An exclusive Channel 4 report on alleged electoral fraud by the Conservative Party has prompted eight separate police forces to launch investigations into the matter.
The allegations centre on last year’s general election campaign and whether costs, in the tens of thousands, to transport Tory activists to marginal seats in a “battle bus” and set them up in accommodation should have been declared on individual candidate’s expenses rather than falling under the national campaign.
According to Channel 4, the story is the result of a three-month long investigation by its news team. The channel’s political correspondent, Michael Crick, first reported the matter in a blog post in late January. A second report, claiming the Tories had overspent on three by-elections, followed in early February. As more Tory candidates became embroiled in the affair Channel 4 news anchor John Snow broadcast a report with 20 empty chairs, showing ministers who had turned down requests for interview from the Bafta-winning programme, on April 21 ahead of local, mayoral and national elections on “Super Thursday” last week.
Police in West Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Greater Manchester, Devon and Cornwall, Gloucestershire, Northamptonshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire are understood to be working with the Electoral Commission and a number of them have applied for an extension to the one-year time limit on their investigations.
The police probes have also been reported on by the BBC’s Home Affairs correspondent Daniel Sandford. However, the BBC has come under widespread attack on Twitter from those who claimed the corporation failed to follow up on the story ahead of the polls opening.
A spokeswoman for the BBC said this was “categorically not true” as the issue had been discussed on the Daily Politics show aired on 4 May, the day before the election.
Host Andrew Neil told former chairman of the Conservative Party Grant Shapps: “As a party you are bang to rights on misappropriation of electoral spending and it’s a criminal offence.”
Shapps, MP for Welwyn Hatfield, said compliance had not been his area of concern as chairman, adding: “As far as I’m aware it’s all been done correctly.”
A Conservative Party spokesman said: “CCHQ campaigned across the country for the return of a Conservative Government. Such campaigning would be part of the national return, not local return, as the Electoral Commission has said.
“As is apparent from our national return, the party declared expenditure related to our CCHQ-organised Battlebus. However, due to administrative error it omitted to declare the accommodation costs of those using the vehicles.
“This is something we have already brought to the attention of the Electoral Commission in order to amend the return. The party always took the view that our national Battlebus, a highly-publicised campaign activity, was part of the national return – and we would have no reason not to declare it as such, given that the Party was some millions below the national spending threshold.
“Other political parties ran similar vehicles which visited different parliamentary constituencies as part of their national campaigning.”