Theresa May has responded to the verdict on alleged Tory election fraud. And her comment was extraordinary. Because it wasn’t exactly the whole truth.
Fast and loose
According to Political Scrapbook, May responded to the decision by saying:
After full and lengthy investigation, the legal authorities have confirmed what we believed all along and what we said all along, which was… that local spending was properly reported, was properly declared and that the candidates had done nothing wrong.
But this was not exactly the whole truth.
The CPS looked into allegations that the Conservative Party had spent money locally but recorded it as a national expense. This would be a breach of election spending rules, as individual candidates are much more limited in what they can spend than the party at large. And the CPS concluded that the Conservative Party’s spending returns may be “inaccurate”. The Electoral Commission (EC), meanwhile, fined the party £70,000 for its ‘inaccuracies’ back in March. Quite far from May’s assertion of “properly” reported and declared expenses, then.
The CPS simply asserted that it could not find proof of “dishonesty” by those involved. Because it said those parties were “told by Conservative Party headquarters that the costs were part of the national campaign”. And that’s why it came to its decision.
A level playing field
The big issue with recording election expenses accurately is to ensure a level playing field for all parties – so that wealthier ones cannot gain an unfair advantage over their opponents.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn responded to the CPS decision by saying:
There are strict spending limits for a reason, so that money can’t buy power. Only votes in the ballot box should be able to get power.
He also acknowledged that he was “surprised” by the decision. And at a campaign event in Leeds, he pointed out that money has a significant role in British politics today. He spoke of how wealthy people are often the ones who don’t want to see a reduction in inequality in the UK. Mentioning the recent Sunday Times Rich List in particular, and that a third of those on the list donate to the Conservative Party, he insisted that:
The Conservative Party looks after money. And money looks after the Conservative Party.
Jeremy Corbyn today….. "The Conservative Party Looks After Money. Money Looks After The Conservative Party". pic.twitter.com/CbzVMeiF6y
— Tory Fibs (@ToryFibs) May 10, 2017
And money is indeed very important when it comes to elections, and political parties. As the investigations into election spending have shown. Who politicians get their money from, and how they spend it, really matters. That’s why rules are in place.
The Conservative Party allegedly didn’t follow the rules properly. And it must not be allowed to spin the findings of the CPS investigation to suit itself.
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