Wednesday, 10 May 2017

No criminal blame attaches to Conservative candidates

As has always been obvious from the heading, and must have been clear from many posts since it started, this is not an official Liberal Democrat blog. It should be emphasised again that these are my own personal views and not necessarily those of the party.

First of all, may I state that I have no quarrel with the CPS decision not to prosecute any of the candidates in the 2015 election expenses scandal. Indeed, I always was doubtful that criminal charges would succeed (while harbouring the secret hope that at least one of the participants had made a false step!). It is clear that the twenty-odd Conservative candidates investigated by the police, including three Welshmen subsequently elected, were unwitting stooges of Conservative Central Office (CCO) and the mastermind of the 2015 blue battle.

(I am told that there is currently circulating in the Swansea area an "independent magazine" which just happens to boost every Labour policy applying to the city. One imagines that Labour candidates will plead ignorance and omit their share of the benefit from their election expenses, buoyed by the CPS decision.)

Let us be clear. Election offences were committed in 2015. The Electoral Commission (EC) found the Conservative Party in breach of electoral rules and fined the Conservatives what the EC themselves described as a derisory amount, £70,000, the maximum the law currently allows. No doubt the official CCO media release today will imply that the party is guilt-free, but I hope the media will not be blinded.

There was other national campaigning by the Conservative Party which was ruled admissible by the EC, but which one might think occupied a grey area. Before the general election, individual voters in target seats were sent letters from party headquarters tailored to meet their own concerns, picked up during canvassing. To my mind, a stereotyped letter praising the party and distributed to all and sundry is all very well, but when a letter listing detailed policies is individualised it crosses a boundary in my opinion, especially if it emphasises policies which are at variance with the views of the sitting MP - e.g., a pro-Trident statement in a constituency where the MP was known to be anti-renewal.

There is probably little that can be done to stop clever people manipulating the local/national rules. However, where offences are committed, the fines levied should be a real deterrent, commensurate with the benefits the perpetrator expects to receive. Most of all, there should be a sensible cap on national electoral spending. It is wrong for parties to buy elections.

[Later] The Evening Post relays a story in the socialist-leaning Canary that excess electoral expenditure was incurred by the Conservatives in Gower in 2015. I believe the Post gives the Canary more credence than I would, but we shall see.

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