Will Theresa May’s honeymoon period as our new prime minister be shorter than she’d hoped?
It turns out that one of her closest aides, newly appointed joint chief of staff Nick Timothy, could be caught up in the ongoing police probe into the Conservatives’ 2015 general election expenses.
The outcome of this inquiry could be hugely damaging for the Tories. If they are found to have broken the law they could end up with heavy fines and may possibly have to re-run elections in tarnished constituencies.
Of the various election cases now being considered by police forces around the country, the best known relates to the constituency of South Thanet in Kent, which was contested by then-Ukip leader Nigel Farage and won by Tory MP Craig Mackinlay.
The Tories ploughed significant amounts of time and money into Mackinlay’s campaign to see off the Farage threat and it was Timothy who masterminded the operation.
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 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 double 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 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.
If South Thanet is among those constituencies which breached the law, what will Mrs May do?
Equally, surely she should now declare whether any more of her aides stayed in the hotel in question while campaigning there?
It is important to say, there is no evidence that anybody who did stay at the Royal Harbour Hotel intentionally breached the law.
However, the affair continues to worry the Tories.
Timothy did not respond to Heat Street when we asked to speak to him about this.
Downing Street refused to comment.
The Conservative Party said it would look into the matter and respond later today.
A Ukip spokesman told us: “Now that David Cameron is no longer prime minister, the electoral fraud story has been blown wide open. There is no longer any need for the Conservatives to try to protect anyone associated with these allegations and we would expect Theresa May to be open in the way she deals with this. We look forward to hearing the outcome of the various police investigations.”