I previously noted the bad news for Conservative MPs in the Electoral Commission’s recent report which led to a record fine being levied in the party. That report clearly pointed towards numerous Conservative MPs having broken their constituency expense limits.
Enforcing such constituency limits is essentially a matter for the police rather than the Electoral Commission, which is why the Commission did not go further on the issue in its report.
The police, however, are very much going further:
The Crown Prosecution Service confirmed that it had received a file from West Midlands Police – the 13th police to do so in recent weeks…
Dozens of detectives working for 19 separate police forces have been investigating for nearly a year whether the costs should have been declared locally. [The Daily Mirror]
During most of those investigations, the media – and political pundits in particular – have given the investigations very little attention. Political predictions for the forthcoming year made at the start of 2017 almost without fail did not mention how the government may see more MPs than its majority in court on charges of cheating their way into office.
In fact, I’ve failed so far to find any previous example where quite so many MPs from one party have been up for police investigation all at the same time. (Do let me know in the comments if I’ve missed a case.) The scale of this looks to be well into unprecedented territory.
That is the sort of thing which can not only destroy a government in the eyes of voters, it can wreck the party’s long-term standing too. Any serious prediction about the future has to factor in the possibility that there will be an even more destructive swamping with sleaze stories of Theresa May’s government than happened to John Major. That not only helped bring down a Prime Minister, it helped ensure his party failed to win an overall majority at the next four general elections in a row.
The odds of this happening are certainly a good way short of certain. But they are also far higher than the zero which so many pieces of coverage about how high the Conservatives are riding imply.