Tories under investigation by Electoral Commission over 'breaking election spending rules'

Strict rules are in place to stop money influencing elections

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Indy Politics

The Electoral Commission has launched an inquiry into whether the Conservatives violated election spending rules at the general election.

An investigation by Channel 4 News said that alleged irregularities in recording expenses in Thanet South meant the Tories broke spending limits during the campaign.

During last year's election Ukip’s Nigel Farage lost to the Tories’ Craig Mackinlay in one of the most high-profile contests in the country.

The loss for Ukip sparked Mr Farage’s short-lived resignation as party leader.

However, the Conservatives were said to have attributed £14,000 worth of hotel bills spent for activists in Thanet South to “national” election expenditure rather than to Thanet South’s account.

Parties were restricted to spending a maximum of £15,016 on the constituency – allocating the bills to national expenditure may have meant the Conservatives were able to spend more money on other campaigning activity to win the crucial vote.

The amount of money allowed to be spent in any given seat at the general election per party is £8,700, plus six pence for every person on the electoral register.

The strict rules are in place to make it more difficult to swing a seat simply by spending large amounts of money on professional campaigning. 

Kent Police said yesterday it had shelved an investigation into claims the party’s local election agent broke the law by failing to fully disclose election expenses.

Today the Electoral Commission, which regulates elections, says it has started its own probe in light of the police dropping theirs. 

“The priority of the Electoral Commission is to conduct a fair and thorough investigation and the time taken to complete an investigation varies on a case-by-case basis,” the Commission said in a statement.

“Once the investigation is complete, the Commission will be able to decide whether any breaches have occurred and if so what further action, if any, may be appropriate.

“The Commission’s sanctioning powers are limited to a civil penalty of up to £20,000.”

A spokesperson for Kent Police said further police involvement in the episode had not been ruled out.