The #ToryElectionFraud hashtag trended on Twitter for hours last night as further discrepancies between declared and actual spending by the Conservative Party at the General Election last year emerged.
Channel 4 News reported last night that another Tory agent and Member of Parliament were being dragged into the saga about how the Conservative Party won the last election, and the questions surrounding its filing of expenses. In the United Kingdom, spending at elections is strictly limited, theoretically regulated, and a breach of the rules is a criminal offence.
Michael Crick revealed last night how a Tory candidate for tomorrow’s Police and Crime Commissioner elections in Devon and Cornwall in England “seemingly failed to declare up to £2,460” in election spending concerning the Tories’ infamous “Battle Bus” which ferried activists around the country to help local campaigns.
Alison Hernandez was the election agent for the Torbay seat won by Tory Kevin Foster MP. She is now standing to be Devon and Cornwall’s police chief, and will be able to “directly appoint or dismiss” the Chief Constable.
But Devon and Cornwall police have now launched a formal investigation into the expenses discrepancies plaguing the Conservative Party. A meeting between Britain’s elections regulator, the Electoral Commission, the Crown Prosecution Service, and 14 other police forces is set to decide on how to proceed with the matter.
The current Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall told Channel 4 News last night: “If there is an allegation or a number of allegations on one or more candidates for this election, I’m hoping that issue can be cleared in time before people go to the vote.
“Because, quite apart from the confusion that would occur if someone was voted into this role and then misbehaviour is unearthed, the waste of opportunity time, the waste of money – do we re-run an election?
“I simply dread to think of the opportunity cost and the real cost of getting this wrong through some act of impropriety which is discovered after the election.”
If Ms. Hernandez failed to report accurately, the Conservative Party may well have overspent in the seat by around £1,435 – giving them an illegal edge in the election that saw the Liberal Democrat candidate booted out of the seat.
Channel 4 reports:
On the 29th of April 2015, almost 50 Conservative activists spent the day campaigning for Mr Foster in Torbay.
The activists were put up at the Travelodge in Glastonbury at a cost of over £1,300 a night. Those costs of which were never declared to the Electoral Commission or in Mr Foster’s local declaration.
On the 28th of April Hernandez tweeted: “Got 50 volunteers arriving tomorrow for @kevin_j_foster”
The following day activists posted tweets and photos confirming they had campaigned for Foster. One said: “At Preston Conservative Club after a hard day canvassing for @kevin_j_foster and Co. #VoteConservative”
Hernandez did declare the costs of printing 2,276 local “canvas cards” described as “Battle Bus Torbay”.
But the costs of actually distributing them were never declared.
A statement issued by the Conservative Party on her behalf said: “As the Election Agent, I made a return of election expenses as required by law. The Party’s national bus tour was authorised and paid for by CCHQ, was intended to promote the Party’s success in the General Election and did not form part of the local election expenses.”
The issue of election expenses was also raised by the BBC’s Andrew Neil today, after #ToryElectionFraud hashtag users accused the BBC of failing to cover the issue accurately.
He asked then-Tory Chairman Grant Shapps about the issue, leading to Mr. Shapps declaring: “I can tell you absolutely that compliance was not my area… compliance wasn’t my side of things, campaigning side was my side of things but not the money or the finance”.
Mr. Shapps and his then chief of staff Paul Abbott have also been involved in the ‘Tory Bullying Scandal’ story that saw the death of young party activist Elliott Johnson.
Mr. Shapps resigned from the British cabinet after it became apparent that Mark Clarke – who also ran the Tory Battle Buses under Mr. Shapps’s purview, via Paul Abbott – was named by Mr. Johnson and singled out for criticism for “bullying”. Mr. Clarke denies all allegations against him.