Thanks go to a couple of people who coincidentally both pointed me to the same article. If they’d like to be named, I’ll edit accordingly.
Tory election fraud is big news at the moment – although not as big as it should be and not that new, as it has been bubbling for a year or more. Tory HQ has just been fined £70,000 for false reporting (and in some cases, the complete omission) of their spending on the 2015 General Election – and the Electoral Commission would have fined more – if that wasn’t the maximum in their power:
Claire Bassett @ElectoralCommUK told me she would have imposed bigger fines on Tories for election expenses issues if she'd had the power
— Jo Coburn (@Jo_Coburn) March 16, 2017
But that’s just the amuse-bouche – the main course is the continuing police investigation into Tory MPs, candidates and officials in 29 constituencies, which has already resulted in at least one sitting MP being interviewed, at length, under caution and a string of MPs being put on notice of possible criminal charges.
To date, 17 files have been passed by police to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Astonishing that it took so long for the Establishment media to pay attention, as Channel 4’s Jon Snow observed this morning:
With exception of Andrew Neil, one wonders why the BBC so agresseively avoided looking into the Tory Election expnses scandal for so long
— Jon Snow (@jonsnowC4) March 16, 2017
The current line from Tory spokespeople and Tory-friendly media is that the matter hinges on the issue of ‘intent’ – did candidates know they were breaking the law and intend to break it (the legal term mens rea, ‘guilty mind’) – but, as this blog has shown, intent is irrelevant to the case. Only the facts of false declarations and breached limits matter.
The key issue is therefore the allocation of spending as either local or national. The Tories have attempted to argue that their ‘battle buses’ etc were national spending. If it was, there is no reasonable doubt that MPs and their electoral agents committed the offence of signing a false declaration of their local spending – and in some cases, that they exceeded hard legal limits on what a local campaign can spend, because the declared local expenditure was just below the limit and the misallocated spending would take them over it.
Former Cabinet Minister Oliver Letwin this morning described the matter to BBC News as ‘human mistakes’ and claimed ‘I don’t think there are any villains here‘, as if some Tory staffer just tripped and dropped a pile of receipts into the wrong file.
But, for a lengthy 2015 article on the Conservative Home website, the ‘ConHome’ author interviewed those at the heart of the Tories’ ‘Team2015’ campaign. Giddy with their unexpected success in the previous month’s General Election and, no doubt, oblivious to what might be happening a couple of years later, the interviewees appear to have spoken very freely.
Recklessly, in fact, since they give away information that suggests Letwin and his party are deliberately misdirecting with their ‘human error’ claims – and show plainly that the expenses currently under investigation were by design local and not part of a national expenditure that just ‘happened’ to be in certain constituencies on a given date. So clear and damning is this information that it’s astonishing that the article is still online – and, as it may not be for much longer, a PDF of the whole thing is available at the end of this post.
The article is long-winded, but the key ‘confession’ takes place across just a few paragraphs in sections titled Getting people there – and co-opting Road Trip 2015 and The campaign – and “The Survey”.
But before we launch into those sections, here’s a graphic that shows information given to candidates that shows what the Electoral Commission (EC) tells candidates they must include in their local spending return:
The current line from Tory HQ and Tory-friendly media about’intent’ – did candidates know they were breaking the law and intend to break it – is irrelevant to the case. But it’s a complete red herring – they knew, and if they hadn’t known they were responsible for knowing.
Now, to that ‘confession’ in the Getting people there section – and why it’s so damning:
As we can see in the EC graphic, transport costs of campaigners, staff salaries for time spent on a local campaign, leaflet costs – all must be included in local spending returns – and were all incurred. We’re not done yet.
Food expenses must be included – and were clearly incurred. Communications costs must be included – and were clearly incurred in calls and text message. More staff costs in the ‘chivvying team’. Accommodation for any who stayed overnight. But we’re still not done.
This small paragraph puts beyond doubt that the infamous Tory ‘Battle Bus’ was anything but a national campaign bus that just happened to visit Tory seats. They were carrying people to specifically targeted, local areas to participate in specific local campaigns. But we’re still not quite done.
In the Campaign section, the article discloses that the campaign was not only not a generic national campaign that could be counted as a national expenditure – it was in some cases even tailored to specific local voters and was always tailored to specific local issues:
‘Hyper-targeted communications‘, ‘crafted messages carefully targeted at each voter‘, ‘hand-addressed envelopes‘ with ‘a variety of different messages‘. It stretches credulity to claim that the costs of all these were generic national expenditure.
Not only that, but the candidate and campaign staff were directly involved and cannot claim ignorance. An earlier paragraph mentions cryptically:
it was made clear to [candidates for this targeted programme] that support from the 40/40 process would require them to follow new approaches, and agree to do things they might instinctively question
But by admitting that the campaigns were created in ‘close work with the candidate [and] campaign manager‘, any doubt over the complicity and knowledge of those individuals currently trying to offload all blame onto Tory HQ has to be considered as obliterated.
Every expense associated with the buses, the movement of people, the phonecalls, texts, research, letters, curries and anything else that formed part of this operation was unquestionably local – and those involved unquestionably knew it.
And by participating in the interviews that formed this Conservative Home article, they wrote ‘the longest confession note in history’.
This is by no means the limit of the matter. There are other campaign expenses at national and local level that the SKWAWKBOX will be examining over the coming days, which may not have been reported fully or at all and will, if so, implicate an even wider set of Tory figures.
But as far as the ‘Battle Bus’ campaign and other related activities are concerned, it appears to be ‘case closed’ – and those involved must be brought to book and face the decision of a jury in the matter.
PDF of the full article: The computers that crashed. And the campaign that didn_t. The s
Archived version of the original site here.
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