The Independent‘s John Rentoul earns his pay – but with articles like this, one has to wonder who is writing out the cheques.
From the introductory paragraph onwards, we can see that Rentoul has been commissioned to discourage readers from believing any change may be effected if Conservative MPs are found to have fiddled their election expenses – despite the fact that we are told this is a serious crime.
He wants you to believe that this story has been widely reported – even though the only mainstream outlets covering it until very recently were Channel 4 News and the Daily Mirror, which in fact had the story first but is not mentioned here.
The claim that it wasn’t reported because nothing has been proved yet is risible. Many news stories are reported prior to the establishment of proof – including this very piece stating the opposite.
More worrying is the claim that legislation passed with the help of MPs who have no legal mandate will still stand. That is anti-democratic and will need to be fought, if it is taken up by the Conservatives after these investigations end.
Of course, it depends on the majorities in each vote, and Rentoul may be alluding to this, albeit obliquely – because he wants you to think his claim is a fact set in stone.
And he quotes other alleged contraventions of spending limits in an attempt to play down what these Tories may have done. How silly.
Firstly, if Cat Smith declared just one-eighth of her election organiser’s pay as a constituency expense, that may be entirely reasonable. Electoral Commission guidelines say if spending is split between local and national campaigns (as it was in this instance) then a judgement must be made on the value of the contribution to each side. So Rentoul’s attempt to tar Labour with the same brush doesn’t ring true.
Even if the allegation was accurate, along with those against Nick Clegg and the SNP, Rentoul knows perfectly well that two wrongs don’t make a right – just because other people committed the same crime, that doesn’t absolve any Tories who may be found guilty.
The simple fact is that we do not know what will happen if enough Conservative MPs are found to have fraudulently breached their election spending limits.
This is uncharted territory as the UK has never previously had to contemplate electoral corruption on a national scale.
And that’s what we’re facing – don’t let Rentoul tell you otherwise.
When he threw out the Tory case against extending the investigation into electoral fraud in Thanet South, district judge Justin Barron stated there was “very significant public interest in the matter being fully investigated.
“The consequences of a conviction would be of a local and national significance with the potential for election results being declared void.”
John Rentoul may think he knows the law better than a sitting judge, but he doesn’t.
Don’t let him tell you otherwise.
Did the Conservatives steal the election by failing to declare local campaign spending? The short answer is no, but the longer answer is still interesting.
The scale of the allegations has excited partisan Labour supporters. David Cameron has a working majority of only 16, so if eight Tory MPs could be disqualified, his Government would lose its ability to pass laws. Or, in the more extravagant vision, the result of last year’s general election would be reversed.
Liz Thomson, who was in the audience for Michael Gove’s grilling on Sky News on Friday, suggested to him that this would mean the EU referendum was “illegal”. This is the kind of thing that has been promoted on the internet by people demanding to know why the mainstream media, and in particular the BBC, has failed to cover the “Tory election fraud” story.
It has in fact been widely reported, Crick and Channel 4 News being part of the mainstream media. The reason it hasn’t been reported in the way that some people want is because nothing has been proved yet, and even if it were disqualifications and by-elections are unlikely. And even if the Conservatives were to lose enough seats to lose their majority – which is really unlikely – it would not have any retrospective effect on laws passed by the House of Commons, such as the one providing for the referendum.
ADDITIONAL: I’ve had a message on Facebook from Mr Rentoul, as follows: “Hi Mike, you’ll want to say who is paying me other than The Independent, or perhaps rewriting that bit, won’t you?”
No, I don’t think so. I never suggested anyone was paying him other than the Independent, but – considering the claims made in the article and the ease with which they fall apart under examination – who is that, exactly? And what were their intentions in commissioning an article like this?
Over to you, John.
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