It's Bank Holiday weekend and I'd like to go 'off piste' again and say something about this extraordinary EU referendum campaign we're in the middle of and 'Project Fear' in particular. As I write there seems to be some evidence that the penny has finally dropped that the Electorate has indeed been scared witless, but it could all be hugely counter-productive by confirming that a) politicians lie for a living, b) statistics are just plucked from the air with no evidence to back them up and c) the sky probably won't fall in if we vote to leave on June 23rd.
I don't normally watch BBC1's Question Time any more because it just irritates me so much, but I did catch the one a week or two back when former BBC and Ch4 journalist Paul Mason was on. He confirmed my suspicion that all the so-called facts and figures being quoted, especially by the 'stay' campaign, can't be trusted as in his long experience of being an economic and political commentator, they're basically just made up. Who'd have thought that eh?
If memory serves me correctly, he then went on to outline how the EU was completely undemocratic, was hugely wasteful and bureaucratic, incapable of reform, run entirely by faceless unknown men and Britain was better off out than in. I think he pointed out that the much-vaunted European Free Trade area was in decline and how if ratified, the proposed US-EU TTIP agreement would further the cause of privatisation on institutions such as the NHS. But he then took everyone by surprise by stating that in all probability he'd be voting to stay in, albeit reluctantly. How come? Basically because he feared what a Tory government would do in the future if unfettered by EU restraint. He went on to say that in his view the Referendum must be followed by a General Election, but this didn't seem in prospect sadly.
I have to say his contribution to the EU debate was one of the most sensible I've heard, not least because I decided some time ago to discount all the crap about immigration, migration and economics. So that just leaves emotional and political issues to ponder on and I definitely do not want to see a Tory government given any more legitimacy to wreak further havoc on our society, but what realistic chance is there of an election any time soon and in order to take advantage of their internal turmoil and disarray?
Well, step forward journalist Michael Crick, late of BBC2's Newsnight and now Ch4 news. In typical nerdy fashion he's been beavering away over the last several months examining the election expense returns from the General Election last year and thinks he's discovered that lots of Tory candidates may have submitted false figures and if true, have committed serious criminal offences that would mean multiple by-elections. This is something serious to ponder on because the Tories only have a majority of 12 in the House of Commons.
This from the Financial Times website on 13th May:-
Tory MPs fear election spending row could lead to jail
Conservatives are fearful that a simmering row over alleged breaches of election spending rules by up to 30 MPs at the last election could lead to some losing their seats or even being sent to jail. The involvement of the police has elevated an apparently technical issue over whether the Tories correctly recorded their election expenses into a matter of great concern among the parliamentary party.
The claims are that between 20 and 30 Conservative MPs had help from “battle buses” that brought in hundreds of volunteers to fight local seats. Police are starting to investigate whether this spending should have been declared locally. If it should, the cost would have smashed election expenses rules. David Cameron has argued it was right to include the buses as part of the national campaign’s expenses.
Breaching spending limits in a local constituency is a criminal offence for which the candidate and agent are liable, with the possibility of fines or imprisonment. There would also be demands for a by-election. “There are quite a few of us who are very worried,” said one Tory MP. “We did everything we could to stay within the rules, but this is very unsettling.” The MP said Conservative HQ told him that the battle bus operation would count as national spending but added: “If they are wrong, then I’m the one who is legally responsible.” Another Conservative MP said: “You could go to prison.”
But business minister Anna Soubry on Friday defended her party, saying on Twitter that “we’ve done nothing wrong” and claiming the Tory battle bus was “perfectly legal national spend”. Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats had used similar campaign tactics during the election, she said.
This week Gloucestershire Police announced it had launched an investigation into electoral fraud “in relation to the 2015 general election” but did not give details. That force is one of ten in England looking into the issue. While the police are responsible for investigating allegations of electoral fraud by candidates, the Electoral Commission has opened a separate probe into the way the Conservatives accounted for their campaign at a national level. On Thursday, the party produced documents about its general election spending after the commission — which is investigating allegations relating to accommodation costs for activists on the battle bus — took court action.
