16 Mar 2017

Dark Clouds Thickening Over Tories’ Heads

It looks like it will be a very gloomy Thursday for the Conservative party. After a rocky week of criticism towards one of its own members – the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Phillip Hammond, for his budget fiasco and the continuous disputes over the decisions of Theresa May’s government.  Today the Tory Party received another blow – a £70,000 fine. The penalty was given by the Electoral Commission after their investigation found “significant failures” in the party campaign expenses. To top that, the Tory’s former treasurer Simon Day was reported to Metropolitan police on charges of breaking the election rules and could face criminal prosecution.

The 10-month investigation into the party’s spending’s concluded that more than £275,000 has not been declared or accurately reported. This is the total amount after 4 campaigns: three byelections in 2014 and the 2015 general election. Specifically, the Commission has focused on the expenses incurred by an election bus used by the party MPs and their agents while campaigning across the country. The payments were signed off on as national spending, rather than local. It is for the prosecutors to decide if that was a wrong decision.

According to Sir John Holmes, Chair of the Electoral Commission: “Our investigation uncovered numerous failures by a large, well-resourced and experienced Party to ensure that accurate records of spending were maintained and that all of the Party’s spending was reported correctly.” Additionally, the Crown Prosecution Service is checking the results of up to 20 seats which could be an object of prosecution. This investigation spread over other parties because the Conservative party has majority of only 13 seats.

In fact, both the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats have been fined for breaking rules over campaign spending although their fines were only £20,000.

“This is the first time the Party has been fined for a reporting error. We regret that and will continue to keep our internal processes under review to ensure this does not happen again,” a Conservative party spokesperson said. Controversially, the party statement points out the they have fully cooperated with the Commission despite the investigators’ conclusions that the Conservative campaign headquarters (CCHQ) “did not cooperate fully with the commission’s inquiries” and sometimes “hindered and caused delay to the investigation”.

However, the Tory party have not opposed to the imposed fine and humbly admit that all parties make reporting mistakes “from time to time”. Still, according to their statement, the work of the Electoral Commission needs reviewing as well and the “processes and requirements could be clarified or improved”.

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