From The NHS Sweetheart deal to the UN investigating them and to 32 police forces investigation Tories for Election Fraud, Is it over for the Tories?
|It’s no laughing matter for Theresa May as her and her government is failing everybody and it’s looking quite likely her honeymoon period is over|
1. Surrey Sweetheart deal
Correspondence between Surrey County Council’s leader and ministers showed the Tory authority had “extraordinary access to government”, Labour frontbencher Barbara Keeley has said.
The correspondence was released by the council under freedom of information.
In the papers, Woking MP Jonathan Lord writes to David Hodge that Communities Secretary Sajid Javid could cut funding for other councils to give Surrey £31m.
The government has denied Labour claims Surrey was offered a “sweetheart deal”.
Opposition councillors in Surrey have said Mr Hodge’s credibility has been undermined and have called on him to resign as council leader or face a motion of no confidence.
Surrey County Council – Freedom of information requests
Ms Keeley told the Commons: “Last night, Surrey County Council released many documents and texts revealing an extraordinary level of access that one council enjoyed with ministers and their advisers.”
The MP for Worsley and Eccles South said: “my own council” [Salford City Council] was allocated 30 minutes with a junior minister after asking to meet Mr Javid to discuss “difficult” funding and loss of social care funds.
“However, the leader of Surrey County Council was given meetings with [Mr Javid] on October 12, October 19 and January 9.
“There were a number of further meetings with the communities secretary to discuss Surrey County Council’s funding situation involving the chancellor [Philip Hammond], health secretary [Jeremy Hunt], and other Surrey MPs.
“There was also a substantial stream of letters, emails and texts, and some of these may make the surprising reading.”
Analysis, BBC South politics editor Peter Henley:
Now the leader of Surrey County Council faces a motion of no confidence at the next council meeting. Opposition councillors have called on David Hodge to resign following the release of emails in which he called on the prime minister to send more cash “so that Surrey will continue to be a heartland for Conservatives”.
David Hodge admits to trying as hard as he could to get the best deal for his county, as any leader would. It’s the sweetheart bit that sticks in the throat.
As so often it’s the claims of the cover-up which seem more dangerous. If abandoning the 15% rise was entirely a decision for Surrey, was the misleading his councillors into thinking a deal with the government was still on the table when it had been “firmly rejected” as the minister claimed today?
Was David Hodge himself behind the release of embarrassing documents on Budget day? He certainly won’t go down with a fight, even if it’s with his own side.
MPs heard comments from an email dated 9 January, in which Conservative MP Mr Lord wrote to Mr Hodge: “Sajid led me to understand before Christmas that he would be trying very hard indeed to find £30 or £40m to help Surrey out with the worst of its (government-dictated) financial dilemma.
“I am extremely unimpressed that he has not come up with the goods.”
He also wrote: “If all his local government settlement money is really allocated… if the Treasury really is refusing to help out… and if he can’t find a pot of money for the ‘missing’ learning disability grant…then Saj still has the option of adjusting all other council settlements down very slightly in order to accommodate the £31m needed for Surrey – and I think he should be encouraged to do this.”
2. Theresa May’s blatant lies in PMQ’s about the Surrey sweetheart deal
Jeremy Corbyn rattled Theresa May on the ‘gentleman’s agreement’ it’s claimed the government struck with Surrey County Council.
A secret tape emerged last night of the cash-strapped Tory council’s boss talking about a “gentleman’s agreement” with the government.
Surrey County Council leader David Hodge revealed the apparent deal as he persuaded colleagues to ditch a 15% council tax hike, according to audio leaked to the BBC.
There are now demanding Theresa May to apologise after she repeatedly denied there was a “sweetheart deal” to get cash-strapped Surrey more funds.
Just weeks ago she accused Jeremy Corbyn of “alternative facts” when the Labour leader accused her of backroom deals with the Tory town hall.
But the Prime Minister insisted today that there was “no special deal” that wasn’t available to other councils.
The Labour leader cornered the Prime Minister on the subject at Prime Minister’s Questions, just before today’s Budget announcement.
But she said: “If he could just be a little patient and wait half an hour for the Budget he will find out what social care funding is available to all councils.
3. UN investigating the Tory party for breaking disability laws
The UN have said:
The Tory Party have met the threshold of grave or systematic violations of the rights of persons with disabilities.
