Political

Major expansion in election expenses allegations against Conservatives

Police have been asked to investigate claims letters sent in David Cameron’s name led to a breach of election law.

The former Liberal Democrat MP Adrian Sanders has demanded Devon and Cornwall Police take action.

He said the general election mailshots last year meant the Conservatives had broken local spending limits.

A Conservative Party spokesman said they did not fall under constituency spending restrictions because they did not name the party’s local candidate.

The letters repeatedly referred to Torbay, telling voters how important it was for them to back the Tories in that constituency.

One concluded: “The only way you can stop Ed Miliband and the SNP taking us back to square one is to vote Conservative here in Torbay.” [BBC]

Why is this so significant? In part because posting out letters from a national party figure which name the constituency but not the candidate has been widespread Conservative Party practice since the 2005 general election. As I wrote in Constituency expense limits are dying off in the UK:

In April 2005 thousands of voters living in marginal seats around the UK found letters about the political situation in their constituency from then Conservative Party leader Michael Howard hitting their doormats.

To the untrained eye, these were just another round of standard political direct mailshots. But they also signalled an important step in the death of constituency expense limits in the UK…

The one key omission was the names of their constituency candidates.

The very specific “vote Conservative here in Torbay”Β point is what takes these Conservative letters into different territory than, say, the Ed Miliband ‘vote Labour’ letters I have seen or indeed similar ‘vote Lib Dem’ ones from national Liberal Democrat figures.

As Adrian Sanders puts it:

It is a specific targeted mailshot to a voter in a given constituency saying vote for our candidate in that constituency.

That has to be a local cost, not a national expense.

But also if “vote Tory here (but we’re not telling you the candidate’s name)” material should count against the constituency limit, then the same argument can be extended to significant Tory expenditure on billboard posters which also specified the merits of voting Tory in specific constituencies.

That’s an angle which hasn’t yet been picked up on, in public at least, by the Electoral Commission, police or media. Yet.

UPDATE: And there is more – How Tory HQ advice to marginal seat agents contradicted official Electoral Commission advice. Meanwhile, the number of Tory MPs named as being under investigation has risen to 11.

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