Could Tory election fraud bring down the British gov't?
By Steve Rushton, Occupy
Saturday, May 6, 2017
“Will the Prime Minister give a guarantee that no Tory MP who is under investigation by the police and the legal authorities over election expenses in the last general election be a candidate in this election?” the veteran Labour MP and social justice stalwart, Dennis Skinner, asked British PM Theresa May after she called a snap election for June 8.
The Prime Minister did not engage directly, replying: “I stand by all the Conservative MPs that are in this House.” But it seems the question of criminal election fraud with potential prison sentences for dozens of British MPs will not go away. It may be, in fact, the most divisive theme brewing ahead of next month's election.
Skinner isn't the only one arguing that the risk of the election scandal bringing down the government explains why May called the snap election. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is among others making the same case. And if election fraud becomes a key issue – as much of the British public feels it should – it may swing the June results. The stakes, for UK governance and justice, could not be higher.
SNAP OR FLAP?
At least six times since she became prime minister last July, May said there would not be an early election. On two occasions, she even argued she would not call one for the sake of "stability" as the country lurches toward a Brexit.
In announcing the forthcoming “snap election” vote, May U-turned to such a degree that she openly admitted her change of mind, saying: “I thought about this long and hard and came to the decision that to provide for that stability and certainty, this was the way to do it.”
It is illogical, to say the least, that both having and not having an election can create stability. However, one thing is for sure: May's grip on power is looking increasingly shaky.
The Crown Prosecution is currently considering charges against more than 30 Conservatives, including MPs sitting in vulnerable marginal seats where a small swing in votes could remove the Tory majority and make way for a Labour government.
Election fraud claims were first revealed early last year by Channel Four News. The station initially highlighted dubious hotel bills that the Conservatives paid from their central election funds during by-elections. In British elections, local campaigns for MPs can only spend around £15,000 in the 39 days before the vote; the figure varies slightly depending on the size of the constituency.
The claims against the MPs are that they broke the rules by fixing the books – overspending at the local level, then hiding those inflated sums in national spending, where far larger amounts are permitted.
C4 News later revealed documents, receipts and other evidence that the Tories overspent in the 2015 General Election. The hotel rooms enabled Conservative activists and elites to visit and campaign for specific MPs who were all fighting for strongly contested seats.
Over the last year and a half, further evidence has emerged that the Conservatives overspent in 29 marginal seats. In 2015, they only won by a 12 seat majority. In the prize marginal seats, often the alleged over-spend was double the legal limit.
Breaking election laws like these amounts to a criminal offense, and carries a one year jail sentence. Building on the C4 News allegations, the Daily Mirror published further claims explaining how the Conservative roadtrip Battlebus was used to drive Conservative candidates toward an advantage in the 2015 election.
The paper estimated the bus cost £2,000 per day, enough to push many MPs well over the limit. Transporting activists into local campaigns may have effectively rigged the contests.
Showcasing their investigative journalism, C4 News created a timeline explaining what has happened so far. In no uncertain terms, the station has provided clear evidence that the Conservatives broke the law. One Conservative MP under police investigation, Scott Mann from North Cornwall, admitted on TV that the Battlebus activists campaigned directly for him.
Both the Electoral Commission and police forces across the country are now investigating.
On March 16, the Guardian released the names of eight MPs under investigation. These include Karl McCartney and William Wragg, who both admitted they were under investigation. The others are Anna Soubry, Neil Carmichael, Scott Mann, Kevin Foster, James Heappey and Marcus Fysh.
These add to the names already released by C4 News in 2016 of those who were first investigated, including the MPs Amanda Milling, Michael Ellis, Stuart Andrew, George Eustice, David Nuttall, Oliver Colville and Graham Evans.
The last three in that list – Nuttall, Colville and Evans – won in 2015 by only a 3-figure margin.
Extensive digging by local newspapers revealed other potential suspects, who were added to the list in mid-March of this year. They include the MPs Maggie Throup and Nigel Mills (revealed by the Derby Telegraph), Luke Hall (Gazette), John Stevenson (Cumberland News) and Mary Robinson (Manchester Evening News).
There could be more than these 20 MPs under investigation. Any of them, and many of them, might go to jail.
THE NET TIGHTENS ON DOWNING STREET
The timing of Prime Minister May's call for the snap election is another possible smoking gun. Last November, the PM’s chief of staff, Nick Timothy, was questioned for his role in the likely democratic fraud. Leaked documents published by C4 News on Feb. 28 showed how Timothy “played a central role in a controversial election campaign.”
Recent email revelations implicate more members of the Downing Street team – even showing that Theresa May was present during an apparent instance of illegal over-spending. The question many are now asking: Was the pressure coming from her senior advisors instrumental in her decision to call the June election?
Two weeks ago, on April 18, the Crown Prosecution Service announced it is considering charging 30 Conservatives. To most observers, it now seems more than a coincidence that it happened the very same day Theresa May announced the snap election.
People in Britain need to ask – and to find out – whether Conservatives in fact called an early election to avoid potentially losing their majority. Citizens must know the extent of any cover-up, and any lingering questions about election fraud must be answered before the June vote. Going by the evidence, the UK could expect Conservative candidates facing criminal charges on the eve of the 2017 election.
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