Far from being a minor embarrassment for the Tories, the election fraud scandal could bring about the systematic collapse of the Cameron government. Yet without mainstream media coverage it’s entirely possible that this story could vanish without a trace.
There are currently 19 Police Forces in the UK investigating 28 Conservative MP’s for election fraud. It’s alleged that a number of Tory MPs benefited from having national campaign resources diverted to their local campaigns in the 2015 general election. This number has grown considerably over the last few weeks and may continue to grow.
Looking at the coverage this story has received from the mainstream media, you could be forgiven for thinking this was simply an administrative error on the part of the Tories. Their position (currently) is that this is a misunderstanding – specifically over whether a Tory campaign ‘battlebus’ (which shuttled campaigners around the county to whichever marginal seat needed supporters) counted as a local or national spend.
Critics argue that the battlebus is just one of several pieces of local campaign spending that was deliberately labeled as part of the national campaign in order to avoid going over the spending limits for local campaigning. The principle of the laws governing election expenses is that no one party should be able to outspend all the others in the run-up to an election and effectively ‘buy’ a victory.
If Tory MPs are found guilty of not having declared their full local campaign spending (which may well mean they broke the spending limit) the consequences could be severe. It is a criminal offence for candidates to fail to declare their campaign spending in full and can carry a maximum penalty of one year in jail, or at a minimum fines.
This alone could be explosive for the Tories and in particular any MPs who are found to have broken the law. But beyond the mere embarrassment of having politicians being fined/going to jail, this story has the potential to be the most devastating scandal a government has suffered in a generation. And this relates directly to the small, 12 seat majority that allowed the Conservatives to form a government after the 2015 General Election.
Consider if just 12 of those 28 MPs being investigated are found to have broken the law. That would mean that David Cameron formed his government based on fraud. The very mandate that the Tories used to enact a rash of unpopular legislation (including the EU referendum itself) would be in tatters.
There is no precedent in modern British politics for a governing party discovering that its mandate to govern is illegal. All legislation passed since the Cameron government’s formation in 2015 could be open to forms of legal challenge. The scope of this situation is enormous.
A slew of byelections followed by a vote of no confidence in the government could bring about a snap general election – well before the next one is scheduled to happen in 2020.
With all this potential fallout it’s clear just how serious this story is – and yet it is not making the headlines. Some stories have appeared in the press (especially in the Mirror and Channel 4 News) but it has not received anywhere near the level of coverage that similar stories have done in the past (Plebgate, MP expenses, Cash-for-questions etc.)
The Guardian called this “a very legally sensitive story” and said that it is “difficult to write reams and reams of speculation.” What that means is that any mainstream newspaper even alleging that an MP has broken the law could be taken to court for libel.
In fact, it’s unlikely the mainstream media will move on this story until there are actual charges made by Police Forces against MPs. However, by then it could be too late.
The Conservatives are trying everything they can to make this story go away before any charges are made. They have already sent top lawyers to block a Police request for a time extension needed to investigate these allegations. Though their attempt failed and the police were granted their extension, there can be little doubt that behind the scenes at Conservative party HQ, teams of paid staff and legal professionals are working tirelessly to bury this story.
The hashtag #ToryElectionFraud has been trending across social media for the last few weeks and though people are discussing it, this is merely within the confines of social media – which simply does not represent the wider reach that the mainstream media has.
So it’s the job of citizen journalists, bloggers and anyone willing to spread the word to keep this story alive and move it into the public consciousness – otherwise, without the mainstream media’s involvement, this story runs the risk of doing exactly what the Tories want – disappearing without a trace.