Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Cat Smith MP hits back at "inappropriate" election expenses claims, David Morris also facing investigation

Lancaster and Morecambe MP Cat Smith. Photo: Gus Campbell Photography/The Labour Party

Lancaster and Fleetwood MP Cat Smith has hit back at claims raised on a political blog that she filed improper expenses for last year's General Election campaign, which are now being "looked at" by Lancashire Police.

The same political blog, run by Guido Fawkes - real name Paul Staines - is however remarkably silent about concerns raised about local Tory MPs who are also facing questions of , including Morecambe and Lunesdale MP David Morris.

"Guido Fawkes", a blog that is well known for its neo-liberal agenda, backing the kind of murky forces who support cuts to public services and selling off public assets, claimed last week that "anomalies" raised questions about her spending.

Lancashire Police has confirmed it is "looking" at the allegations after complaints were made.

In a public statement, Cat, who is shadow minister for Women and Equalities, said she utterly denies the allegations that her election expenses broke the law.

"If the police do decide to investigate I will fully cooperate with their inquiries," she said, "including giving them full access to all my financial records from the General Election campaign.

"I am confident that no case will be found and I will be fully exonerated."

In a statement, Lancashire Police said: "We have received a complaint and we are in the early stages of looking into the matter to establish whether there is anything to substantiate the allegations being made.

"At this stage we are not in a position to offer any further comment."

Paul Staines (aka Guido) claims Cat Smith' case is different from all the other election expenses stories. "Smith’s spending irregularities are not about battle buses or hotels for activists," he argues. "Much more worryingly, this is about how she declared her office rent and staffing costs, many thousands of which were not declared in her campaign expenditure.

"As an individual case, this is more serious than any of the other election fraud stories of the last few weeks."

Election candidates must not exceed strict local campaign spending limits in the run-up to an election. A breach is a criminal offence and could even lead to a demand for a by-election. Anyone found guilty of an offence could face imprisonment or a hefty fine.

David Morris MP

Earlier this month, the Electoral Commission launched an investigation after the Conservative Party admitted failing to declare expenses for its election battlebus which was used to target key marginals, including Morecambe and Lunesdale.

The move came as Channel 4 obtained undeclared receipts and published evidence it said undermined the Tory claim that the vehicle’s deployment was part of national campaign spending, not "local".

The report followed earlier news items in February by national newspapers such as the Daily Mirror, which David Morris refutes.

Channel 4 said it had found that in Morecambe And Lunesdale, campaigners were photographed handing out flyers for David Morris. It also reported that more than £38,000 was spent on accommodating battlebus campaigners in 29 marginal seats and that this was not declared to the Electoral Commission "in accordance with the law".

The Conservative Party has blamed an "administrative error" for not declaring the battlebus spending.

“My election expense return for the 2015 election was completed and returned by my election agent in accordance with the law,” Mr Morris told the Visitor in March. “It included all items authorised by my election agent for use in my campaign.

“I signed the necessary declaration on that basis.

“I am aware that CCHQ campaigned across the UK for the return of a Conservative Government, including in seats such as mine.

“Such campaigning would be part of the national return not within our local return.”




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