Tory ‘no intent’ #electionfraud confidence is a non-starter. Here’s why

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News broke across most of the mainstream media today of the questioning by police ‘under caution’ of Tory MP Craig McKinlay in relation to electoral expense fraud – and that numerous Tory MPs have been warned by police to expect news of possible charges.

The BBC’s Newsnight programme – ironically just after News at Ten had completely ignored the issue – covered the events and quoted Tory Cabinet Ministers:


What I’m hearing from within the Cabinet is a confidence that there will not be successful criminal prosecutions. What I’m told is for that to happen, you’d have to prove intent, intent to deceive. And this source told me that… it’d be very difficult to say that an MP intended to deceive.

If your first instinct on hearing that ‘confidence’ was, “Well, they would say that“, join the club. If your second was ‘ignorance is no defence‘, have a gold membership – it’s true that, in most cases, not knowing the law does not exonerate you if you break it.

But what about this specific case of election expenses – are the Tories blowing smoke, are they falsely confident or do they have a point?

Let’s see. The first and best-known area of law that applies is the Representation of the People Act 1983 (RPA). The Electoral Commission published a case study about Zac Goldsmith’s election expenses, in which they outline the two key areas of the RPA and how they apply:

ec rpa

So, the second point in the RPA could possibly be escaped by claiming ignorance and lack of intent. But under the first, a candidate or their agent does not need intent – all that needs to be shown is that they ‘ought reasonably to have known‘.

Here is an example of the information that the Electoral Commission provides to every election candidate at the start of the campaign, with some commentary:


In the light of this information being provided to every candidate, could anyone argue that there is the slightest doubt that every Tory candidate implicated in this huge scandal ‘ought reasonably to have known‘ – they and their electoral agent and Tory HQ organisers.

But that’s not the end of their problems. Last year, legal expert David Allen Green wrote a blog for the Financial Times about the electoral expenses scandal. He had this to say:

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Hard limits apply to legal electoral expenditure and breaking those limits is to break the law – intent is not a factor.

Imagine you get nicked for speeding and try to get out of it by claiming you had no intent to speed – it doesn’t matter, the fact of breaking the limit is what matters.

Under the statute referred to by Mr Green, the only relevant question is the factual one of whether the expenses incurred were local – and, if they were, whether the hard limits were broken. Clearly, since they have interviewed Craig McKinlay under caution and have put other MPs/agents on notice to await news of charges, police consider those facts to be established.

So, on two counts – the RPA’s condition ‘ought reasonably to have known’ and on Mr Green’s second statute that simply requires fact – the Tories’ ‘confidence’ is, in fact, nothing but wishful thinking.

Let’s make sure nobody is fooled by their false confidence and propaganda – and that each and every culprit faces the consequences of their hubris and actions.

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  1. Even ignoring all of the above, surely there have been far too many allegations for this to be an ‘administration error’. The Tories knew what they were doing, and, are only surprised that they are, hopefully, being held to account.

    They think that by being the party which is always telling us they are the party of law and order, and their historical support of the Police, this means They are immune from prosecution.

    Previous history, with the imprisonment of MPs Jonathan Aitken and Jeffrey Archer has taught them nothing. They are still just as arrogant and complacent as ever.

  2. Yes, but if you in ignorance put something on a DWP form and they then take you to court, ‘not knowing’ is no defence. How come it’s different for Tory MPs?

  3. I’m still worried that there will be a sacrificial lamb or two and that the rest will be swept under the carpet. Is there anything that can be done before the deadline – such as private prosecutions launched in the relevant constituencies?

  4. Every aspect of election campaigning shows the cash rich Tories seeking to gain advantage. The other Parties cannot afford to spend to the limit but the Tories can spend twice the limit, because of their funding from Tory Donors and big companies seeking influence.
    I stood in the Vale of Glamorgan in 2015 and successfully raised a complaint about Alun Cairns and his agent.Unfortunately the Police decided to issue them with guidance and a slap on the wrists.

  5. Complaint was on basis of undeclared expenses and an incomplete invoice hiding the full value. It was very difficult to get the Police to make progress but eventually they identified the error. This was before Channel4 commenced their exposure.

  6. The Tories have form on this, having previously been warned about how they record their expenses (I can’t remember all the details, but I think it relates to a by election – anybody fill in the gaps)? This is on a different scale, this is systematic manipulation of expenses by numerous MPs and goes to the heart of our democracy.

    The other worry I have is that some MPs will get away without the CPS even looking at the case. In Cheshire, Weaver Vale’s MP Graham Evans, is one of those suspected of election expense fraud. I heard Michael Crick on C4 news say that the Cheshire Police don’t think there is a case to answer. That is not a decision for the police to make. If an MP is implicated by C4 news investigations and the Electoral Commission holds up those findings, then the CPS are the correct body to make the decision on prosecution or not. I predict a whitewash.

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