Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Election expenses 2015 - no charges

All of Britain's three main political parties have been fined the maximum amount (£20,000) by the Electoral Commission for failing to report properly on spending in the 2015 general election.

(The larger figure sometimes reported in relation to the Conservatives includes additional fines for reporting mistakes in the returns for three by-elections during the 2010 to 2015 parliament.)

It is unacceptable for the parties to have made these mistakes and all must make sure they abide by the rules in future. There is a case for a speaker's conference to refine and clarify election expenses rules to ensure that what is allowable spending and how it should be declared are crystal clear.

The fact that all three major parties got these matters wrong does not justify their errors in any way shape or form, but it does mean that in the interests of fairness any action taken against one of them should be taken against all three unless there were evidence that one party had behaved much worse than any of the others.

It has been announced today that there will be no charges over the 2015 Conservative "battle bus" which Conservative candidates and agents were told by CCHQ they did not need to declare in local spending returns as it would be (and indeed, subsequently was) declared nationally.

The electoral commission ruled that this advice was incorrect and appropriate parts of the battle bus cost should have been declared locally rather than nationally.

However, IMHO there is no reason to believe that any local candidates or agents could possibly have known that the advice from CCHQ would subsequently be ruled incorrect.

In a statement, the CPS said today that it is an offence to knowingly make a false declaration but in order to bring charges it must be proved that suspects knew the return was inaccurate and acted dishonestly in signing the declaration.

"Although there is evidence to suggest the returns may have been inaccurate, there is insufficient evidence to prove to the criminal standard that any candidate or agent was dishonest," said its head of special crime Nick Vamos.

Submitting inaccurate returns relating to battle bus spending was a "technical offence", Mr Vamos said, but he did not believe in the circumstances it was in the public interest to bring charges against individuals.

The Conservative Party, which has always insisted administrative errors were to blame rather than any intention to deceive, said they were glad the matter had been "finally resolved."

"After a very thorough investigation, we are pleased that the legal authorities have confirmed what we believed was the case all along: that these Conservative candidates did nothing wrong,"

said party chairman Patrick McLoughlin.

The Electoral Commission said the CPS's findings were consistent with its own investigation.

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