One of the Conservative MPs embroiled in allegations of electoral fraud has just lost an attempt to block further police investigations into the issue.
Craig Mackinlay, the Tory MP for South Thanet, recently sought to block police attempts to extend the time limit for investigations into alleged election fraud. Kent Police was responding to allegations that accommodation for visiting Conservative activists had not been properly recorded at a local level and that this represented a breach of election spending rules.
As Channel 4 has stressed:
the party spent almost £20,000 supporting Mr Mackinlay – money that was either declared as national spending, not local spending, or not declared at all.
The targeted Tory assault on South Thanet clearly helped Mackinlay to win his marginal seat in a close-fought battle against UKIP leader Nigel Farage.
The court ruling against Mackinlay
On 1 June, Mackinlay’s legal challenge failed. The reason, said District Judge Justin Barron, was that:
There is a very significant public interest in the matter being fully investigated… The consequences of a conviction would be of a local and national significance with the potential for election results being declared void.
Kent Police will now have another year to investigate the allegations.
Barron insisted that his decision was based on:
The nature and extent of the enquiry with the involvement of the Electoral Commission and investigations taking place not just in South Thanet but across the country
this is on an unprecedented scale
In a witness statement to the court, the Electoral Commission said:
The investigation has been delayed and hindered by the failure of the [Conservative] Party to provide complete and timely disclosure…
individuals and/or the Conservative Party may have committed deliberate acts intended to circumvent the party and election finance rules… these allegations go to the very heart of our democracy.
Timothy Straker QC, who represented Kent Police in court, argued that an extension to the investigation time limit was appropriate because exceptional circumstances were involved in this case. He said:
we have an allegation of national funds being used… to buy an election… What could be more exceptional than one party defeated by another using national funds contrary to law?
Mackinlay has also been accused of paying at least one unemployed person to support his 2015 campaign in South Thanet without declaring it as a local expenditure.
This is not over yet
Under David Cameron, the Conservative party has become the first government in British history to face police investigations into alleged electoral fraud. Claiming only an “administrative error”, the Conservatives insist the tens of thousands of pounds that possibly should have been declared as local expenses were rightly recorded nationally. But the rules on election spending are carefully designed to ensure that wealthier political parties do not have an unfair advantage over their opponents, and at least 29 Tory candidates may have broken these rules. Channel 4 reports that there are now:
18 police forces up and down the country that have been given or are seeking an extension to the time limit relating to election expenses.
The Canary has been following the electoral fraud allegations very closely in recent months:
- In early February 2016, we spoke about Channel 4’s discovery of the Conservatives failure to declare thousands in campaign spending at three by-elections in 2014, which a party campaign manager soon admitted was “systematic” behaviour.
- As similar revelations about 2015 general election spending came to light, we amplified calls for the matter not to be brushed under the carpet.
- In late April, we reported on the Electoral Commission’s announcement that it had asked the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the police to apply for time limit extensions for their investigations. Since the start of May, we have followed the progress on this issue as police forces began investigating the Conservative party’s potential electoral fraud.
- We have criticised the BBC for its lack of coverage of the scandal, and praised Twitter users for making #ToryElectionFraud trend.
- We have also reported on the Conservatives’ alleged breach of a law prohibiting the payment of canvassers to support electoral candidates, and on complaints about personalised letters sent to voters in David Cameron’s name (and declared only as a national expense) which may have helped to win over marginal constituencies.
We are still undertaking an intensive investigation into the electoral fraud allegations. Stick with us for more revelations in the coming days and weeks.
– See other Canary articles on the electoral fraud scandal.
– Be a part of the People’s Electoral Commission – look up your postcode to check on your MP.