Veteran MP Dennis Skinner cut straight to the point at Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) on 19 April. He raised the issue that should and must hound the Conservative government’s entire election campaign: the fact that 30 people are under investigation for election fraud. And the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will make a decision on whether to charge them in the middle of the election campaign.
Skinner asked May:
Will the Prime Minister give a guarantee that no Tory MP who is under investigation by the police and legal authorities over election expenses in the last general election be a candidate in this election?
And he wasn’t pulling any punches with his conclusion:
Because if she won’t accept that, this is the most squalid election campaign that has happened in my lifetime.
But May was unable and unwilling to answer. Instead, she avoided the question with meaningless platitudes:
I stand by all the Conservative MPs in this house and who will be out there, standing again, campaigning for a Conservative government that will give a brighter and better future for this country.
If any of the MPs standing for election are prosecuted, however, then these are words she may live to regret.
You can watch the video here:
— The Baptist (@Admitonesin) April 19, 2017
Channel 4 News revealed that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is considering charges against 30 MPs and agents. It is unknown how many of these are agents and how many are MPs. But the decision will be made during the election campaign. This potentially means that MPs will be prosecuted for fraud at the same time they are standing for re-election.
The allegations centre around the ‘battle bus’ campaign, and associated expenses such as hotel rooms. Many argue that the campaign promoted prospective local MPs in key seats. Under election law, any expenditure which promotes a local candidate should be covered locally. But the ‘battle bus’ and associated costs were declared nationally. Each constituency has a fixed amount of money it can spend locally. And including the ‘battle bus’ expenditure would have meant many candidates overspent.
For example, the Conservatives put a huge amount of time and resources into fighting Nigel Farage in South Thanet. This was money that was allegedly dedicated to promoting the local candidate. But expenses, such as hotel rooms, were not attributed to the local campaign. Had they been counted locally, the Conservative MP Craig Mackinlay would have overspent by £18,973.
But it’s not just one constituency. Files from 14 police forces across the country are being considered by the CPS.
The Conservatives are facing increasing criticism over their timing of the general election. Many cite the possibility of multiple by-elections as a reason for the vote. Farage stated:
I think the Tories were terrified of something breaking over the course of the next few months, byelections to be held in September, certainly a dozen seats in which there was the possibility of a byelection some say even 20. And that for a government with a working majority of 12.
But Home Secretary Amber Rudd rejected the claims:
This election has been called for all the reasons the Prime Minister has set out which is that it is in our national interest to have a strong government with a strong majority able to go in and have that negotiation with the EU and beyond.
And she was dismissive about the consequences of any charges:
we believe that the Conservatives and the MPs in question and the agents have behaved properly. If there are any conclusions to the contrary, we will pay the fines, whatever is appropriate.
The Tories have already been fined £70,000 by the Electoral Commission for multiple breaches during the 2015 campaign. But this is not a problem that’s going to go away by throwing money at it. If convicted, MPs could face prison time.
They should not stand
Skinner is right on a crucial point. Those MPs facing investigation should not be standing in the 2017 general election. To do so makes a mockery of justice and democracy.
Furthermore, the issue of election fraud must be put at the heart of the 2017 campaign. And it is down to all of us to ensure it is always on the agenda.
If we fail to do so, it will indeed be a “squalid” campaign.
Featued image via screenshot and screenshot