Op-ed: The long running but underreported saga of allegations that the Conservative Party broke election spending rules rolls on but there is some news.
Thursday there are reports that the Tory Party has been fined a record £70,000 by the Electoral Commission. That is a five figure sum fine for a six figure sum accounting error.
The electoral commission wants to be able to issue fines in the hundreds of thousands of pounds rather than tens but is not allowed to. That may now change.
Currently the maximum fine in each case is £20,000. An electoral commission spokesperson said at least one of the incidents the Tory party have been fined for warranted a much higher fine.
The Tory party has until April 13 to pay the fines and has said it will comply.
It will now be down to police investigating the allegations to determine if auditing errors were accidental or deliberate.
Last week unelected PM Theresa May and her government were allegedly worried about the investigation.
Will the fines have alleviated Tory worries?
Breaking electoral commission spending rules can result in jail time!
It can also in effect steal elections.
It's difficult to believe that the supposedly fiscally competent Tory Party could accidentally make such errors. They are hardly a new political party getting to grips with electoral rules and regulations.
Inaccurate expense recording by the Tory party was found in three 2014 by-elections and during the 2015 general election campaign; a general election that they won against the odds.
That leaves people questioning whether the Tory party won the 2015 general election by fair or foul means.
Certainly news that the electoral commission says the Tory party was uncooperative with the investigation rings alarm bells.
Why were they to quote, guilty of unreasonably uncooperative conduct?
Thursday ITV news reports;
The investigation found:
Are there some deliberate auditing errors now classed as part of the campaign to win an election and worth the risk?
Other parties have faced lesser fines for errors but the Tory party appears to have carried out widespread election misspending since 2014.
Updates as available.
Full Electoral Commission announcement and background to allegations
Full ITV report here
Op-ed: In the UK election spending is strictly controlled.
If you and your campaign managers overspend criminal charges can follow.
In 2016 as the UK geared up for local council and PCC elections, and London gets set to elect a new mayor, the Tory party was in the corruption spotlight.
They failed to answer allegations of serious overspending which in theory could and should put their place in government into question.
With a slim majority the Conservative party is in a precarious position.
In 2016 26 Tory MPS were under investigation for electoral fraud by the Electoral Commission in conjunction with the Crown Prosecution Service; more MPs than the Tory majority.
The story appears to have died a death but the investigation rolls on.
The deadline now appears to be May 9, 2017.
So time is tight and now seems a good time to get this news back out there.
In April 2016 we reported "Allegations of election overspending look set to undermine the legitimacy of the UK Tory government but will allegations be explained away?"
Once again Channel 4 news was at the heart of allegations against the Conservative party; little wonder the government is looking at curbing Channel 4.
Early in 2015 C4 reported on the story of David Cameron's fathers' links to an off shore tax haven following it up a few months later with "George Osborne family business' £6m offshore deal"; in 2016 it has been a series of revelations that appear to indicate the Tory Party did not play fair during the 2015 General Election campaign."
In November 2015 the Mail Online claimed Channel 4 could be sold off to raise £1billion adding David Cameron confirms ministers are 'looking at all the options' for the station."
Cameron was quick to insist he was a huge fan of Channel 4 harking back to its origins; he may however not like the direction its news service is now taking.
Channel 4 investigators have uncovered a series of overspends by the Tory party during its successful 2015 General Election campaign; a lot depends on what was local spending and what national.
Channel 4 News "obtained further undeclared receipts showing more than £38,000 was spent accommodating activists at hotels across the country, as part of the BattleBus2015 campaign. The spending was not declared to the Electoral Commission in accordance with the law. The investigation has also obtained evidence that the BattleBus campaign was focused on local candidates, suggesting the accommodation costs incurred should have been declared on local candidate spending returns, if so this could constitute a criminal offence."
The Conservative party claims administrative errors or should that be incompetence? Some however will suspect purposeful wrongdoing in order to win an election at any price.
And although the Conservative party and others may try to dismiss the allegations selective overspending at elections is a criminal offence.
The typical Tory method of firstly denying allegations and then back pedalling somewhat should not save them this time, assuming the Electoral Commission and our political system is fit for purpose.
Ultimately the Conservative Party confirmed to Channel 4 News that it had failed to declare the costs related to the Battlebus hotels due to what it described as an "administrative error" despite previously stating that all of the party's returns were accurate.
While in many ways it matters whether the extra costs were actually an administrative error or the Tories flouting the rules to get their way back into government either way it looks like they have broken the law.
Will the Conservative Party run true to form trying to dig up election spending inconsistencies across parties and maybe even reforming the electoral commission and its rules to suit?
In 2016 they employed 'smear' tactics against senior members of the Labour Party helped on by some in the party and mainstream media so inclined as distraction politics.
The Electoral Commission has strict rules about election spending but does it have any teeth when it comes to wrongdoing?
"The Electoral Commission is an independent body set up by the UK Parliament. It regulates party and election finance and sets standards for well-run elections. The Commission is independent of Government and answerable to Parliament" but is it?
Channel 4 News's Political Correspondent Michael Crick has spent more than three months investigating Conservative Party expenses in 2014 and 2015.
You can read how the investigation has proceeded at ElectionExpenses.co.uk.
Tories accused of disregarding election spending law
Will Electoral Commission prosecute Tory Party?
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