The volume of news stories this week involving Nigel Farage has prompted Heat Street to revisit some unfinished business concerning the interim UKIP leader and an ongoing police inquiry.
It may have slipped some people’s minds, but the Conservative Party remains under investigation because of its 2015 general election expenses, as David Cameron had to acknowledge in June:
— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) June 15, 2016
Now a legal source has suggested to us that there will shortly be some “movement” in the case.
If any wrongdoing is proven, some or all of the estimated 31 affected seats fought in May 2015 will have to be contested again.
In July, we wondered whether this was Theresa May’s first sleaze scandal.
Four months on, with Brexit now under consideration and the Tories in possession of a working majority of only 14 seats, that question arguably has greater validity.
Farage comes into play due to the fact that of the various allegedly dodgy cases now being considered by police forces around the country, the best known relates to the constituency where he stood in May 2015 – South Thanet in Kent.
It was eventually won for the Conservatives by Craig Mackinlay – but only after the Tories spent large amounts of time and money on securing the seat.
It was Nick Timothy – Theresa May’s co-chief of staff – who masterminded the South Thanet operation. He was joined by, among others, veteran Tory communications man Henry McCrory.
The key details are that during the campaign, Tory party officials and activists clocked up a bill of £14,213.18 staying at the Royal Harbour Hotel.
Yet this expenditure was not declared on Craig Mackinlay’s spending returns, which were limited to £15,016.
Instead, the hotel bill was declared on the party’s national spending returns.
This triggered a complaint to Kent Police from retired Met Police officer Michael Barnbrook.
Will be submitting an allegationof possible electoral fraud by the Tories in relation to election of Craig Mackinlay as MP for Thanet South.
— Michael Barnbrook (@Sleazebuster) January 22, 2016
According to the Tories’ local expense return in South Thanet, they spent a total of £14,837 on Mackinlay’s campaign – £179 short of the legal limit.
But if you include the Royal Harbour Hotel bill then the total amount spent on getting Mackinlay into the House of Commons comes to £29,050 – almost twice the legal limit.
Nick Timothy’s alleged involvement in this case arises because he appears to have been among the Tory activists who stayed at the Royal Harbour Hotel during the campaign, meaning that potential electoral fraud by the Tories is not an issue on which Mrs May can duck and weave. She would be tied to it one way or another by virtue of Timothy’s potential involvement.
In July 2015, political commentator James Forsyth wrote in the Mail on Sunday that Timothy “ran the Tory campaign that beat Nigel Farage in South Thanet at the Election…”
It would seem odd if Timothy did not, therefore, stay at the Royal Harbour Hotel with the rest of the Tory activists.
In our July article we asked:
- If South Thanet is among those constituencies which breached the law, what will Mrs May do?
- Equally, shouldn’t she now declare whether any more of her aides stayed in the hotel in question while campaigning there?
These points remain unanswered.
It is important to emphasise, Heat Street has no evidence that anybody who did stay at the Royal Harbour Hotel breached the law intentionally or otherwise.
The Conservative Party said it would look into the matter and respond later today. It had not done so by the time of publication.
Kent Police did not respond to questions either.
Elsewhere, UKIP now faces the prospect of having to field a candidate in the event that the election in South Thanet is re-run.
In this scenario, might Farage stand – or has his friendship with President-elect Donald Trump broadened his ambitions beyond the House of Commons?