The electoral commission is misleading us over Tory expenses fraud – here’s how

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It’s very interesting that the Electoral Commission is saying the Conservative Party cannot be criticised for overspending on the 2015 election, based on nothing more than a guideline that has no legal force and that has never been tested in a UK court.

This Writer has been in contact with the Commission regarding concerns about Brecon and Radnorshire MP Chris Davies, whose campaign for election included a four-page ‘wraparound’ advert in local newspaper The Brecon and Radnor Express.

As reported previously on This Blog, I had raised concerns about the advert, which I did not believe could be described as ‘party’ spending as it could be seen as supporting only the Conservative candidate for Brecon and Radnorshire. A police officer later told me he had discussed the matter with the Electoral Commission and decided there was no case to answer, based on the advice he had received.

This is the advice he received [bolding mine]:

“The law is that any activity (that involves spending) that promotes a candidate is to be counted, and reported, as spending on behalf of the candidate. Party spending is anything not covered by the candidate controls and which promotes the party as an entity. The terminology is significant, because it differentiates between candidate and party rather than national and local.

“Not all spending in a constituency is however automatically candidate spending. If that were the case, then because every part of the country is in one of the 650 constituencies and virtually all campaigning therefore takes place in a constituency, there would be virtually no such thing as party spending.

“The law explicitly provides for party spending but does not define it as needing to be national, and therefore there is a need to interpret the law in a way that allows for party spending at a constituency level, but which distinguishes between that and candidate spending. As a very broad rule, we suggest that anything that mentions a candidate is highly likely to be candidate spending. We do not suggest that just because a candidate is not mentioned, it will not be candidate spending. Moving past the broad rule, the type of factors we would consider are, for example, whether the activity involved reference to the specific constituency, to locally specific issues, to other candidates in the constituency, and in the round whether the intent was to promote the individual candidate or the party. I emphasise that these are general principles, and any individual set of facts would of course need to be considered on its own merits.

“It follows therefore that where activity is reported as party campaigning rather than candidate, for there to be a basis to consider it as having been misreported, there would need to be evidence that it was in fact promoting a candidate. The fact that activity took place in a constituency or was targeted towards a constituency is not of itself evidence that it was candidate spending activity.

“We are aware of various wraparound advertisements placed by the Conservative Party in local newspapers around the country in the weeks before the election. We have received a number of examples, including the one in the Brecon and Radnor Express, and have reviewed these carefully.

“In the instances we have seen (and subject to there being any others we are not aware of) the advertising can reasonably be regarded as party campaign expenditure. The wrap around advertisements we have seen promote the party on a national level, referring to national policies, the national political landscape, and make no reference to candidates or local issues.”

This is saying that the Electoral Commission has made arbitrary value judgements about what constitutes party and candidate spending in this case – judgements which are not supported by the law – simply in order to justify a definition of party spending which is also not supported by the law.

This is not good enough. There are gravely serious issues at stake here and it is not enough to say, “We have decided that this cannot be included as candidate spending, based on nothing at all.”

It seems to me that this is a matter that must be tested in a court of law, with the test being equivalent to that in prosecutions for libel: In the opinion of right-thinking people generally, were the words in these wraparound adverts likely to be related to the Conservative candidate in their constituency?

Am I the only one who finds it odd that, when a four-page advert for the Conservative Party appears around a newspaper called the Brecon and Radnor Express, sold to people in Brecon and Radnorshire and reporting on politics only within the Brecon and Radnorshire constituency, the Electoral Commission tells us it is not supporting the Conservative candidate in Brecon and Radnorshire?

Oh, wait… no, I’m not – there were letters in two subsequent editions of that newspaper from people who felt the same way.

ADDITIONAL: I have written to the Electoral Commission demanding an investigation into this matter, with the possibility of prosecutions on charges of perverting the course of justice.

If we let them get away with this, they’ll treat it as precedent and do it again.

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25 thoughts on “The electoral commission is misleading us over Tory expenses fraud – here’s how

  1. David Woods

    And just how much do British tax payers pay for this obviously useless/biased commission?
    But wait – Just who hires these people, it wouldn’t be the Government by any chance would it?
    Don’t want to muddy the paymasters waters!

