Chris Huhne election expense allegations: nothing to see here, move along

Two former Liberal Democrat councillors in Eastleigh (one deselected, the other left the party following the deselection) have been making allegations to the media that Chris Huhne overspent on his general election expenses.

However, the allegations are extremely threadbare – to be generous.

The claim is that the local party spent more on the elections than was declared in the limit. To someone who knows nothing about election law, that sounds a serious, credible allegation. But if you know something about election law…

For somewhere such as Eastleigh with local elections on the same day as the general election last year, campaign activities could have had to count against the constituency expense limit (Chris Huhne’s), the council ward expense limits, the general election national expense limit and even – in a few cases – the law says that expenses would not have counted against any of those limits. So not only is it possible, it’s quite normal for the amount spent on campaigning to exceed what is in the constituency expense return.

Even if you exclude campaigning for the local council elections, there is a wide range of activities which in non-legal speak could be called “local campaigning” or similar which actually are not required to be recorded on the constituency expense return (either for the long or short campaign period).

On the basis of the evidence that has been published, the two ex-Liberal Democrat councillors have either demonstrated their own ignorance of election law or their desire to join the list of people who make threadbare public allegations because they’re motivated by personal animosity.

UPDATE: The Electoral Commission did indeed subsequently reject this complaint about Chris Huhne’s election expenses and also a second complaint.

Read more by or more about .
This entry was posted in Election law.
Advert

31 Comments

  • Liberal Neil 21st May '11 - 11:37pm

    Quite right Mark.

    I also wonder what the motivation for recording the meeting was. It seems a little odd to me that a Lib Dem councillor would decide to record a Treasurer’s report to a constituency meeting was.

  • “On the basis of the evidence that has been published, the two ex-Liberal Democrat councillors have either demonstrated their own ignorance of election law or their desire to join the list of people who make threadbare public allegations because they’re motivated by personal animosity.”

    To be fair, it has been argued in the past that when it comes to issues like these “the law leaves considerable latitude for interpretation and … the usual clarity that comes from an accumulation of case law is missing because of the paucity of cases that have considered the issues.”

    So maybe the rights and wrongs become crystal clear only when one takes into account the party allegiance of the accused?

  • Steve Wilson 21st May '11 - 11:44pm

    I suspect Mr Huhne has enough to worry about already… given that he now ‘may have been driving’ that car after all.

  • David Boothroyd 22nd May '11 - 12:12am

    It is true that not all of the actual amount raised and spent by a political party during an election campaign is returnable as election expenses, but I think you may be jumping the gun in saying there is no story at all.

    Chris Huhne returned expenses of £18,608.56 in the ‘long campaign’ (1 January 2010 to 11 April 2010) and £10,911.05 in the ‘short campaign’ (12 April 2010 to 6 May 2010), amounting to 64% of maximum spending in the long campaign and 98.6% of maximum spending in the short campaign. That doesn’t give a lot of margin – in fact the limit in the long campaign was £28,913.50 and for the short campaign £11,063.50. (The vast majority of the spending in both campaigns was on ‘unsolicited material for electors’ in other words leaflets.)

    Eleven out of the fifteen wards in Eastleigh had local elections on the same day so the maximum total local government spend in the Eastleigh constituency was £6,600 + 5p x 61,017 = £9,650.85. If the amount returned was at or near the maximum, then added to the amount returned for the Parliamentary election it comes close to the £39,000 apparently mentioned on the tape.

    So in other words Huhne was within £152.45 on his own expenses and local government candidates would have had to be similarly precise. The practice of writing off part of the cost for ‘reusable’ election leaflets or being anal about what exactly counts as an election expense is not always supportable when looked at in the cold light of day.

  • “Motoring points from 2003 could be dismissed as “hell hath no fury” from a jilted wife …”

    It’s a tricky one, isn’t it?

    Should party loyalists try to support Chris Huhne’s line that it’s all a pack of lies on his ex-wife’s part, despite some pretty big implausibilities in his story (not least the taped phone call where he signally failed to cast doubt on the truth of the allegations until the very end)?

    Or should they contrive to imply that this kind of thing goes on all the time, and that among “men of the world” perverting the course of justice shouldn’t be considered a big deal?

