This map shows all the MPs named in connection with election expenses, including those that it has been reported are under investigation. We'll update this map with more details as they become available. If you believe that any of the information on this map needs to be updated, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
Our electoral law is outdated and antiquated. Campaigning evolves and innovates and our laws have failed to keep pace. The current allegations are regulated by the Representation of the People Act 1983. You only need to look at election broadcasts on Youtube to realise how much election campaigns have changed since 1983.
As membership of political parties has declined and campaigns have been run more by the central parties rather than local, the distinction between national and local campaigning has become increasingly blurred. Is this still the best way of differentiating expenditure?
The Electoral Commission has a statutory responsibility to report on election and make recommendations. However the government is not required to even formally respond to these recommendations, never mind implement them. The Electoral Commission has been calling for changes to the regulation of election spending and in particular additional powers to investigate abuses since 2013. It is high time that recommendation is implemented.
One of the key recommendations of Unlock Democracy’s Stamp Out Voting Fraud campaign back in 2008 was that the government should be required to formally respond to the Electoral Commission, as they are required to do with other statutory bodies. We believe this is essential to keep our electoral laws up to date.
One of the key contested areas in assessing an election expenses claim, is how much falls under the national spending limit and how much is local. However there is also a very large loophole in the national spending limit. It does not include staff costs. If a party appointed someone as a General Election campaign co-ordinator, based at party HQ, that person’s salary does not count towards the national spending limit.
When the last government legislated to limit the amount that charities and campaigners can spend in elections, staff costs were explicitly included in the spending limit. So if a registered third party appoints a General Election campaign co-ordinator, their salary would be counted.
Why are political parties allowed to keep this loophole?
And why did they pay for a Barrister to oppose the extension of the deadline for the police to investigate the allegations?
As this scandal has developed David Cameron has done an excellent job of implying that this is all an unfortunate misunderstanding. He has repeatedly stated that all parties had battle buses and shrugged the allegations off as an administrative error. This is very much the approach he took on the Andrew Marr show saying that:
“we, like many other parties, had a national battle bus that went to lots of constituencies and canvas and that national battle bus, and the expenses with it, in our view, and in the view incidentally of the Labour Party and the Liberal Party and others, all treated those as national expenses and I think that’s the right approach.”
However this ignores the fact that the Electoral Commission asked the Conservative Party four times, to provide additional information about the party’s spending in South Thanet and was ignored. It also doesn’t explain why the Party opposed the extension of the deadline for the investigation in South Thanet. In other constituencies the application went through unopposed.
To some extent, yes but so far that have been key differences between the parties. There have been concerns for years that the system is being abused. It is a complicated area of law that is woefully out of date. Even when there are investigations, such as into Zac Goldsmith’s spending in the 2010 election, a great deal of leeway is given to the interpretation of the rules and the public interest in a prosecution so there are rarely serious consequences.
As Michael Crick has said, “election expenses are among the great works of fiction of British politics.”
Our map shows the range of MPs and candidates that have had their expenses challenged. Some have already been exonerated and some complaints may even have been retaliatory - if you question my expenses I’ll question yours. However the problems with our election expenses system are not new, they are not isolated incidents and they do not affect just one party.
The difference with the current scandal is the scale of the abuse and the allegation that this involved strategic decisions by the Conservative Party centrally, rather than just the actions of one candidate or agent.
Michael Crick has published a detailed analysis of the allegations against the Labour and Conservative parties and he draws attention to the different levels of spending involved:
“These costs are tiny, though, compared to the Conservative effort – almost trivial. The Labour cars cost about £50 each per day. The Conservative Battlebuses cost up to £400.The Labour vehicles had up to six activists each. The Conservative coaches had up to 50. We know the Labour Party spent £282.40 on hotel costs for student activists. We know the Conservatives, in contrast, spent £38,000 on accommodation for their Battlebus volunteers.”
As District Judge Barron said in his decision to extend the deadline for the investigation in South Thanet:
"In my judgment the combination of circumstances before me is wholly exceptional and goes far beyond the usual circumstances that would exist in a typical case where election offences are being investigated."