The scandal in South Thanet is deepening, with police investigating claims the Conservative Party recruited unemployed people to pose as local activists during the 2015 General Election.
it is now reported that an unnamed woman, asked if she was a Tory activist after leafleting for the party in Sandwich, Kent, replied, “I’m not. I was at the job centre and saw this advert for a job with an unknown employer”.
The source of the story has been interviewed by police at least twice, most recently by the Kent and Essex Serious Economic Crime Unit.
The South Thanet constituency was fiercely contested by former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, and the Tories are accused of hanging on to the seat by breaking election spending rules and illicitly deploying key party personnel including Nick Timothy, who now serves as the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, to the local campaign.
According to the Mirror, claims the Tories employed faux activists were first made public by Peter Wallace, a Labour Party representative on Dover District Council.
“On April 10th the Conservative Party’s Battle Bus visited Sandwich, in South Thanet, with a number of activists on board,” Wallace recalled last year.
“During the day they distributed leaflets, campaigned in the town centre and held a meeting at the Phoenix Centre youth club.
“After the meeting a member of staff at the Phoenix Centre spoke to one of the activists and asked her why she had travelled from London to campaign in Sandwich for the Conservative Party.
“The activist replied that she wasn’t a supporter of the Conservative Party but was actually unemployed and was recruited in her local job centre in London to campaign for the party.
“She was paid to travel on the bus, hand out leaflets and take part in the campaign while wearing a blue rosette.
“I believe this is a serious matter that needs investigating.”
The Electoral Commission has already fined the Conservative Party a record £70,000 for irregularities in its campaign spending declarations.
— Job Rabkin (@jobrabkin) March 15, 2017
Police have not ruled out charging Craig Mackinlay, the current South Thanet MP, and UKIP believes a by-election could well be on the cards.