Chris Huhne’s election expenses: once again, nothing to see here, move along

(UPDATE: This complaint was indeed rejected by the Electoral Commission. See also my more recent post about how Guido Fawkes’s source confused an election expense return with a cycle path.)

After all the excitable tweets over the weekend and the dramatic rhetoric about having been researching the topic for a year, you might have thought that when Guido Fawkes blogged today about Chris Huhne’s election expenses there’d be some solid evidence and a plausible complaint.

But no.

In fact, the complaint is so riddled with obvious errors that one’s tempted to say a hacker has snuck into Fawkes Towers and put it up there to discredit Guido. After all, he’s certainly had some bona fide scoops in the past. But this isn’t exactly in that class.

Here’s a sample of the obvious blunders.

a. The complaint against Chris Huhne’s election expenses says that a bill from a firm which printed letterheads (for target letters) doesn’t include the cost of envelopes and therefore concludes that “so the cost of the … envelopes hasn’t been declared”. Unless of course the envelopes were purchased from a different supplier and on a different date. Just like in fact is extremely common practice across all political parties – you buy your letterhead from a printer, your envelopes from a stationery firm, your laser toner from someone else and put all three together to produce target letters.

b. The complaint against Chris Huhne’s election expense also says that some items were (rightly) partly charged against the national expense limit. It then goes on to claim that those items don’t appear on the party’s national expense return. Except that they do. Of course they don’t appear under a specific Eastleigh heading, but then they were items being produced across different seats and so what appears on the national expense return is the total spend across them all.

I could go on but you get the point. Not quite the finest hour of investigative reporting. Especially as they talked about how it’s a story that wasn’t put together in an hour but in a year.

But then we have been here before with Guido and Harry Cole ramping up claims against a Lib Dem MP over election expenditure only for them to fall flat when investigated.

As with the earlier claims over Chris Huhne’s election expenses, all that the evidence presented shows is that the law was kept to and those making the complaints either don’t know what they’re talking about or are deliberately hoping to fool people with arguments they know don’t stand up. I’m happy to take the more generous interpretation though 🙂

(Update: for more on the flaws in the complaint see Paul Walter’s blog post on Chris Huhne’s election expenses.)

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60 Comments

  • “Guido: After a year of digging you really should have read the national expense returns closely enough to spot the entry”

    Why play games, rather than just telling him?

    There’s nothing more irritating than people who make factual claims during Internet discussions and then, when asked to back them up, say “Find out for yourself.”

  • After reading the blog, as a taxpayer i seriously doubt you are being completely honest. The political classes have shown their true colours with all the false expenses claims and attempts to justify them.

  • Joe Sanderson 26th May '11 - 9:49am

    What a crazy article, the author accuses a blogger of getting his facts wrong whilst attempting to spin his own story to defend the indefensible

    Mr Huhne is a political liability for the party, he should be forced to stand down.

  • Go Guido!!

  • Mark, I’d suggest you take some English lessons. ‘Some is’ what sort of example of Lib Dem education policy is that?

    As for Huhne, if straw clutching was an Olympic sport you would be GB team captain.

  • It’s not just Guido, the Sunlight Centre seems to believe that things are remiss too.

    Your defence, Mr Pack, appears to be that no rules were broken through very careful sophistry of what was charged to what account.

    Bear in mind that we are no longer dealing with a nonentity MP any more, we are dealing with a Cabinet Minister – the level of scrutiny, and therefore the required level of probity, are far higher than in the “instant rebuttal” days of opposition.

    I look forward to finding out the result of the Sunlight Centre’s inquiries in due course.

  • Scary Biscuits 26th May '11 - 10:04am

    Mark et al, you’ve lost me on the technical details but I think the authorities will put more weight on the words of your LibDem colleagues who *do* think he exceeded his election expenses and, to boot, have a recording of the meeting it was discussed at. There’s certainly a prima facie case to answer here and for you to suggest otherwise is simply wishful thinking. As to your accusations of partiality against Guido, well that’s just the pot calling the kettle black.

  • The M11 Motorway 26th May '11 - 10:23am

    Nope. Nothing to see here; for now. That’s because all eyes are on the caddish and ungentlemanly allegations of GatsoGate; the gift that keeps on giving.

  • Gordon Bliss 26th May '11 - 10:44am

    Ah, but remember it is no longer ‘Guido Fawkes’, day-to-day control has passed over to Neo-Guido intern and coffee-maker ‘Tory Bear’ whose abilities are commensurate with a recent graduate working for his monthly season ticket.

    So perhaps you should avoid giving these remarks the credence they crave by no longer referring to the organ-grinder Guido Fawkes, but to the cheeky monkey making them…

  • Scary Biscuits 26th May '11 - 10:53am

    @George Potter, “We used a small company based out of the Farnham Liberal Club. It does exist even though it’s a “one man and his dog” size operation. Just because it rarely, if ever, has many non political customers doesn’t make it a non-existent business.”

    I’m not sure you should be advertising this. It sounds like a device to hide the true expense of printing to me. The company involved is probably effectively donating services and, according to electoral law, these should be declared and the cash equivalent come off your spending total. It’s just as well you don’t have a LibDem MP or you might have been looking at another investigation.

  • as an amused neutral … does it ever cross your minds that this “our man is a pure as the driven snow” tribal chest beating right before inspector knacker of the yard lifts him/her for assorted crimes IS PRECISELY why the british public has nothing but contempt for all 3 main political parties. Corrupt politicians of all sides should be dealt with as harshly as the law allows as they have breached the trust of the people.

