The £70,000 expenses question: what does the Conservative party election scandal mean for the government?

Conservative Party Expenses Scandal

A dozen police forces have passed files on up to 20 Conservative MPs’ election campaign expenses to the CPS. Could the government’s slim majority be at risk?

It’s been a bad week for the Tories – and that 17 seat majority is starting to look a lot smaller. Hot on the heels of Philip Hammond’s belated and chastening climbdown over NICs came the news that a dozen police forces have handed files to the Crown Prosecution Service over allegations up to 20 Tory MPs in marginal seats broke local campaign expenses spending limits at the general election.  As a result of a separate investigation, the Electoral Commission is to fine the party £70,000 over “significant failures” in its expenses reporting.

The majority of the police complaints concern constituencies visited by the Tories’ RoadTrip2015 battlebuses – a campaign already tarnished by allegations of bullying and sexual harassment among young activists. It is alleged that the party registered RoadTrip’s transport and accommodation costs as national spending despite its use as part of individual MPs’ constituency campaigns Party spending on the latter is limited to £15,000, and the key contention in play is whether money spent locally should have been declared locally.

Here’s all you need to know.

Where are investigations taking place?

12 police forces have passed files to the CPS: Avon and Somerset, Cumbria, Derbyshire, Devon and Cornwall, Gloucestershire, Greater Manchester, Lincoln, London, Northamptonshire, Staffordshire and West Yorkshire.

Up to 20 Conservative MPs are under investigation personally, and three – Thanet South’s Craig Mackinlay, Colchester’s Will Quince, and Morecambe and Lunesdale’s David Morris – are known to have been questioned by police (Quince and Morris have been cleared). All are understood to deny wrongdoing.

The successful Thanet campaign – which saw Mackinlay beat then-Ukip leader Nigel Farage with a slim 2,000 vote majority – is of particular significance. Former Tory chairman Grant Shapps has alleged that Nick Timothy, the prime minister’s joint chief of staff, “orchestrated” the Stop Farage campaign and was based in the constituency for much of the election period without the proper declarations being made, as has Channel 4 News’ Michael Crick. The Tories deny this, and claim – rather unusually – that its national anti-Ukip campaign was headquartered in Thanet.

What have the Conservatives said?

Not a great deal. Most of the MPs concerned – beyond those who have been cleared – are remaining tight-lipped. The party says it will continue to co-operate fully with ongoing police investigations.


 

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