The Tories have survived a potential crisis that could have tipped their election campaign into chaos.
Yesterday, Wednesday, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced that after a police investigation into Conservative Party candidates’ expenditure during the 2015 general election campaign, “no criminal charges have been authorised”.
Around 30 MPs and activists were investigated by 14 police forces. CPS head of special crime Nick Vamos said, “Although there is evidence to suggest the returns may have been inaccurate, there is insufficient evidence to prove to the criminal standard that any candidate or agent was dishonest.”
The timing is very helpful for the Tories. It enabled them to say they had been cleared just as the nominations were closing to stand as an MP.
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said he was “interested and surprised” by the decision.
Theresa May came up with the barefaced lie that, “Candidates did nothing wrong. It’s very important and I repeat that—I have said it many times—candidates did nothing wrong.”
During the last general election the Tories’ “Battlebus2015” took party activists to key marginal seats. A Channel 4 investigation showed that the travel, accommodation and subsistence costs of those activists had been classified as national party expenditure rather than local expenditure.
This meant it was kept off the expenses of the candidates who the activists were helping.
Earlier this year the Electoral Commission, which governs the expenditure of national political parties, reported on the Tories’ spending at the general election and some other elections in 2014. It found that the Tories had failed to declare a complete statement of their spending, both by wrongly declaring local expenditure as national and by leaving out certain expenditure—including £63,487 on the Battlebus.
It found unreasonable uncooperative conduct by the Party and noted “the significant uncertainty for voters as to whether the party complied with its duties significantly”.
The Tories were fined a record £70,000.
The police and the CPS then had to look at the actions of individuals to see if they should be taken to court.
It’s easy to imagine how much a blow to the Tories’ image it would have been if some of their MPs went into the election with charges hanging over them of cheating. But this did not happen.
As the Secret Barrister website puts it, “The CPS formed the view that, as the candidates and their agents had been assured by Conservative Party HQ that the Battlebus expenditure was legitimately part of the national campaign, it would be very difficult to prove that the candidates or agents acted dishonestly.”
But that’s not an end to it.
There is a lesser charge of failing to deliver a true return. Here, says the Secret Barrister, “the CPS concluded,perhaps charitably, that for the same reason it was not in the public interest to charge any of the agents or candidates with that offence.”
It’s a stark contrast to the way people on benefits face crushing sanctions for minor financial reporting mistakes. And a solicitor told Socialist Worker, “It reeks of hypocrisy that Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman was thrown out of office for electoral fraud two years ago but the Tories are able to get away with this behaviour.”