E.113 UN Report
4. Tory Election Fraud
I know it seems like centuries ago now, but cast your mind back to those heady comparatively carefree days of early 2016. Back then we were basking in the first few months of a new year under Tory rule. The referendum was but a glint in David Cameron’s eye and Donald Trump a mere troubadour in the posse of clowns lined up to be the Republican Presidential nominee.
The UK leaving Europe seemed almost as laughable a prospect as the US picking a combed-over, bellowing baboon to be the most powerful man on the planet. We had more pressing political storms to navigate and one of them concerned allegations about some rather creative accounting surrounding the Conservatives’ expenses returns for the 2015 General Election.
Hardly anyone appeared to want to talk about it, not least the two regulars on the BBC This Week Show, but it was something that was starting to raise eyebrows amongst bolder sections of the media. Channel 4 News were the most forthright, pursuing the case with dogged determination.
For those who weren’t paying attention at the time, or have had the details blotted out by even more bizarre events since the allegations centred mainly around the use of the Tory battlebus and the use of ‘bussed in’ campaigners in key constituencies. During general elections, parties have national and local limits to abide by. The explanation put forward by CCHQ is that the bus should come under national expenditure, whereas others argue that it was used to bolster local campaigning, especially when it brought in large numbers of canvassers and leafleters to specific target areas. Other potential irregularities concerned costs for hotel bills and other support expenses which, along with other allegedly under-declared claims from three by-elections in 2014 amounted to a little under £140,000.
The Conservatives claimed they had nothing to hide but the electoral commission had only a year to take action. With concern mounting that CCHQ were reluctant to hand over paperwork surrounding the allegations, the police were brought in to focus their minds on the task.
It seems like a technicality, but spending limits during elections are incredibly important. Parties like the Conservatives, buoyed by the backing of rich vested interests, could easily swamp any other party if they were allowed free rein. So keeping account of expenses is vitally important. All candidates in an election, especially a national one, have it impressed on them that failing to complete accurate expenses returns could lead to serious trouble, including fines and even imprisonment. I was a candidate myself in 2015 and even though The Green Party couldn’t come close to any of the spending limits, records of campaign costs had to be meticulous. How accurately you record your expenditure is every bit as important as how much you’ve spent.
In the grand scheme of the millions spent by the major parties in 2015, the disputed amounts involved don’t seem like much – but the impact in key seats could have been huge. The Channel 4 investigation identified 24 constituencies that they said had exceeded the local spending limit, with 22 of those being taken by the Conservatives. With a result that only gave them a majority of 12, it’s something that could well have swung the balance of power. If such a scenario were to play out, we may not have been living under the Tory rule for the past 20 months and issues such as Brexit and other damaging policy decisions may never have happened.
All this brought us up to around May last year when copious quantities of excrement were launched into the jet stream of the runaway train that became the EU referendum. At that point, the hashtag #toryelectionscandal saw its opportunity and made a dash for the long grass, where it remained. Until now.
This week, news has started to leak out from a police source that their investigations have come to some conclusions and that papers would be sent to the Crown Prosecution Service within weeks. It’s believed that everything has boiled down to around 6 of the original 24 constituencies under scrutiny, with one police source reporting:
“it’s widely thought that they will make examples of one or two cases.”
It’s likely that South Thanet could be one of that half dozen as this was the original case that caught the attention of the Channel 4 investigation where they claimed that Craig Mackinlay MP declared spending of £14,838 when the real figure was £33,989.
Several sources, including ministers and their aides, have expressed concern about the investigation and it’s said to be causing something of a stir in No 10. One source has been quoted as saying:
“The problem for No 10 is that they do not know where this will end and they do not know who is leaking against them. They are deeply worried about this.”
And they’re right to be worried. CCHQ has apparently sought to amend what they have characterised as ‘administrative errors’ on some expenses returns so it would seem there is something to answer for here. If found to be in breach of electoral law, some of the Conservative campaign team could be looking at jail time or a fine at the very least.
Even though I think a spell in the chokey is an unlikely event, there is the very real possibility of the results in some of the constituencies being declared void. That would necessitate fresh by-elections which could potentially erode the government’s slim majority in the house. This could all be happening as the government struggles to keep on top of important national issues, such as Brexit. Not a great time to be having to fight to keep your majority. Although judging by current polls and the results of the Copeland election, it might not be that tough for Theresa May to hang on to her job.
So more than ever we need to see opposition parties pull together in the hope of overturning as many of these dubious results as possible. It could be the one golden opportunity to derail the current administration before the next General Election. Our one chance to halt the damage to the NHS, prevent damaging cuts to local services and social care, and perhaps even remove the gun that May has put to the heads of every one of us over negotiations with the EU.
