After Craig Mackinlay's charging, things can't get any worse for Theresa May

So tight are the polls that losing even a modest level of support as a result of these developments puts the Tories fortunes in even greater jeopardy

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The Independent Online

Politicians often get called a crook by their opponents, the press and their own electorate. Few, though, can have enjoyed the experience, or have had to suffer the embarrassment of having the Crown Prosecution Service commence proceedings against them in the middle of an election campaign.

That, it is important to stress, is all that has happened to Craig Mackinlay, then as now the Conservative Party candidate for South Thanet, and until recently the MP, over the expenses incurred in the 2015 election. You may recall that it was a bitterly fought contest with Nigel Farage the then-Ukip challenger. Mackinlay has been found guilty of nothing and remains an innocent man, and, presumably will remain as his party’s candidate.

Even so, the most talented spin doctor would find it difficult to put some positive gloss on the following statement issued by the Crown Prosecution Service to Craig Mackinlay, which reads like the opening scene in an episode of The Bill:

“That on 11 June 2015, being a candidate at the UK General Election on 7 May 2015, you knowingly made the declaration accompanying the return for the regulated period from 19 December 2014 to 29 March 2015, delivered under Section 81(1) of the Representation of People Act 1983, required by Section 82(1) of the same Act, falsely, contrary to Section 82(6) of the same Act.”

“That on 11 June 2015, being a candidate at the UK General Election on 7 May 2015, you knowingly made the declaration accompanying the return for the regulated period from 30 March 2015 to 7 May 2015, delivered under Section 81(1) of the Representation of People Act 1983, required by Section 82(1) of the same Act, falsely, contrary to Section 82(6) of the same Act.”

Neither can this revelation have been welcome for a Conservative election campaign that is faltering badly. For Marion Little, and Nathan Gray, who are also charged with offences, were Conservative Party staffers – as opposed to merely local volunteers.

Politically it might not matter much if the Conservatives were at the point they were at when Theresa May so dramatically seized the initiative and called the election. There was talk of election expenses at that point, though the Conservatives were able to say that the CPS had dismissed most of the allegations, and could point to fines levied on Labour and the Liberal Democrats as well.

For where the Tories are now, though, it adds another chapter to the “narrative” of decline, with the “dementia tax” being the stand-out example of how not to do politics. So tight are the polls that losing even a modest level of support as a result of these developments puts the Tories fortunes in even greater jeopardy. Even if the damage were only limited to the South Thanet contest, they will have given Ukip a much needed local boost, and, potentially, given the ‘kippers a chance to regain representation in the House of Commons that seemed lost forever when Douglas Carswell, their sole MP, renounced them.   

Can things get any worse for Theresa May?