The Conservatives have responded to the Electoral Commission’s findings on their party’s election spending with a barefaced lie.
The Conservative Party response
Dozens of Tory MPs face allegations that they overspent in the 2015 general election campaign. The Conservative Party declared expenses on its national return, such as costs associated with the Tories’ Battlebus 2015. But these MPs potentially should have declared them locally. Because some of the campaigning was allegedly for local candidates.
The Electoral Commission has undertaken an investigation into the allegations. And on 16 March, it published its findings, along with a £70,000 fine for the party. In response, a Conservative Party spokesperson said:
CCHQ has always taken the view that its nationally directed battlebus campaign… was part of its national return… The Electoral Commission report makes clear that our interpretation of the guidance was correct…
The spokesperson then quoted from the report to support their claim. But the report shows this statement to be demonstrably false. Or, as The Guardian put it, a very ‘selective’ conclusion.
The EC’s findings
The Electoral Commission said it had found “no evidence” to suggest that the Conservative Party had the “intention” of promoting or securing the “electoral success of candidates” in its funding of the 2015 Battlebus. This is the ‘proof’ the party spokesperson used to show that their interpretation of the rules was “correct”. But the Electoral Commission continues. And it claims, in fact, the exact opposite:
Nevertheless, coaches of activists were transported to marginal constituencies to campaign alongside or in close proximity to local campaigners.
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Further, it is apparent that candidate campaigning did take place during the Battlebus2015 campaign.
Meanwhile, the Electoral Commission found no evidence suggesting the party gave any “consideration” to whether candidate campaigning was happening on the Battlebus 2015. The Conservatives just “assumed” they could record those expenses on their national return. And so, as the Electoral Commission explicitly states:
Consequently an inaccurate assumption was made that the full spending should be reported by the party.
With parties like this…
The Conservative Party also didn’t keep appropriate spending records. So the Electoral Commission can’t determine how much it spent properly as a national expense, and what it should have attributed to candidates.
Nonetheless, the Electoral Commission categorically states that the party “should not” have claimed, as a national expense, a “proportion” of what it did. Because it spent that money on candidates.
So the Conservatives’ “interpretation” was not correct. It was “inaccurate”. And the fact the party thinks it can get away with lying about that speaks volumes about this scandal as a whole.
– Read more Canary articles on the Tory fraud allegations.
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