    To be honest, having looked at tomorrow’s Telegraph article, I’m not quite sure which nuance Chris Huhne’s “friends” are trying for, though either way it makes for pretty unedifying reading:
    “… at least he doesn’t have to share a bed with that woman again. She is an awful, awful woman …”

  • Dominic Carman 22nd May '11 - 12:34am

    Mark,

    Your loyalty to Chris Huhne is admirable, as is the conviction of your counter argument against allegations made by two former Liberal Democrat councillors in Eastleigh concerning his 2010 election expenses. However, the flaws in the minutiae of their specific complaint are irrelevant. The weight and scale of problems now faced by Huhne on several different fronts, as evidenced by Sunday’s headlines, lead inexorably to one pragmatic conclusion: for the good of the party, he must resign. This is not disloyalty, nor is it provoked by personal dislike: I supported his leadership bid and respect his excellent work in cabinet. Regrettably, it is plain common sense.

    best

    Dominic

  • Think its about time that Staines was sued for defamation.

  • Emsworthian 22nd May '11 - 8:18am

    Whatever the truth of the points allegations -and nobody knows except the parties-this is yet more negative publicity on top of all the rest. Conspiracies may provide temporary relief but the prognosis is distinctly downwards.

  • I find it interesting that all the accusations against Huhne came to light after challenging Osbourne in cabinet.

    Maybe it is just co incidental, but would you trust Osbourne or the Conservatives not to behave as though they were in ancient Rome ?

    Lovely bedfellows those Conservatives, just don’t leave your glass of water unguarded on the bedroom cabinet!

  • @Guido Fawkes

    You are basically a professional mudslinger so quite frankly I’ll take Mark’s view over yours. If you’re on one side of the argument, odds are that the factually correct one is on the other side, judging by your blog.

  • @Ivan White

    I think you’re right this is because he made such a fuss during the AV campaign, but you’re wrong about who’s doing it. His protests damaged the yes campaign and were clearly an attempt at distancing himself from the Tories and setting himself up for the party leadership.

    It’s no wonder these allegations are surfacing now, he’s offended a lot of people and worried a lot more.

  • There is no doubt in my mind there is an element of bitterness about both attacks. I also feel that, as Keith’s quote of a previous comment of Mark’s highlights, the rules around election spending need tightening.

    He is probably my favorite Lib Dem Minister and therefore I hope both comne to nothing at all. If however the Driving issue turns out to be true then he is finished. It would not be beyond the realms of possibility for him to serve prison time for such a crime whatever the motivation of the person highlighting it.

  • One of the disturbing things about politics is that often scandals involving criminal acts are known within parties and covered up until circumstance makes their uncovering advantageous to some.

    This seems to be happening with Chris Huhne and suggests that something is deeply rotten withing the party establishment.

  • “The weight and scale of problems now faced by Huhne on several different fronts, as evidenced by Sunday’s headlines, lead inexorably to one pragmatic conclusion: for the good of the party, he must resign.”

    Reportedly Chris Huhne is now saying he can’t remember whether he was driving the car at the time of the offence that his wife was penalised for, but continuing to deny that he asked his wife to take the points for him. It’s very difficult to make sense of that position.

  • Liberal Neil 22nd May '11 - 12:18pm

    @Keith Day – the difference with Zac Goldsmith’s expenses was that the investigation found that his campaign HAD broken the limit, even after setting a share of the expenses against other campaigns, but they decided not to puruse the case.

    In this case (which I hope will be properly looked at and the EC will come to a conclusion) Mark is simply pointing out that the overall amount of money spent by a Local Party during an election period is not the same as the amount that has to be declared in the General Election expenses.

    I was an Agent in last year’s elections and I split the amount of money spent between the General Election campaign, the Local Election campaign and National expenditure, all within the limits and all 100% legitimatly.

  • Liberal Neil 22nd May '11 - 12:22pm

    @Dominic – I disagree strongly.

    For the good of the party he must stay in place unless or until he is actually proven to have done something wrong.

    If he goes on the basis of a series of unevidenced allegations in the right wing press then the position of every other Lib Dem minister will be weakened because the right wing press will know that they can print allegations, whether there is any hard evidence for them or not, and push them out.

  • 21.

    “that his campaign HAD broken the limit, even after setting a share of the expenses against other campaigns, but they decided not to puruse the case.”

    If they had properly perused the case, maybe they would have persued it? 🙂

    It does seem that the police/DPP have a serious disinterest in pursuing complaints against establishment figures unless they absolutely have to. Both Goldsmith and Woolas have escaped prosecution for obtaining a large state income-stream by breaking rules with potential criminal outcomes. In contrast, the amounts actually taken by Chaytor, Morley, Taylor etc were pretty paltry but the media frenzy meant the ‘authorities’ (sic) had little choice but to pursue them.

