For some time now, readers of mine on social media have overwhelmingly requested I write about one particular topic, that being the story around the Conservative Party having possibly overspent in certain places during the 2015 general election campaign. Today, I’ve relented and here is the result.
Two things to say off the bat. One, I actually have technical insight into the problem, having singlehandedly completed (and subsequently got through audit) a national campaign electoral return. As a result, I have a reasonably vast knowledge of what the law regarding spending limits are, how parties sometimes circumvent them, and what the results of such things might be.
Two, people are really overhyping this and pinning their hopes on this whole thing as if it is the thing that is going to “bring down” this Tory government. In the age of Corbyn’s uselessness, I fully understand why the Left would cling to this – you take what you can get. But the truth is, this is mostly a technical matter.
The problem the Tories are now having with electoral law ironically enough stems from a law the Coalition government itself brought in last parliament, one which set up more stringent limits on what you can spend constituency by constituency, allowing parties less room to simply claim things under their allocated national limit. It’s hard not to enjoy a party being trapped by their own doing, and this appears to be what’s happening to the Tories at present. In a nutshell, they ran a national campaign bus and then seemingly put all the related expenses under the national umbrella and allocated none of them to the constituency limits (or at least, not enough for what the Electoral Commission would deem acceptable). This technically seems to have pushed a few constituencies past their limits, and if so, breaking electoral law.
Part of the hype around this on the Left stems from a misunderstanding of how electoral law actually works. The most the Electoral Commission can do if constituency spending limits have been breached is fine the central party £20k per constituency, possibly in extremis invalidate the last result of record thereby requiring a string of by-elections (of which the Tories would win every single one, with crushing majorities), and then in extremis extremis, requiring the “responsible person” to face a fine or perhaps even a short prison sentence. The responsible person is often not the MP, incidentally. Anyone of sound mind and sound finance resident in the UK (at the time of signing) can be the responsible person in question; the vision of hoards of Tory MPs being shoved into the back of police vans is never going to happen.
In conclusion, the Left is working itself up into a froth about something that will come to very little. That is why most of the media isn’t covering this to the depth the Left would like: they know that bus expense misallocation isn’t that exciting to people who aren’t Labour or Green activists. Sorry to be the spoil sport here, but since you all wanted to know what my take on this was, I’m afraid this is going to turn out to mostly be a storm in a teacup.
Of course, there is one advantage to the Left from all of this I haven’t mentioned. Labour and more specifically the leader of the opposition could talk about this non-stop, hyping it so that the story wouldn’t die down, forcing Tory MPs to talk about it endlessly, making it look worse than it ultimately is. Do you think that will happen? Or do you think Jeremy Corbyn will instead take a TOIL day off in order to make jam? I know which one I’m betting on.