A Conservative Underestimate
by Alan Bolwell
Following investigations into several Conservative MPs spending during the 2015 General Election, Energy and Environment Secretary and Hastings MP Amber Rudd has been reported to Sussex Police for ‘election expenses irregularities’.
Sussex Police gave the following statement to Hastings Independent Press: “Having, on Monday 23 May, received an allegation of potential election expenses irregularities by a Sussex MP relating to the 2015 General Election, we have now received a second, similar allegation against another Sussex politician.
This latest allegation was made on Monday 6 June and both are now being looked into. Following court applications both have been granted an extension of time for investigations to take place.”
“No other allegations have been received that fell within the time limit for a substantive investigation to take place.”
It is believed that the “no other allegations” refers to Amber Rudd, which means that even if anything illegal happened during her election campaign, no legal action can be taken. A year passed before anyone reported allegations of expenses irregularities, which means that due to election expenses rules, no case can be brought against her campaign team.
Amber Rudd’s legal limit for local spending was £37,458.55, of which she declared £27,737.77. If it was found that she spent over the legal limit then Amber’s campaign manager James Dee would have be legally responsible and it could have also triggered a by-election – if she had been reported within a year of handing in her expenses.
Among the largest expenses anomalies are costs associated with hiring a Javelin HS1 train which was used to canvas for the Conservative Party in Sussex. Amber Rudd’s election material was placed on seats of this train as it visited Hastings, Bexhill and Eastbourne. It also stopped for a photo opportunity with Amber at Hastings train station as part of her promise of creating a fast rail link between Hastings and London – we have yet to find these costs among her expenses or get to London from Hastings in under an hour.
Another larger anomaly is the use of a wrap around advert that appeared on the Hastings and St Leonards Observer and other local newspapers at a cost of £147,737.41, which was declared as national spending despite only being used in 7 key constituencies. A seventh of this cost would be over £21,000, which in itself pushes her expenditure above the legal limit for local candidate spending.
The expenses scandal story broke following an article in The Mirror and an investigation by Channel 4’s Micheal Crick into the use of Battlebuses in various key constituencies, including Hastings. Costs associated with the Battlebus, such as hotels and catering in local constituencies, should properly be counted as local candidate expenses, but do not appear to be listed.
The Conservative Party were embarrassed further when David Cameron struggled to explain why they hired a QC in a failed attempt to block Kent Police’s application for more time to investigate similar allegations.
District judge Justin Barron said of the attempt to block the investigation in Kent, that there was “very significant public interest in the matter being fully investigated.”
Adding: “The consequences of a conviction would be of a local and national significance with the potential for election results being declared void.”
The Mirror also reported that Amber used a local version of an advert developed by M&C Saatchi at a cost of £395,575, which was declared as national spending:
“Amber Rudd, Secretary of State for Energy, ran what appeared to be a local version of the same advert on her YouTube channel on March 29. The slogan was changed to: “Unemployment down by 1,921 in Hastings and Rye since 2010”.
It was uploaded on March 29, the last day of the “long campaign”, but does not appear in Ms Rudd’s long campaign election spending return.
Under “advertising”, the only online costs declared were a series of Facebook ads and one £60 bill to her local conservative association for a “pop up banner”.”
It should be noted that these unemployment figures are based on JSA claimants, so would include unemployed people that were sanctioned but failed to go on to find work.
There are other expenses that are yet to be accounted for, including minibus expenses exposed by Tim Fenton on Zelo-street: “On Sunday 3rd May, the minibus visited Hastings, incurring a charge for additional hours and mileage of £122.50. The maths is straightforward: to that should be added the £260 daily hire charge, making a total of £382.50. The candidate was Amber Rudd, who was re-elected the following Thursday. So what does her “Short Campaign” return have for Transport costs? Nothing. No sign of the visiting minibus.”
As well as various costs we asked Amber Rudd’s office to explain: expenditure from a visit by Gideon Osborne on 21st April 2015, a lunch offered to volunteers at the Robert de Mortaine on 15th April 2015, costs associated with a visit from David Cameron on the 4th May 2015.
Although no legal case will be brought against Amber Rudd’s election team, these expenses irregularities remain unexplained.
At the time of our going to press there has been no response by Amber’s office to inquiries by Hastings Independent Press.