THERESA MAY cannot be allowed to get away with her claim that Tory expense returns at the 2015 election were “properly reported and properly declared” and that “candidates did nothing wrong.”
Either she and her party chairman Patrick McLoughlin have not bothered to check the facts or they are trying to cover up the truth.
The Tories were fined a record £70,000 by the Electoral Commission in March for “numerous failures” in reporting expenses for the general election and three by-elections in 2014.
Even the Crown Prosecution Service, which decided not to prosecute any Tory candidate or agent, acknowledged “evidence to suggest the returns may have been inaccurate.”
It justified not bringing those responsible to book on insufficient evidence “to prove to the criminal standard that any candidate or agent was dishonest.”
What is not in dispute is that the Tory Party, awash with funds from grateful corporate interests, was able to spend lavishly on sending battle-buses into selected constituencies, delivering dozens of activists, accommodated, fed and watered at party expense, to overwhelm the opposition and then pass off these swamping exercises as national rather than local campaigning.
Candidates and agents reported being told by Tory HQ that this was all part of the national campaign, but didn’t they wonder, even briefly, why a “national” mobilisation was concentrated in a small number of marginal contests?
If the CPS has ruled that this is within the letter of electoral law, it has certainly “driven a battlebus and horses” through its spirit, to quote Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron.
All opposition parties are outraged at this grotesque demonstration of the extent to which Tory corporate wealth can skew the electoral process.
As if the political balance in elections is not already out of kilter, with most media already backing May, her party and its anti-working-class political and economic policies.
Yet Tory leaders reacted to their narrow escape not by breathing a sigh of relief and promising to do better in future but by proclaiming their spotless innocence and threatening those charged with ensuring our elections are clean.
McLoughlin, whose claims to good name and honour will be forever besmirched because of his scabbing role in the 1984-5 national miners’ strike, sought to undermine Electoral Commission integrity, accusing it of pursuing “politically motivated and unfounded complaints that have wasted police time.”
Karl McCartney, who was elected for the Tories in Lincoln in 2015 after his constituency received the battlebus treatment, wants Electoral Commission chief executive Claire Bassett and head of regulation Louise Edwards to walk the plank for daring to question his party’s shenanigans.
McCartney, who clearly admires the Donald Trump approach to accountability, demeans the commission as “wholly unfit for purpose,” which raises questions as to what purpose other than tackling parties’ failure to honour election rules the commission ought to have.
He called the commission officials “politically motivated and biased,” which is indefensible given previous Electoral Commission fines imposed against other parties for regulation infringements.
The Tory responses ooze the arrogance of those who feel entitled to govern unquestioned and to make up the rules as they go along.
No-one should give credence to their bogus self-pity and claims of political bias thrown around like confetti.
Their ability to escape scot-free from this cash-splashing jamboree makes the case for future stricter limits on the ability of the powerful and wealthy to rig elections.