As Zelo Street revealed at the beginning of the month, the Tory election expenses scandal, which many in the party might have thought had gone away, came rumbling back into view, courtesy of Channel 4 News and a very public pursuit by Michael Crick of Theresa May’s right-hand man Nick Timothy. I posted last year on Timothy’s despatch by the Tories to run the Thanet South campaign for now MP Craig Mackinlay.
This was considered a must-win for the Tories, as they were battling former UKIP Oberscheissenführer Nigel “Thirsty” Farage. As I noted last year, Timothy’s salary was not part of Mackinlay’s expense return - and nor were all those battle buses and their occupants, even though some constituencies had entered a nominal amount for them on their local expense returns. And now the Tories have major problems.
This is because Mackinlay has been interviewed under caution by the Police - a process which, it seems, took several hours. While Mackinlay is not answering requests for comment, there is unease in the party at large.
As the Guardian has reported, “There is growing panic in the Conservative party about the scale of police probes into election spending, which could affect dozens of MPs. A separate investigation by the Electoral Commission into whether the national party broke election spending limits is also under way and expected to come to a head within weeks”. Remember all the straight batting of overspending claims with the stock reply that it was all charged to the national campaign and so was above board?
And while Mr Thirsty claims he would be up for a Thanet South rematch - providing, of course, he can fit it in with his rounds of media appearances, daily LBC show, and commitments to Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse), the cops continue their enquiries, with Kent Police simply saying “The investigation into this complex matter is ongoing and officers continue to follow lines of enquiry. Therefore it would not be appropriate to comment further … Officers from Kent police continue to work with the Electoral Commission as the investigation continues”.
The result of all this has been to cause panic among many Tory MPs. The Guardian again: “Separately, a group of Conservative MPs under investigation over their election expenses are growing increasingly frustrated at the lack of support from the party’s headquarters … One has sent an email to Tory HQ accusing the party of keeping secret a draft of the Electoral Commission report from MPs whose local spending returns are under investigation”. This is believed to be a reference to Lincoln MP Karl McCartney.
So it’s pretty serious, isn’t it? Well, only if you watch Channel 4 News - and, to its credit, Sky as well - or read the Guardian, Mirror, or online-only Independent. You think I jest? All the right-leaning press has kept this story off its front pages today, preferring to keep whining about Nicola Sturgeon, or put the boot into Prince William.
Yes, it is serious. And it will most likely get a lot more serious. The Tories look to have overspent on a whole raft of campaigns, and if their national spending is under the spotlight, they could be in the deepest of deep shit. More to come.