise is done for the purpose of the election and done to enable the selected candidate to be able to say he has been chosen by the electors as the candidate”.
In conclusion, the advice notes that “the expense incurred in respect of sending unsolicited material to electors for the purpose of an open primary is an election expense within section 90ZA.”
So far from the Tories being able to outspend UKIP by £2 to £1 in this election, as was originally the plan, it now transpires that the Conservative Party may only have between £50,000 and £60,000 left in the kitty. If they were to breach these spending limits, they would not only be subject to potential fines, but the entire result of the by-election would be called into question, and their candidate may even be disqualified.
The Conservative Party did not respond to questions on the matter.