Tories deny wrongdoing as police investigate fraud allegations in six constituencies that could force by-elections.
Downing Street is said to be ‘deeply worried’ over the allegations which surround overspending, said to be in the region of tens of thousands of pounds, in marginal constituencies including South Thanet which was contested by UKIP leader Nigel Farage.
Farage lost to Craig Mackinlay who, it is alleged, spent £34,000 yet only declared £15,000.
The Times reports that files are expected to be passed to the Crown Prosecution Services whilst The Daily Mirror has reported that 23 Conservative MPs failed to declare spending on ‘battlebuses’ which were used to support candidates during the election campaign, claiming that Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) picked up the £2,000 a day bill.
In total, more than 100 people have been found guilty of electoral malpractice in the UK since 1994. The vast majority of convictions have involved postal or proxy ballots, often in conjunction with attempts to manipulate the electoral registers by registering bogus electors or adding electors to the register at empty properties.
Brexit referendum electoral allegations also refuse to go away. Not least the mysterious ‘dark money’ donation to Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) of £425,000 from an opaque group of pro-union business people led by a Conservative party member.
The money, donated by the Constitutional Research Council (CRC) was spent by the DUP on pro-Brexit advertising throughout the UK. Including £282,000 spent on a wrap-around for the Metro Newspaper which isn’t published in Northern Ireland.
The shadowy CRC appear relatively anonymous apart from chair Richard Cook, a former vice chairman of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party.
DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said that his party did not need to know the true source of the funds, however, the Electoral Commission has stated, “the onus is on the recipient to ensure that a donation is permissible. If they can’t confirm permissibility, then they need to return the donation.”
Investigative journalists Peter Geoghegan and Adam Ramsay attempted to contact Mr Cook on numerous occasions but were unable to obtain a comment however, Brexitshambles did obtain a response of sorts from Mr Cook after we asked him for an explanation:
— Richard Cook (@richardcook1971) March 4, 2017
— Brexitshambles (@brexit_sham) March 4, 2017
This isn’t the only mystery surrounding funding of Brexit campaigns. A member of the SCL Group, Cambridge Analytica, have hit the headlines recently as one of the key components of the Donald Trump US Presidential Election victory. Both SCL, Strategic Communication Laboratories, and Cambridge Analytica are involved in data mining, data analysis and microtargeting.
In 2016 Leave.EU, led by UKIP donor Arron Banks, claimed to have engaged Cambridge Analytica but failed to declare anything to the Electoral Commission as they claim their work was pro-bono – this despite benefits in kind having to be declared. To further confuse matters Cambridge Analytica now claim not to have worked on the Leave.EU Brexit campaign.
Intriguingly, Roger Gabb a director of SCL Group, who in 2006 donated £500,000 to the Conservative Party, was fined £1,000, alongside former Conservative candidate for Vale of Glamorgan Lady Sue Inkin, by the Electoral Commission for “failing to include an imprint on, separate, newspaper advertisements” they placed during the regulated period (15th April to 23rd June 2016) for the EU Referendum.
Commenting on both cases, Louise Edwards, Head of Regulatory Compliance and Casework at the Electoral Commission, said:
“It is vital that voters can identify the source of campaign material that seeks to persuade them to vote a certain way. Referendums in particular highlight the importance of these rules, as many campaigners may only be campaigning for a short period of time and will not be familiar to voters.”
Both advertisements read: “On the 23rd June, you will be given a once in a lifetime opportunity to help shape the future of our country. Here are some of the reasons why your vote to LEAVE is so crucial”
If the Tory government is forced to re-run by-elections on the basis of fraudulent activity, the question of where exactly a line is drawn has to be answered.