The CPS decision today to charge Tory MP (now candidate) Craig Mackinlay and two of his helpers with electoral fraud offences relating to their spending returns for the 2015 General Election is welcome. But it raises huge questions about the decision not to charge the remaining 30 or so then-MPs and their electoral agents for the same behaviour.
Earlier this month, the CPS announced that no further action would be taken against the majority of those under investigation for alleged electoral expense fraud. Only the South Thanet case relating to Mackinlay and two others was still under review – and today’s announcement shows that they have a case to answer.
But if that is so, why don’t the rest of the thirty or so people originally under investigation in what many think was a key reason Theresa May called an early election? What’s special about Mackinlay’s case? Was it somehow worse than that of the others under investigation?
Not according to BBC News. The channel’s report made a specific point of the fact that he was being charged because of misreporting of the spending on hotels for activists:
It’s not the politicians that all passed through South Thanet that have led to this case. It was the £1000s spent on hotels for party activists that were disclosed by C4 News.
Those activists arrived on the so-called ‘battle bus’ – and Tories speaking to Conservative Home admitted that the same pattern applied to their forty target constituencies.
So if hotel expenses were incurred in South Thanet, are we to believe that they were incurred only in South Thanet?
The Guardian investigated and its report indicated that the Tories’ battle-bus campaign had indeed incurred hotel expenses across the country, for example in the constituency of Newark.
But even were that not the case, there is no special status in electoral law for hotel expenses. All expenses count toward the total – and if the total exceeds the amount allowed, an offence has been committed. There is no dispute that in all the constituencies investigated, the legal limit was exceeded – the Tories have already been fined the maximum allowable amount of £70,000 and the Electoral Commission chief said she would have made it higher if the law allowed.
So, if Craig Mackinlay faces the risk of up to a year in prison and a large fine because of his alleged actions, why aren’t all those investigated in the same situation? Are there legitimate and concrete legal reasons – or is it an Establishment whitewash?
The public has a right to ask – and deserves an answer before they go to the ballot box next Thursday.
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