Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Almost Blue

The possibility that the Conservatives contravened the laws on election expenses in key seats during last year’s General Election is a story that is not widely reported in the mainstream media, being largely confined to Channel 4. To be charitable, this may be because investigations by a number of police forces are still on-going, or that other news outlets are unwilling to run with a rival’s exclusive. However, it is a story that is gaining traction as the number of investigations has been slowly increasing and recently expanded to include Sussex.

There is cap on local spending by candidates in parliamentary elections and, in an investigation by Channel 4 News reporter Michael Crick, evidence was uncovered of the Tories incurring costs for activists who were bussed in to assist in marginal constituencies; these costs had not been declared in their submitted election expenses. The police have asked the courts to grant them extra time, in addition to the one-year limit, to investigate these allegations, a move that was unsuccessfully challenged by the Tory Party in one constituency.

With nearly 20 police forces throughout England now working on cases of potential electoral fraud, Sussex Police today applied for extra time to investigate the expenses of Conservative Maria Caulfield who won the Lewes constituency from the Liberal Democrats last May. The result was one of a number of surprises in East Sussex – where the Tories astonishingly won six out of eight seats to turn the county almost blue - as sitting MP Norman Baker’s majority of 7,500 was overturned.

It is now possible that opposition parties in other East Sussex constituencies will ask the Electoral Commission to look at the expenses of unanticipated Tory victors: the Liberal Democrats also lost Eastbourne by a wafer-thin majority; Labour missed out in the marginal seat of Brighton Kemptown, which was held by the Conservatives with a majority of less than 700 votes; and the Hastings and Rye sitting MP, cabinet minister Amber Rudd, unexpectedly increased her slender majority over Labour from 2010.

With the possible outcome that some election results from May 2015 will be declared void, a government with a working parliamentary majority of only 16 may soon find that the EU referendum is not their biggest problem.

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