The Conservative Party has been fined £70,000 following an investigation into election campaign expenses, the Electoral Commission has announced.
The commission’s report highlights “numerous failures” in the reporting of spending in three by-elections in 2014 and the 2015 General Election while using their 2015 battle bus campaign in crucial marginal seats.
These included missing payments of £104,765 while £118,124 made in separate payments were not reported at all.
In addition, the Tories did not include invoices or receipts for 81 payments worth £52,924 and failed to maintain records explaining the amounts it invoiced to candidates in three 2014 by-elections for work on their campaigns, meaning the accuracy of the sums could not be verified.
For Sir John Holmes, chair of the Electoral Commission, these constitute serious breach in a way a political party must report the monies spend during electoral campaign. He said:
Our investigation uncovered numerous failures by a large, well-resourced and experienced party to ensure that accurate records of spending were maintained and that all of the party’s spending was reported correctly.
The rules established by parliament for political parties and their finances are there to ensure transparency and accountability.
Where the rules are not followed, it undermines voters’ confidence in our democratic processes, which is why political parties need to take their responsibilities under the legislation seriously.
The party faces claims that accommodation costs of activists bused into key marginal seats around the country should have been recorded under individual candidates’ limits, rather than as part of the national campaign.
But claims about the Conservatives’ general election spending – as well as that at three parliamentary by-elections – have been raised by Channel 4 News since 2016. So far the Tories blame an “administrative error” for failing to register some accommodation costs. But even this “administrative error” constitutes fraud if there were planned by Tory HQ, and should at least trigger new by-elections in marginal seats.
What do we know so far?
The Conservative Party’s 2015 UK Parliamentary general election spending return was missing payments worth at least £104,765. But separately, payments worth up to £118,124 were also not reported to the commission by the Tory Party.
The Tories also didn’t include the required invoices or receipts for 81 payments to the total value of £52,924.
In total, a staggering £275,813 were not reporting by the Tories.
And then they failed to maintain records explaining the amounts it invoiced to candidates in three 2014 by-election which also constitutes a serious breach.
Even if it was due to sheer incompetence on their side, the Conservative Party still needs to explain how they can manage the country when they aren’t even able to manage their own accounts.
The political cost for Theresa May and her government is huge and risks engulfing the Prime Minister, after it was revealed that her top aides helped in the now controversial 2015 battle bus campaign.
May’s Chief of Staff Nick Timothy was named as being involved in the same campaign at South Thanet.
The news came as it was revealed that at least a dozen Tory MPs could face possible criminal charges.
A decision on whether they could be prosecuted is expected in the coming weeks.
If they are charged, this will lead to by-elections and will seriously damage the government’s reputation.
According to Channel 4 News the MPs involved include John Stevenson, Nigel Mills, Maggie Throup, David Nuttall, Karl McCartney, Michael Ellis and Stuart Andrew.
Even if the Tories are still denying any wrong doing, this political scandal could soon become the biggest British one in modern history, and will tarnish what is left of May’s credibility right before triggering Article 50.
Will May’s government survive 2017? Only time will tell.