The Electoral Commission’s constituency election expenses guidance when it comes to transport costs is very clear:
Candidate spending includes the costs of… transport costs for you or your campaigners. For example, hire cars or public transport.*
But the national Conservative Party guidance to candidates (including MPs) and agents in key seats told them to ignore this guidance. Talking about the Battlebus tours, the guidance said:
We fund all the hotel and transport. This is an election expense and is accounted for out of central campaign spend.
Note the reference to “all” transport costs and central, not candidate, campaign spending.
Yet these were hotel and transport costs for people who were doing campaigning which included delivering leaflets that counted against constituency election expenses. The Conservative Party guidance admits this because it says:
You [the candidate] fund all election related materials. You expense this as appropriate.
So the people were doing campaigning, using leaflets that counted against the candidate spending limit and they had transport costs. But the Tories told their candidates and agents to leave out these transport costs despite that Electoral Commission guidance: “Candidate spending includes the costs of… transport costs for you or your campaigners”.
How will the Tories try to justify this as they face having 11 MPs so far named as being under investigation? Most likely by arguing that paying transport costs to get people to a constituency is not the same as transport within a constituency.
But to argue that is the equivalent of a candidate ordering a set of leaflets for their campaign from a printer outside their constituency and then claiming that the delivery costs of getting the leaflets from outside the constituency to them don’t count even though the leaflets themselves are going to count.
What’s more the 1983 Representation of the People Act’s definition of transport costs says, “Transport (by any means) of persons to any place. Expenses in respect of the transport of such persons include the costs of hiring a means of transport for a particular period.” No “but only within the constituency” caveat.
So that legal defence is, a civil servant would say, a very brave legal interpretation.
* It’s true that volunteers of all parties travel to marginal seats under their own steam and those expenses are not included in candidate returns. But that’s because there are exemptions such as for “transport provided free of charge by any other individual if the means of transport was acquired by him principally for his own personal use” and also the amounts people can spend of their own volition as long as they are not part of a concerted plan. The organised nature of the Battlebuses with the Tories paying the costs is very different from individuals making their own way to a seat and covering their own personal travel costs.
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