It all sounds too good to be true, and it may well turn out to be. But then again many of us would never have predicted the events we’ve all seen over the last 10 months. Could this roll of the political dice turn out to be third time lucky for those of us who desperately want to see some positive outcome from 2016? We’ll know in a few short weeks time. I’m hoping for a double six.
As many as six by-elections may have to be held as a result of a police investigation into claims of expenses fraud by Tory candidates during the 2015 general election.
What are the allegations?
It is claimed that some Conservative MPs in marginal seats broke election rules on what can be spent on campaigning.
Last year, the Daily Mirror suggested 23 politicians had failed to declare their local spending on the party’s travelling election “battle bus”, allowing the bill to be footed by Conservative Campaign Headquarters in violation of Electoral Commission rules.
A subsequent investigation by Channel 4 News has uncovered receipts which show the line between national and local spending was blurred in a number of constituencies.
What does this mean?
According to The Times, 24 seats were under investigation at one stage, but “it is believed that this has been reduced to fewer than a dozen investigations in which the police believe the evidence warrants further examination”.
These files are expected to be sent to the Crown Prosecution Service within weeks.
5. Tory whistleblowers speak out about Tory expenses
Two members of a Conservative campaigning “hit squad” in the 2015 election tell Channel 4 News the party “cheated” by not properly declaring its election spending.
Over the past year, a Channel 4 News investigations team has unearthed compelling evidence that the Conservative Party may have broken election laws to fight three by-elections in 2014 and win power in the 2015 General Election.
The Battlebus 2015 campaign sent a fleet of coaches filled with Conservative activists into 29 marginal seats in the final weeks of the 2015 General Election – to persuade voters on the doorstep.
The whole Battlebus campaign is now under investigation – after allegations that Conservative candidates may have broken election law by failing to declare the costs on their local spending returns.
The Party has repeatedly said the spending on the bus tour should have been declared nationally not locally.
But two Tory whistleblowers have spoken to Channel 4 News and cast doubt on that claim.
They say the party is “lying” about what happened on the Battlebus – and is now engaged in a “cover-up”.
Gregg and Louise Kinsell volunteered for the Conservatives in the final few days of the “Battlebus 2015” campaign in the South West, working in four key seats for the party.
Louise says that: “We worked for the local candidates and MPs to ensure that they won their seat and we were sent wherever they thought we would help.”
The Conservatives insist the Battlebus was a national event, with volunteers only promoting the party and not specific local candidates. As such the Battlebus was only declared in the Party’s national campaign expenses.
Last year, David Cameron said: “Lots of political parties have these bus tours – you know buses that go round different constituencies and this is a national expense.”
The Battlebus tour is currently under investigation. Under election laws, any costs incurred to promote a candidate must be declared on local candidate spending returns. It’s a criminal offence for the candidate and agent to knowingly make a false declaration.
Channel 4 News has previously revealed that hundreds of thousands of pounds in Conservative campaign spending may not have been properly declared.
And the Kinsells have revealed more examples of what they believe are questionable campaign spending.
The Battlebus group stayed at the Jury’s Inn in Plymouth. Channel 4 News has seen a hotel bill for 29 rooms at the Jury’s Inn totalling £2,520. But that hotel does not appear to have been declared in the national expenses.
The Battlebus tour was then accommodated at the Premier Inn and Travelodge in Hayle, Cornwall. Again, these hotels do not appear to have been accounted for in the Conservative national returns.
The Conservative Party has previously stated that the failure to declare the hotels used on the Battlebus campaign as an “administrative error”.
In the nine seats visited by the Battlebus in the South West, the Conservatives candidates declared that they had spent below the legal limit, as governed by electoral law.
However, Channel 4 News has calculated the cost of the buses, hotels, and staff for the Battlebus tour in the region amounts to £2,460 for each seat visited. If the activists took part in local campaigning, this cost should have been declared on local spending returns.
The Kinsells say there is now a “code of silence” amongst Party activists about what took place on the Battlebus tour.
“It has shocked me that they have been this arrogant and think they can get away with it.”
The Kinsells say they feel betrayed by the Conservatives. “We were on the bus. We know what happened. We know what we were doing. And they know what we were doing.
Gregg Kinsell said: “I feel like there’s been a betrayal. We were unwitting participants in a huge betrayal. That’s how I feel.”
A Conservative spokesman said: “We are cooperating with the ongoing investigations.”
None of the candidates responded to requests for comment.