  • Isn’t this all rather boring? No one is that interested…

  • Ex- hedgefunder Paul Staines posing as Guido Fawkes, gave the game away in a posting on LD Voice earlier this week when he said:
    I JUST WANT HUHNNE OUT; AND CABLE…………..”
    So that is what passes on his site for disinterested investigative journalism!
    Decide to blacken LDs whenever possible, then keep the story going by continuous repetition of what has already been speculated in the right wing press.
    I suppose “digging ” for stuff on Chris Huhne, Vince, David Laws,and others is even more ignoble a means of earning a living than hedgefunding; and if you throw in the chauvinistic “tottywatch” it does rival the lowest tabloids.
    Still, I remember what happened to Guy Fawkes,and with luck someone will one day find a blemish in Staines career. No one is without sin, so it might be worth “digging”

  • Joe Sanderson 26th May '11 - 12:22pm

    @Elizabeth,

    It is pointless attacking Staines, he is not responsible for the mess that Huhne has found himself in, and as far as I am aware Staines has never presented himself as some paragon of virtue, whereas Mr Huhne was unfaithful to his ex-wife, poor accountancy methods whilst a MEP, trouble with his memory when it comes to driving and yet you will ignore these stains on Mr Huhne and attack the messenger.

    I remember when the party used to have the high ground, now it is infested with people like Huhne and his group of apologists.

  • @Guido – headed paper (one lot) printed by one printer – then letters over-printed (three different ones) by a laser in house is standard practice.

  • @Simon – I think Guido, catholic libertarian that he is (and contradiction that that is), probably does have it in for Lib Dems more than Tories, particularly as it is usually Harry Cole now.

  • Gordon Bliss 26th May '11 - 12:52pm

    “Are crack investigative team discovered this…”

    Yet another egregious grammatical solecism which is the ‘DNA Fingerprint’ of the Neo-Guido.

    Say what you like about Paul Staines, at least he as a passable grasp of English sentence construction.

  • “Crick catching him abusing expenses for electoral purposes when he was an MEP.”

    Ah yes, the tabloid newspaper that included an article funded by the European Parliament to promote Chris Huhne’s work as an MEP which a Tory MEP claimed was being delivered during the General Election to help Chris get elected as MP for Eastleigh despite the fact that (a) it wasn’t delivered during the General Election campaign, (b) was delivered throughout huge swathes of the South East not just one constituency something which the Tory MEP knew full well as he got it through his letterbox whilst living in Romsey not Eastleigh constituency, and (c) didn’t actually breach any rules.

    “The Itchen Valley Print Society doesn’t actually appear to have a printing press”

    I can’t answer for the situation now, but it certainly did when it was set up as I helped to run it and the risograph sat in the corner of the office. Print societies are purely there as a matter of convenience as it makes it easier for the print supplies and subsequent invoicing for the printing done to be done through a separate bank account to the local party (although the accounts for the print society are usually included in the local party accounts).

    “the printing wasn’t done on a riso. It was done by Park Communications”

    http://www.glossaryofmarketing.com/definition/print-farming.html

  • @Curious – you seem to believe that Guido and the Sunlight Centre are not related. How quaint!

  • Glad to see some sanity breaking out in relation to Chris Huhne and Conservative media claims not held immediately as tablets of stone and used to break his career.

    Hopefully it is not just down to the Obama and Cameron PR media feast; and sensible and calm oversight of any alleged breaking of rules can be considered in due course.

  • Dear Anders, I hope the HMRC don’t find out about your little “convenient” accounting scheme

    “Print societies are purely there as a matter of convenience as it makes it easier for the print supplies and subsequent invoicing for the printing done to be done through a separate bank account to the local party (although the accounts for the print society are usually included in the local party accounts”

    They don’t like that kind of thing at all out here in the real world

  • It seems that the Electoral Commission has rejected this complaint .Is any one person or organisation in charge of trying to destroy the Liberal Democrats ?

  • libertarian 27th May '11 - 8:46pm

    @RR

    To answer your question ” Is any one person or organisation in charge of trying to destroy the Liberal Democrats ?”

    Yes,

    Chris Hunhe

  • Poor old repeat drink driver Paul ‘Guido’ Staines.

    Maybe a bit more research and a bit less getting behind the wheel after a skinful is in order.

  • libertarian
    Posted 27th May 2011 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    @RR

    To answer your question ” Is any one person or organisation in charge of trying to destroy the Liberal Democrats ?” Yes, Chris Hunhe

    Is any one person or organisation in charge of trying to destroy the Liberal Democrats ? I think Conservatives like you Libertarian are doing their best to undermine and wreck Huhne on whatever slender grounds you can find. And to bring the Liberal Democrats into disrepute with a large amount of its potential voters.

    PR and political strategy and spin with one goal – Conservative rule by hook or by crook.

  • David Wright 30th May '11 - 3:59pm

    libertarian: “They don’t like that kind of thing at all out here in the real world”.

    Well they should. Having a separate Printing Society means that the Agent will get an invoice for the printing, and submit the invoice or receipt with the expense return. If the same volunteers were doing the same printing as part of the Local Party, under election law the Agent need only show it as a “Notional Expense” without needing to supply a receipt, which would make it harder for people to see how the costs were calculated.

    Not that anyone “out in the real world” ever looks at expense returns (though they could); that’s a peculiar pastime of agents and perhaps the occasional journalist.

  • Tony Dawson 4th Jun '11 - 12:49pm

    The current law on election expenses makes the Dangerous Dogs act seem fantastically sensible in comparison.

    Dangerous dogs? Remember Rinka! 🙁

    Anyone is perfectly entitled to challenge someone’s election expenses (btw the candidate just signs something to say that he/she believes them to be a correct record, so the agent is the real responsible party) – but it would help if such ‘challenges’ were not reported with outlandish publicity till they had been dealt with one way or another.

    I am still scratching my head as to why Zac Goldsmith’s election was not required to have a re-run.

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