Cheshire Police are investigating allegations the Conservative Party breached election expenses rules regarding a ‘battle bus’ that visited Chester and Weaver Vale constituencies during the 2015 general election campaign.
This follows a Channel 4 News investigation alleging £38,000 of undeclared expenditure on hotel costs for activists who travelled aboard the battle bus when it toured 29 key marginals.
The Conservative Party has faced claims such costs should have been recorded under individual candidates’ limits, rather than as part of the national campaign. If correct, this could mean constituency-specific spending limits were exceeded, which would be a matter for the police.
But the Conservative Party rejects this claim saying the battle bus expenses come under the national spending threshold – which was not exceeded – while accepting an ‘administrative error’ meant these accommodation costs were not declared.
Concerns raised with Cheshire Police
The row has led to complaints being made to eight police forces covering the areas visited by the battle bus, including Cheshire Constabulary, who are now investigating.
A Cheshire Police spokesman said: “As a result of media interest, some members of the public have contacted us to raise their concerns in relation to this matter.
“Officers are investigating these reports and following lines of enquiry. Based on the information we receive, we will consider the appropriate course of action and if an application to the extension of the time limit is required.”
The spokesman explained that under normal circumstances any proceedings must be instigated within 12 months of the expenses being submitted.
Graham Evans MP confirmed the battle bus visited his Weaver Vale constituency and Chester where sitting MP and fellow Tory, Stephen Mosley, was defeated but told The Chronicle he does not wish to comment at this stage.
A Conservative spokesperson said: “Conservative Campaign HQ campaigned across the country for the return of a Conservative Government. Such campaigning would be part of the national return, not local return, as the Electoral Commission has said.
Administrative error admitted
“As is apparent from our national return, the party declared expenditure related to our CCHQ-organised battle bus. However, due to administrative error it omitted to declare the accommodation costs of those using the vehicles. This is something we have already brought to the attention of the Electoral Commission in order to amend the return.
“The party always took the view that our national battle bus, a highly-publicised campaign activity, was part of the national return – and we would have no reason not to declare it as such, given that the party was some millions below the national spending threshold. Other political parties ran similar vehicles which visited different parliamentary constituencies as part of their national campaigning.”
The Electoral Commission did not wish to respond directly to the assertion the battle bus expenses related to the national return rather than local expense limits, but in a statement said: “The Electoral Commission is currently investigating whether the Conservative Party met their reporting obligations under the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act (PPERA) 2000, at the general election in May 2015 and in the by-elections held in Newark, Clacton and Rochester and Strood, which all took place during the regulated period for the general election.”