The Conservatives have already acknowledged that an “administrative error” led to the fact that some hotel costs had not been properly registered, following an investigation by Channel 4. Tory MPs admit they needed the support of flying squads of party activists from around the country to help win their seats because some local parties are not up to the task. The battle bus operation was deemed by Conservative headquarters to be part of the national campaign and its costs would therefore not breach national election spending limits.
The Liberal Democrats, who lost seats in the south and the south-west to the Conservatives, feel particularly aggrieved. Adrian Sanders, the former Lib Dem MP for Torbay, said: “The point we are testing is whether it is in order for parties to funnel money into a few marginal seats and distort what should be a level playing field. “Whether it affected the results across the 30 or so affected seats is for others to judge. If it is proven that the criminal law was broken, the victims of such a crime are the 60m citizens of the UK.”
Labour has been noticeably quiet on the subject and the party argues that it does not need to get involved. But one Tory MP said: “Everyone knows that election expenses are a work of fiction. Labour know theirs are as bad as ours. You can drive a coach and horses through the loophole.” A Labour spokeswoman said: “The Tories need to come up with the evidence rather than making claims. Labour’s spending is within the law.”
This on the Channel 4 News website:-
New expenses scandal emerges as Tories fight police in court
As the Conservatives go to court to prevent police investigating its South Thanet election expenses, Channel 4 News reveals fresh evidence of undeclared expenses there, and the scale of the operation. Detailed new evidence from inside a Conservative campaign office in the key South Thanet constituency reveals the huge resources provided to this campaign.
Other documents and social media postings further reveal how staff from Conservative party headquarters were parachuted in to the constituency to help their candidate beat Farage, with many related costs not declared locally. Channel 4 News understands that there are 18 police forces up and down the country that have been given or are seeking an extension to the time limit relating to election expenses. The Conservative party is currently only attempting to block in South Thanet an extension to the legal time limit that the local police force has to investigate election returns.
Today, new evidence obtained by Channel 4 News reveals that an important battlebus visit on election day to South Thanet, up to a dozen promotional videos made for the local candidate, and a conference room used by a minister to campaign on local issues for the candidate appear to have never been declared. The Conservative Party told Channel 4 News: "The Party always took the view that our national Battlebus, a highly-publicised campaign activity, was part of the National Return, and declared it as such. All spending has been correctly recorded in accordance with the law."
In the South Thanet contest, UKIP Nigel Farage was defeated by the now Conservative MP Craig Mackinley - by 2,800 votes. He was assisted by tens of thousands of pounds of spending that appears to have been used to help local campaigning - enough to take him beyond the £15,000 cap. The new revelations come as the Conservative Party take the unprecedented step of trying to oppose a court extension to the police investigation into whether it correctly declared the money they spent in South Thanet. That hearing itself was in a closed court session not open to the public or press. The Conservative Party bought in James Laddie QC, one of the country's top lawyers, to attend the closed session at Folkestone Magistrates Court on Tuesday May 24.
Battlebus - final stop
Channel 4 News understands that on 7 May - election day itself - was the biggest campaigning day for the Mackinlay campaign. Staff and activists on the bus appear to have taken part in local campaigning to get out the vote for Craig Mackinlay. He tweeted: "Thanks to @MrMark Clarke and his @roadtrip2015 #battlebus2015 -- 60 people on the way to lead charge in #SouthThanet." We can reveal that none of the £400 costs incurred by this Battlebus visit appear to have been declared.
Channel 4 News has also obtained evidence of repeated visits by bus loads of Team 2015 activists who appear to have campaigned for Craig Mackinlay MP. These include visits on 4 April, 9 April, April 11 and 12, and 26 April. We have obtained video footage of the Team 2015 visit on 9 April which shows the then-party's chairman Grant Shapps encouraging the activists to campaign for the local candidate Craig Mackinlay, who thanks the activists for supporting him.
None of the costs incurred on these Team 2015 visits appear to be on Mr Mackinlay's candidate spending return, despite clear guidance from the Electoral Commission that the costs of campaigning for the candidate must be declared by them in order to promote fairness.
Links to Conservative party headquarters
In the Broadstairs campaign office - the campaign schedule was photographed by Emily Ashton, from Buzzfeed. It stated that on the 9 April, the Transport Minister John Hayes MP visited Manston Airport which was at the time considered a major local issue in South Thanet. It was not a matter considered to be of national significance.
