Has the Mail on Sunday missed a story about Labour breaking the law on donations?

The story so far: Helen Grant has been selected by the Conservative Party to stand in Maidstone at the next general election, which is when current MP Ann Widdecombe is retiring.

The Mail on Sunday has a story reporting that although she told them she “always voted Conservative” she actually tried to be a Labour candidate for the 2006 Croydon council elections. (Update: further coverage on Iain Dale’s blog and on Conservative Home).

But what has caught my eye is the possibility of some undeclared donations, which – if that’s the case – would have involved the law being broken.

The Mail says:

Mrs Grant carried on supporting Labour by letting the Party use her offices as a telephone canvassing centre in the approach to the 2005 General Election.

A copy of the organiser’s report for the committee in November 2004 records that “telephone voter ID has started at Grants on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 6.30pm until 9pm”.

Mr Hall [a Croydon Labour councillor] said the office was used for about six months up to April 2005 and for free. “It was enthusiastically used and was enthusiastically offered,” he said.

It also reports Helen Grant denying this:

“I never attended any of their meetings, made no donations and did no canvassing or campaigning work for them at all.”

Mrs Grant said she had been approached by Croydon Labour party – not the other way round.

Regarding the use of her office telephones, she said: “They also approached me about using my office telephones and I believe two people came in once but never returned.”

Letting a political party use your office for free counts as a donation under the law. It is called a gift in kind and you have to declare to the Electoral Commission the equivalent ‘commercial value’ of the gift. This is a well-established procedure followed by all parties. Putting a commercial value on gifts can be quite difficult at times, but the provision of office space and use of phone lines would clearly be a gift.

If the total value came to over £200, then it would have to be recorded by the Labour Party, and if more than £1,000 then (as it would have been a donation to Labour locally rather than nationally) it would have had to be declared to the Electoral Commission and published on their website.

Their website lists many donations to the various arms of the Labour Party in Croydon, including several from Simon Hall, who I believe is the same Simon Hall from the above quote. But there is nothing listed from Helen Grant or Grants Solicitors to Croydon or anywhere else.

This therefore leaves a range of possibilities.

Perhaps Helen Grant did indeed never make a donation in kind? If she did, it’s hard to see how it could be valued at £200 or less, in which case if its value was £1,000 or less, it wouldn’t be on the Commission’s website but Labour would be able to produce its record of the donation in order to prove that her claim isn’t true – and given the possibility of further embarrassing the Conservatives over their choice of Parliamentary candidate (Ealing Southall anyone?) it’s hard to see why they wouldn’t do this. Unless of course Labour broke the law by failing to record it. Or Helen Grant made a donation of office space, its value was over £1,000 and therefore the law has been broken as it wasn’t declared to the Electoral Commission.

The Mail’s report of this story seems to have missed this potential law breaking. Perhaps they’ve got some further evidence which clears up matters, or they were given the evidence to run the anti-Helen Grant story by Labour and so are skipping the donations story as it would be a matter of dropping your source in it, or perhaps they missed this angle completely?

Time for someone to ask some questions…

P.S. In other news, Alan Johnson – Secretary of State for Health and a Labour Deputy Leadership candidate – is also in donation hot water after allegations that he received a donation via a proxy (shades of David Abrahams) and also failed to properly declare another donation to the Parliamentary authorities.

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  • Given that my home call package includes unlimited calls to 01 and 02 numbers, presumably if I let someone use my house to canvas it would not count as a donation as it would be costless.

    What next, declaring the fact that once, years ago, when out delivering, I was given a cup of tea and a cake for slightly less than the advertised price? I recollect that the bill was rounded down to the nearest whole pound, with words along the lines of “I think you lot do a lot of good around here”. Should we have registered 50p or whatever it was?

  • At 5p a call, they would have had to made 4000 calls (and all of those calls to have been answered). If 2 people were each there for 2 8 hour days, calling without a break, that would be more than 2 calls a minute. This seems unlikely to me – so I do think it is unlikely that this is a donation in kind valued at over £200.

    If these two people did manage to canvas 4000 households by phone in two days, can we hire them for our campaigns? 🙂

  • Cheltenham Robin 27th Jan '08 - 6:45pm

    A cup of tea and a slice of cake.

    Luxury bloody luxury.

    When I were a lad etc……..

    Seriously though, I agree with James at (1) lets stop all this tit for tat stuff and try and move the process forward.

    As I see it, the stumbling blocks appear to be the Ashcroft Millions and Trade Union donations. Can we not try and act as some kind of broker to sort this bloody mess out.

  • Mark: My apologies. I only read “I believe two people came in once but never returned”. Mind you, even if you have 2 evenings a week for 6 months you would have to make 80 successful calls an evening to hit £200 at 5p a call. Tim

  • I keep a check on the Conservative Blog web site. Some comments from there question the wisdom of adopting an A-List candidate. There is the text of the response from Helen Grant which includes her impression of the Labour Party as “arrogant, complacent and un-inclusive”. I live in Maidstone and have had to endure Ms Widdecombe for the past 20 years! What Ms. Grant needs to do is come out fighting as Ann would do. We are waiting for someone to come to Helen’s aid, maybe her local Conservative party in Reigate and Banstead will defend her?

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