  • “If he goes on the basis of a series of unevidenced allegations in the right wing press then the position of every other Lib Dem minister will be weakened because the right wing press will know that they can print allegations, whether there is any hard evidence for them or not, and push them out.”

    So even if he were charged, you’d want him to remain in office during his trial?

  • Andrew Suffield 22nd May '11 - 3:20pm

    I’m sure that Chris Huhne’s tie could have been straighter when I last saw him on the television – surely he should at least be suspended from Parliament for a month or two for such outrageous behaviour?

    Or at least for a day or two while some Tory can take the credit for everything he’s been doing.

    Let’s not lose sight of reality here. The fact that all this stuff came out right as he was announcing a major success for his department is not an accident, particularly when it all happened in the Tory-controlled newspapers.

    This is not a coincidence. This is a carefully organised mudslinging exercise to draw attention away from the new emissions targets and energy production plans.

    Anybody who wants Huhne gone is doing exactly what the Tories are trying to make you do. Of all the ways you could react, doesn’t “what the Tories want” sound like a bad idea?

  • “This is not a coincidence. This is a carefully organised mudslinging exercise to draw attention away from the new emissions targets and energy production plans.”

    You think if Huhne hadn’t just come out with some emission tragets the newspapers – and the police – would have said to Vicky Pryce, “Sorry, love, we’re just not interested”?

    Or perhaps you think she is a Tory/CIA/military-industrial-complex mole, who has been carefully planning her whole life, including the break-up of her marriage, with this in mind?

    Get real, for heaven’s sake!

  • Andrew Suffield 23rd May '11 - 11:58pm

    You think if Huhne hadn’t just come out with some emission tragets the newspapers – and the police – would have said to Vicky Pryce, “Sorry, love, we’re just not interested”?

    They’d have first tried to sit on the story for a week or two while looking for a good release date – probably did that anyway. If nothing suitable came up they’d have run it for a day or two then moved on. This malingering when there’s nothing new to say is pretty damning.

    Or perhaps you think she is a Tory/CIA/military-industrial-complex mole, who has been carefully planning her whole life, including the break-up of her marriage, with this in mind?

    I think you’ve been watching too many bad films. This is politics, Tory-style. Nothing more.

  • I love the conspiracy theories here, not least since they’re so disconnected with reality.

    Huhne is being stitched up not by the Tory party but by an angry wife, a tape recording which he appears to many to incriminate himself by not denying the allegations, and a lot of obfuscation. This is a great story and not a single Tory is needed to orchestrate it (although I’m sure they’re delighted by it). Being honest, how many of *you* actually think that Huhne is innocent of attempting to pervert the course of justice ?

    Regarding his election expenses, well Guido has claimed to be working on this for some time. I’m sure he gleefully chose his moment to publicise it because that’s what he does. I also have no doubt he would do it to a Tory. Also, Huhne’s response that he’s sure his election agent did proper accounting is a disgrace and another example of his shooting himself in the foot by not appearing to take full responsibility.

    If, as a party, you guys are to learn from this then the first lesson you should learn is not to blame others. Right now the most credible way of looking at this events is that Huhne has made a number of errors, some of them possibly very serious, and that past issues are coming back to haunt him. It happens in politics to politicans of all different colours. It happens especially often when politicians are in government since the story is bigger. You all enjoyed the spectacle when previous Tory and Labour ministers were on the rack – you have little reason to complain when it bites you.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?

Advert



Recent Comments

  • User AvatarPeter Martin 7th Dec - 8:42am
    @ Joe, The concept of sectoral balances predates MMT. Wynne Godley is associated with it in the 90s and 00s but you can trace it...
  • User AvatarMatthew Huntbach 7th Dec - 8:35am
    Thomas Are you suggesting that I am saying we should have a Tory-lite platform? I have actually been spending my time saying we should not.
  • User AvatarDavid Evans 7th Dec - 8:24am
    Thomas, I think you will find that the reason so many rural folks, that you don’t care much (says a lot that) and that you...
  • User AvatarThomas 7th Dec - 5:38am
    marcstevens - The advantage of being run by the government is that not every utility has to turn a profit. You can have trains run...
  • User AvatarThomas 7th Dec - 5:30am
    To add to my previous comment, I believe that the expansionary economic policies to win over the Brahmin Left will also mostly appeal to the...
  • User AvatarThomas 7th Dec - 5:06am
    Matthew Huntbach, David Raw - "now the Liberal Democrats seem happy to put across the idea that they are like the Conservatives in terms of...
Tue 10th Dec 2019