Police have been asked to investigate whether letters sent in the Prime Minister’s name constitute electoral fraud.
Former Liberal Democrat MP Adrian Sanders has urged Devon and Cornwall Police to take action. He says the mail-shots broke local election spending limits in the Torbay constituency he lost to the Conservatives at the 2015 general election.
The Conservative party claims that the letters are not local election spending because they do not mention the local candidate’s name. There are separate limits for national and local electoral spending. The party’s position is that the letters count as national election spending, meaning they do not break spending limits.
A Conservative spokesman said:
Simply referring to the location where the elector lives does not promote any named candidate.
However, here is just one of the letters with David Cameron’s signature, via the BBC:
The Prime Minister is urging Susan to vote Conservative specifically in the constituent of Torbay. Ticking the box with the local candidate’s name is necessary to adhere to Cameron’s request.
If it were national election spending the letter would urge a number of people from a number of constituencies to vote Conservative. It would not name the local constituency – it would read “here in England”, not “here in Torbay”.
The former chairman of the Torbay Conservative association described Torbay as a “vital swing seat for Tories” in 2010. But the Conservative candidate was defeated by the Lib Dem Adrian Sanders. The Electoral Reform Society says:
Our research shows that the parties spend 22 times more on winning some people’s votes than on others, depending on whether they live in a safe seat or a marginal seat.
It is a specific targeted mailshot to a voter in a given constituency saying vote for our candidate in that constituency. That has to be a local cost, not a national expense.
In 2015, Cameron would not want to lose a “vital swing seat” again. And the letter in question is targeted at a particular voter in a specific constituency.
Take a look. Personalised letters from David Cameron to Marginal Constituent. Illegal if not included as local cost? pic.twitter.com/ccZIP2k6eT
— Tory Fibs (@ToryFibs) May 13, 2016
The Conservative’s electoral fraud scandal continues to grow. As The Canary’s Bex Sumner previously summarised:
Dozens of Tory MPs face accusations that they illegally overspent in the 2015 general election campaign by failing to declare costs associated with the Conservative campaign “battle buses”. If the allegations are true, the MPs and their agents could face a year in jail and/or an unlimited fine, as well as a three-year ban on holding elected office – potentially triggering by-elections across the country and losing the Conservatives their majority in parliament.
Cheshire police, Derbyshire police, Devon and Cornwall police, Gloucestershire police, Greater Manchester police, Northamptonshire police, Staffordshire police, Warwickshire police, West Yorkshire police, Somerset police, Lincolnshire police and West Mercia police are the forces undertaking criminal investigations so far.
Now these letters have surfaced, the Tory electoral fraud scandal leads directly to the Prime Minister. Cameron specifically targets a Torbay constituent to “vote Conservative here in Torbay” in the letter above. Sanders is right – this is local, not national electoral spending. And it should be considered as such in the eyes of the law.
Correction: An earlier version of this article mentioned Chippenham as one of the constituencies visited by the battle bus. Michelle Donelan MP has since informed us that the battle bus did not visit her constituency and Wiltshire Police have closed their investigation. This article was updated at 1330 on 5 May 2017 to remove a call to action urging readers in Chippenham and other constituencies to contact their police forces.
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