Channel 4 News has obtained evidence that a conference room was booked at the airport Holiday Inn hotel for a Conservative Party event on April 9. The booking was made in the name of CCHQ staffer Marion Little OBE. None of the costs associated with this event appear to have been declared in the South Thanet election spending return. Nor does it appear to have been declared nationally. This appears to fit into a pattern of apparently undeclared spending involving senior figures at CCHQ that has been identified by Channel 4 News in previous investigations.
The Electoral Commission is already investigating three by-elections in 2014, which took place in a "regulated period" when all spending should have been declared. In those by-elections and in South Thanet, Channel 4 News obtained hotel receipts in Newark, Clacton, Rochester totalling some 770 nights of accommodation which were booked under Marion Little's name and home address.
We have also identified some £4,000 of bookings made by Ms Little at the Premier Inn in Margate. The law says any money spent promoting the local candidate must be declared by the candidate and their agent on their local spending return. Failure to declare is a criminal offence. The hearing on whether Kent Police will be given a time extension - already granted to 18 police forces up and down the country - is due to take place on Wednesday next week.
This from the Guardian:-
Corbyn orders review to ready Labour for potential snap election
Jeremy Corbyn has asked Lord Kerslake, the former head of the civil service, to carry out a review of Labour’s internal structures as part of a package of measures aimed at putting the party on a war footing in case of an early general election. Kerslake is expected to report within weeks on the relationships between Corbyn’s office, the shadow cabinet and the party at large, with a view to making Labour’s machinery work more smoothly.
Andrew Fisher, the leader’s leftwing adviser, will become director of policy as part of the shift, which will be seen as a consolidation of the grip of the party’s far-left on senior jobs. Simon Fletcher, the veteran party operator and close ally of Ken Livingstone, has been given the task of readying Labour to fight elections as director of campaigns and planning.
One senior Corbyn ally said: “The threat of a challenge has receded; Jeremy is stronger, so we can now focus on what we should be doing, which is preparing for a general election, whenever that may be.” Some Labour MPs have become increasingly alarmed at the prospect of a snap general election if the Conservatives are destabilised by party divisions over the EU referendum.
The Fixed-Term Parliaments Act should mean no general election until 2020; but it can be overturned by a two-thirds majority in the House of Commons. The promotion of Fisher will infuriate Corbyn’s critics within the party, some of whom reacted angrily when the firebrand adviser accompanied Corbyn to a meeting earlier this week.
Fisher joined Corbyn on Wednesday night at a meeting of the chairs of Labour’s backbench policy committees, who are elected by MPs and include former frontbenchers Chris Leslie, Tristram Hunt and Emma Reynolds. One MP asked Corbyn whether it was disrespectful for Fisher to attend, after he referred to Labour’s pre-general election shadow cabinet– several of whom were present – as “the most abject collection of complete shite”.
According to three of those present, Corbyn brushed off the criticism, insisting Fisher was a member of his staff and should be allowed to remain. The leader was asked a series of questions about party policies, including on Trident, the Heathrow third runway decision, deficit reduction and the future of education. Some MPs were disappointed at Corbyn’s answers, including that he had not yet decided the party’s stance should the government call an early vote on the future of the nuclear deterrent. “It was like questioning a teenager sitting outside the headmaster’s office,” said one Labour member.
This from the London Green Left Blog:-
There could be a General Election this Year
The Guardian reports that the Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has ordered an internal party review to make sure that Labour is ready for a snap general election this year. Corbyn has asked a former head of the civil service, Sir Bob Kerslake, to look at the party’s machinery to make sure it operates as smoothly possible. A report is expected to be written in next few weeks.
This is the back drop to the European Union (EU) referendum campaign, the result of which could trigger a political crisis in the UK, and lead to a general election in the autumn. This is because of the effect the campaign is having on the ruling Conservative government, which is pretty much split down the middle on the issue of whether we leave or remain in the EU.
If the UK votes to leave, then the Prime Minister, David Cameron, will be forced to resign by his party’s MPs, and he would have lost all authority since he is so closely associated with remain campaign. I think he would be gone within a matter a days, whatever he is saying in public now.
