Socialist Worker

The best democracy that money can buy

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2546

William Windham MP was against outlawing bribery. Todays MPs have other ways of buying elections

William Windham MP was against outlawing bribery. Today's MPs have other ways of buying elections


Speaking against a law to outlaw bribing MPs over 200 years ago, William Windham MP said, “The Bill it appears to do away with corruption. Would it do away with property? If once we begun on the path to reform, we could never stop, and if once we made a change to please the people, they would go on; they would never know when they had had enough.”

Elections can still be bought. While voters are no longer bought beer in rotten boroughs, the spending at elections is eye watering.

The Tories were fined a record £70,000 last week. An Electoral Commission inquiry found the party had failed to record correctly a total of £275,000 spent during the 2015 general election and at three by-elections.

Criminal charges are also being considered across 12 police force areas over claims of expenses fraud by the Tories in the 2015 election. Theresa May’s most senior aides are involved in the controversy.

There is also an investigation into allegations that the Tories spent more than the legal limit on the campaign in South Thanet, where the party was trying to stop Nigel Farage, then Ukip’s leader, from winning.

Stephen Parkinson, May’s political secretary, and Chris Brannigan, director of government relations, were named in emails leaked to Channel 4 News.

Nick Timothy, May’s chief of staff, has already been named as having worked in South Thanet. Simon Day, the then treasurer, is under investigation as well.

And a small gaggle of Tory MPs have been interviewed under caution.

MPs failed to declare help received from activists on the Tory battlebus. There are tens of thousands of pounds in undeclared hotel bills.

The Electoral Commission had to go to the courts to get the Tories to hand over the paperwork.

While the spending limits for a party’s national campaign are relatively large, the maximum an individual candidate can spend on a local campaign is much smaller.

A fair few Tory MPs went over their local spending limits if the battlebus is included.

Admitted

The accounting was signed off by senior party members and it had “the full financial and practical support” of Tory HQ. Tory chiefs initially said the tour had cost £38,996.06. But once the probe started they admitted it cost another £63,486.83.

The battlebus was approved by chairman Lord Feldman, ex-deputy chairman Stephen Gilbert and election guru and dog-whistle blower Lynton Crosby.

The scandal could lead to enough by-elections to cost the Tories a majority.

Mark Clarke was behind the Tories’ campaign operation. Clarke faced allegations that he bullied, blackmailed and sexually assaulted fellow activists during his RoadTrip2015 campaign.

Elliot Johnson, who later took his own life, had written letters accusing Clarke of bullying. A tape emerged of Clarke interrogating Johnson.

One of the by-elections that saw misspending was at Rochester in 2014. During it May was filmed campaigning alongside Clarke.

She slapped him on the back and praised his work for the Tories at a rally.

But now Clarke has been expelled from the party and started giving stories on the scandal to the media.

Whether the rumours of a snap election are true or not money has started to flow again. Spending is already far beyond the usual ahead of council elections in May.

There was a total reported £39,023,564 spent at the 2015 general election by a combination of 57 parties and 23 non-party campaigners.

That doesn’t include staff costs or deposits. It doesn’t include the money spent by candidates.

The Tory party spent £15.5 million of that. That was £3.5 million more than Labour.

The Tory majority in parliament is 12. There are 22 seats where their majority was less than 5 percent of the vote.Fined or not, they will see it as money well spent.


Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.