  2. Neilth

    The wraparound on the Barry Gem for the assembly election certainly named Andrew RT Davies as local list candidate and Ross England as Vale of Glam candidate attacking Jane Hutt so I guess this could be regarded as local spending even under the commissions loose definitions. Only problem is allocating the spend to each.
    It’s certainly immoral in that it’s playing fast and loose with a he electoral rules which clearly need firming up to cover this area.

  3. Cbe

    I reported the exact same wraparound which adorned the Hastings copies of the Johnson Press “newspaper” / abomination called Hastings Observer
    The constituency is Hastings & Rye but Rye’s paper is the Rye and Battle Observer – and Battle is part of the adjacent Rother seat of Bexhill & Battle with a different candidate. Bexhill’s paper is the Bexhill Observer. Therefore the wrap around appeared in only half of the 29th most “hung” seats in the country – the detestable Amber Rudd (Energy formerly Gove’s Whip’s office and prior to that Osborne’s Treasury minister) but not any of the papers in the “safe” seat for Huw Merriman (later involved in his own mini-bonkathon with a fellow lawyer). In the Hastings case, we can prove that by only targeting one of 4 papers produced by the same company (Johnson Press based in Portsmouth) that it was definitely candidate specific and not part of a national spend.

  4. Mr.Angry.

    The sooner this country wakes up and smells the coffee the better. Chilcot, Hillsborough it’s endless. Corruption at the highest level and it will be quashed we can be assured of that.

  5. Roy Beiley

    The Electoral Commission seem to be setting themselves up judge and jury in this issue. Yet a judge said only last week when the EC referred the matter to him that it was a matter of grave importance So who is pulling the strings behind the scenes here? Somebody trying to muddy the waters?

  6. Darren

    “Thank you for choosing the Electoral Commission to ensure that your Party remains squeaky-clean, Mr Conservative. Will you be paying by cash or credit card? Gift-wrap is complimentary and there’s a free 5-gallon bucket of whitewash with every purchase.”

  7. jenw17

    Is there no lawyer who would take this on, like Michael Mansfield, or even Keir Starmer, who could be said to have an ulterior motive, obviously, but surely the former DPP should be above reproach.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      If you think a Conservative government will change the law in favour of fairness and transparency, then I think you are heading for a disappointment too!

      1. A Grumpy_Old_Man (@Hairyloon)

        Changing the law is neither here nor there: the aim is to get the issue debated, because this is a debate that they cannot possibly win.
        Either they run with the idea that it was an honest mistake or they resist it, and how are they going to do that?

        If it is an honest mistake then they need to put it right by having all the MP’s with (ahem) “accounting errors” step down for re-election.
        Why would the government resist that idea when they have done such an outstanding job that the results are pretty much a dead cert?

      2. Mike Sivier Post author

        No, it wouldn’t have been a single article; it would have been the whole site including the other articles on the anti-Semitism row that had been published previously.
        And yes – a serious session of moderation to remove all the racists on both sides of the argument, who were trying to whip up public support in ways that could have resulted in This Blog being prosecuted.

  8. NMac

    So the Electoral Commission is starting to talk the allegations down, is this the first stage of sweeping them under the carpet, I wonder?

  9. Florence

    Ok caught up with you Mike. It is a point that needs to be tested in a court, obviously. I heard of an even more dodgy practice, of costs for advertising being “shared” with the local conservative association, as if the local conservative club is merely promoting party values, snd not the candidate during an election.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      I go as fast as I can. This site receives a large number of comments, some of which require a certain amount of research before a judgement can be made about them.
      And I do have other commitments.
      While I appreciate your good intentions, I’m not going to run myself into the ground just so someone can see their name on-screen.

      1. Mike Sivier Post author

        It really is.
        Just to give you an idea, the most successful day in This Blog’s recent past was May 1 this year, when it had 91,184 views.
        Not all of those people commented, but enough did to make moderating them a job of work in itself.
        And yes, I do need to moderate the comments for abuse, profanity and other antisocial behaviour.

  10. mohandeer

    The Electoral Commission has done what most bought and paid for institutions do: Thrown the rule book out the window and made up some new ones to suit the situation. The Electoral Commission now needs to come under scrutiny as to whether it is fit for purpose or serves any useful purpose.

Comments are closed.