Thursday, 16 March 2017

Tory election spending scandal shows we need urgent reforms

Today’s announcement that the “Conservative Party has been fined a record £70,000 for breaking election expenses rules” shows that the rules around election spending need to be reformed.

The BBC has reported that:

“The party broke spending rules by moving campaigners and staff from its national headquarters to boost local party efforts and not properly declaring their hotel bills and expenses.”

“The Electoral Commission found the Conservative Party also failed to correctly report all expenditure on a national battlebus campaign, which helped David Cameron win a majority at the general election.”

“It has referred a possible criminal offence - of whether Simon Day, the Conservative Party's registered treasurer until April 2016, ‘knowingly or recklessly made a false declaration’ - to the Metropolitan Police.”

This links to the ongoing scandal about the “battlebus” which has been linked to at least two Cornish MPs.

It is clear that the Conservative Party spent more than the allowable limits in a number of marginal seats, because much money was spent on local campaigns but was classified as “national” expenditure.

But all the large Westminster political parties habitually target their expenditure into target seats but do it in such a way that the spendng is deemed part of their state-wide messaging.

In addition to the battle buses, and hotel costs of their volunteers, which only seem to appear in target seats, here are a few examples of things that are often not counted as “local expenditure.”

Massive billboards in prominent locations – which do not mention the name of the local candidate – are often deemed “non-local” by the parties. However, the Billboards tend to appear in the seats that particular parties think they could win – and not across the UK as a whole.

Likewise, the cost of election poster-boards which do not have the name of the candidate on them – but simply proclaim “Conservative,” “Labour” or “Liberal Democrat” – have, on occasion, also been classed as “national” expenditure, even though the signs inevitably appear in greater numbers in existing or target seats.

And targeted maildrops to individual voters from prominent members of political parties (such as Party Leaders, Prime Ministers or Chancellor of the Exchequer) also often forget to mention the actual names of the local candidates – allowing them to, ridiculously, be termed “national” expenditure.

This is all so wrong and we should all be pushing for really far-reaching and more comprehensive reforms to better control election expenditure, in order to ensure fairer elections in the future.

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