++BBC: At least EIGHT police forces are actively investigating Conservative election expenses from the 2015 election

BBC News’ Home Affairs correspondent, Daniel Sandford reports:

Eight police forces are investigating whether Conservative MPs filed election expenses illegally after the 2015 General Election, the BBC understands.

The allegations centre around failing to register the accommodation costs of party activists who were involved in the “battle bus” operation.

The party has blamed an “administrative error”.

A Conservative spokesman said the party had already brought the error to the attention of the Electoral Commission.

The activists on the party’s battle bus targeted marginal seats.

The police probe will ascertain whether the expenses for the people using the bus should have been filed by the MPs’ agents in their local expenses.

Failing to file correct expenses is a criminal offence.

The eight forces actively investigating are West Yorkshire Police, Derbyshire Police, Greater Manchester Police, Devon and Cornwall Police, Gloucestershire Police, Northamptonshire Police, Staffordshire Police, and Cheshire Police.

A further four forces are waiting for further information, the BBC understands.

Police can investigate such claims up to a year after the election expenses were filed and West Yorkshire Police, Derbyshire Police, and Greater Manchester Police have started the process of getting extensions to the time limit.

A Conservative spokesperson said: “As is apparent from our national return, the party declared expenditure related to our CCHQ-organised Battlebus.

“However, due to administrative error it omitted to declare the accommodation costs of those using the vehicles. This is something we have already brought to the attention of the Electoral Commission in order to amend the return.

“The party always took the view that our national Battlebus, a highly-publicised campaign activity, was part of the national return – and we would have no reason not to declare it as such, given that the party was some millions below the national spending threshold.

“Other political parties ran similar vehicles which visited different parliamentary constituencies as part of their national campaigning.”

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  • Eddie Sammon 6th May '16 - 5:45pm

    Important news! It’s important to have a fair investigation though and not just jump on it for material gain. All parties are prone to making mistakes and sometimes even worse.

  • Only now are the BBC choosing to allow these “mistakes” to appear on their website, although keener eyes will have seen Michael Crick’s reports or spotted a flurry of claims on social media that the Conservatives may have illegitimately won a fair amount of parliamentary seats last year.
    Given that potentially many LibDem MPs may have fallen victim to this undeclared overspending by their former coalition partners, Newshound could have made a meal of this story before, not after, yesterday’s elections.

  • paul barker 6th May '16 - 6:47pm

    Looking ahead, IF we do get a string of Byelections, the Leadership should take control of Candidate selection & ensure that at least two thirds of our candidates are women & that two or three belong to ethnic minorities. This is our one chance (if it happens) to remake our Parliamentary Party in the image of The Country it wants to lead.
    We could turn last years disaster into a triumph.

  • I saw it, but it stopped there and with the upcoming elections our small band never made a sound at PMQs. I don’t know about the larger band in the Upper House, but there were former MPs – in addition to Adrian Sanders, whom I noticed had complained – who should have spoken out about what went on in their constituencies.

  • Bill le Breton 6th May '16 - 7:56pm

    Paul Barker, if we indulge you in your hypothetical, “, IF we do get a string of Byelections,” then your recommendation that ” the Leadership should take control of Candidate selection & ensure that at least two thirds of our candidates are women & that two or three belong to ethnic minorities,” then this authoritarian and centralised idea should be resisted at all costs.

    For two reasons. First , local parties know best who should represent them.

    Second, experienced campaigners know that election re-runs after disqualification are fraught with difficulties. Actually people resent their choices at elections being reversed by outsiders and rule based, judicial or quasi-judicial procedures. These by-elections if they occur will be very tricky by-elections.

    If on top of this local communities feel that a candidate has been centrally imposed, it will only make matters worse.

    But as there is so little appreciation of the existential crisis we are in, you will probably find I am in the minority in this Party and you in the majority.

    Let the local parties choose freely

  • Stevan Rose 6th May '16 - 11:21pm

    There’s a difference between undeclared expenses that if added to the declared expenses would still not exceed the maximum by law, and those that would breach the limit. Force or fight a by-election on the technical offence and we will be punished for wasting voters’ time.

  • Alex Macfie 6th May '16 - 11:44pm

    “Actually people resent their choices at elections being reversed by outsiders”

    Not necessarily. What voters don’t like is unnecessary elections, and they tend to punish the party that caused one. Unnecessary elections need not be caused by legal challenges: another example is the elevation of a sitting MP to the Lords, perhaps to make way for some rising star.
    When an election result is reversed causing a by-election, the circumstances do make a difference to how voters perceive it. The Winchester by-election of 1997 was caused by the defeated Tory successfully challenging the general election result on a technicality, and saw the Lib Dem majority go up from 2 to some 20,000. Voters were clearly punishing the Tory for what they saw as an unnecessary election. Contrast this with the Leyton Ward council by-election, caused by the disqualification of the winning Labour candidate for making defamatory claims about her Lib Dem opponent. We regained that seat. When the election challenge is the result of actual wrongdoing, electorates do tend to take a moral viewpoint and punish the wrongdoers.

  • I heard Eric Pickles being interviewed about this earlier, saying (from memory) that it would all be properly investigated by the police who at least weren’t under political control in this country.

    Except of course they are. Almost all PCCs are elected on a party ticket and it will be a brave Chief Constable with a Tory PCC that investigates this properly – not that we would ever know if he ‘independently’ decides the evidence is too poor for a prosecution.

  • I am with Bill le Breton on the imposition of ‘profiled’ candidates in by-elections or for that matter in any elections. It’s a straight forward attempt at gerrymandering which won’t work and, in my view, puts the party in a very bad light.

    As for gloating over the Tories’ problems with election expenses I suspect I won’t be the only long term Liberal/Lib Dem member who might suggest we keep our heads down on that one.

  • Alex Macfie 7th May '16 - 11:08am

    Yes, I was thnking of OE&S; at the time of that by-election we were in coalition with the Tories so it was fought under very different circumstances to the general election. However, we held our share of the vote: the voters of OE&S did not see us as sore losers like Gerry Malone in Winchester, only as traitors.

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