If the referendum result is to remain in the EU, by a smallish margin, I still think he will be forced out by his MPs, perhaps half of whom support leaving the EU, because they dislike the way Cameron has campaigned to remain and are increasingly unhappy with his premiership. It only takes 50 Tory MPs to write letters to trigger a vote of no confidence in the party leader, which I think he will struggle to win.
In the event that the remain campaign wins big, he will be on safer ground, but all of the emotions that this issue has stirred up can’t be easily contained now, in a party has a history of division on matters European. I think a challenge could still come in these circumstances, and Cameron may not survive it.
If Cameron is forced out, that in itself doesn’t mean that we will have a general election, whoever takes over as Prime minister could just serve until 2020. We have seen this happen before, John Major after Margaret Thatcher and Gordon Brown after Tony Blair, where if the opinion polls are poor for the governing party, the urge is to hang on, hoping things will improve. In these two examples they didn’t appear to, and the governing party carried for as long as possible. Brown of course lost in 2010, but Major did win in 1992.
The Brown example, after his infamous ‘bottling’ of calling an election when Blair stood down in 2007, has made an impression on the next leadership hopefuls in the Tory party, and they don’t want to make the same mistake. Brown would have probably won narrowly in 2007 and this would have given him his own mandate, and the likes of Boris Johnson may decide this is best course of action.
We do now have the Fixed Term Parliament Act, which only allows general elections every five years, unless a two thirds majority of MPs vote for it. This is possible I think in the scenarios outlined above, but will need the backing of over a hundred Tory MPs, and all of the opposition parties. The other option might be to abolish the Fixed Term Act, but that is a tricky route to take with the Tories only having a small majority, it could be blocked by a handful of Tory MPs.
It is certainly hard to see the Tories re-uniting after this referendum, whatever the result is. A vote to leave the EU will cause a constitutional crisis as well as political one. The Scots will certainly demand another independence referendum, as they will argue, quite rightly in my view, that the UK they voted to stay in, has changed fundamentally, so a huge upheaval is pretty much guaranteed, and a general election could be part of that.
But I wouldn’t bet against a general election even if we vote to remain. Boris Johnson’s decision to join the leave campaign is a naked grab for the Prime Minister’s job, more than anything to do with the EU itself. Perhaps the Green Party should be thinking about readying ourselves for the fall out from this referendum too?
This is how rattled Tory HQ is - the Electoral Commission had to go to the High Court in order to force disclosure of key documents. Here's a press release from 12th May:-
Electoral Commission statement on application to the High Court for the Conservative and Unionist Party to disclose documents and information
The Electoral Commission has today (12 May) announced that as part of its investigation launched on 18 February 2016 into Conservative Party campaign spending returns, it has made an application to the High Court for a document and information disclosure order. The application, which names the Conservative and Unionist Party as the Respondent, is made under paragraphs 4 and 5 of Schedule 19B to the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act (PPERA) 2000.
Why the Commission is taking this action
Using its powers under PPERA, and in line with its Enforcement Policy, the Electoral Commission may issue a statutory notice requiring any person, including a registered party, to provide us with specific documents and/or information as part of an investigation. This places the recipient under a legal obligation to provide the required material. However, if the recipient does not comply with this statutory notice, the Commission may apply to the High Court for a disclosure order which if granted would be the court compelling the Respondent to release the required documents and information to the Commission.
The Commission issued the Conservative and Unionist Party with two statutory notices requiring the provision of material relevant to its investigation. However, the Party has only provided limited disclosure of material in response to the first notice (issued on 18 February 2016) and no material in response to the second notice (issued on 23 March 2016). That follows the Commission granting extensions of time to comply.
Bob Posner, Director of Party and Election Finance & Legal Counsel at the Electoral Commission said:
“If parties under investigation do not comply with our requirements for the disclosure of relevant material in reasonable time and after sufficient opportunity to do so, the Commission can seek recourse through the courts. We are today asking the court to require the Party to fully disclose the documents and information we regard as necessary to effectively progress our investigation into the Party’s campaign spending returns.”