Electoral Commission must investigate Tory by-election spending, Labour says

Elliot Chappell
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Labour has called for the Electoral Commission to launch an investigation into Conservative Party spending in the Hartlepool by-election following reports that Boris Johnson used taxpayer funds to fly by jet to the constituency to campaign.

The Prime Minister travelled by private jet from London Stansted to Teeside International Airport before being driven to Middlesborough to conduct official government business on April 1st, a month before voters went to the polls.

He was subsequently driven to Hartlepool to meet with Tory candidate Jill Mortimer and visit a local company supporting her campaign, before going door-knocking, leafleting and talking to constituents. He flew back to London later that day.

Mortimer tweeted at the time: “Delighted to have Boris Johnson visit Hartlepool to discuss my plan for jobs and investment. Visited Hart Biologicals to meet staff and see their brilliant work. We then went out campaigning with the Tees Valley mayor.”

But, according to an official Conservative Party spending return for the campaign, obtained by Business Insider, no transport costs were recorded suggesting that the Prime Minister’s expenses were paid for by government funds.

In a letter to Electoral Commission chief executive Bob Posner today, deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner argued that Johnson appears to have breached the ministerial code by using government resourced for party political purposes.

She demanded the elections watchdog confirm that the cost of privately-funded transport should be included in the spending return, and also said that any breaches of the Representation of the People Act should be referred to the police.

“I know that you take the Electoral Commission’s responsibility to promote public confidence in our democratic process and ensure its integrity is upheld with the utmost seriousness,” Rayner wrote.

“With this in mind, I hope that in accordance with the commission’s general duty to monitor compliance with the candidate expenditure and donation rules you will investigate this matter to get to the bottom of whether any wrongdoing has taken place, including any further dodgy deals involving Conservative Party donors secretly paying off or reimbursing the Conservative Party or the public purse and/or clearing the Prime Minister’s debts from billing the taxpayer.”

Rayner also wrote to the Cabinet Secretary and the government’s independent adviser on ministers’ interests, Lord Geidt, earlier this week demanding an investigation into the Prime Minister.

Labour Party chair Anneliese Dodds wrote to her Conservative counterpart Amanda Milling on Tuesday, asking that the party publish documents showing that Johnson was not using taxpayer funds for political campaigning.

“Not for the first time, it looks like Boris Johnson has been taking taxpayers for a ride. Even by his standards, declaring that travel costs were ‘nil’ for a trip that saw him fly hundreds of miles in a Government plane and hit the campaign trail is outrageously brazen,” she said.

Below is the full text of the letter sent to the Electoral Commission.

Dear Bob,

I am writing to you regarding the financing of the Prime Minister’s travel for party political campaigning purposes. As you will be aware, the Prime Minister travelled by plane to campaign in the Hartlepool by-election on April 5th – within the regulated period for the by-election – however none of the costs of the Prime Minister’s travel are included in the Conservative’s spending return for the by-election, which was submitted with £0 of spend for transport.

This appears to be a clear breach of the ministerial code, which states that government resources should not be used for party political purposes and that “where a visit is a mix of political and official engagements, it is important that the department and the Party each meet a proper proportion of the actual cost.” I have already written to the Cabinet Secretary and the government’s independent adviser on ministers’ interests Lord Geidt demanding an investigation into the Prime Minister breaching the code.

Electoral Commission guidance states that transport costs include the cost of transporting volunteers, party members, staff members or other campaigners around the electoral area or to and from the electoral area where they are undertaking campaigning on behalf of the candidate. Can you confirm that this includes the Prime Minister travelling around, to and from the electoral area via private plane and by car to campaign on behalf and with the candidate (as evidenced by social media posts published by Jill Mortimer)?

Electoral Commission guidance also makes clear that the cost of transport that is paid for by a political party or third party or reimbursed by a political party or third party, presumably including the Conservative Party or a Conservative Party donor, should also be included in spending returns. Can you confirm that if the Prime Minister’s travel was subsequently paid for by the Conservative Party and/or a Conservative Party donor – as in the case of the redecoration of the Prime Minister’s flat – then this spending should be included in the spending return as an election expense?

As you are aware given your ongoing investigation into the funding arrangements surrounding the redecoration of the Prime Minister’s flat, the Prime Minister treats the laws and rules that declare election expenses, donations and financial interests with contempt. His contempt for the rules and laws that uphold standards and integrity in our public life has polluted our politics and is having a hugely damaging impact on public trust in our politics and our democracy.

I know that you take the Electoral Commission’s responsibility to promote public confidence in our democratic process and ensure its integrity is upheld with the utmost seriousness. With this in mind, I hope that in accordance with the Commission’s general duty to monitor compliance with the candidate expenditure and donation rules you will investigate this matter to get to the bottom of whether any wrongdoing has taken place, including any further dodgy deals involving Conservative Party donors secretly paying off or reimbursing the Conservative Party or the public purse and/or clearing the Prime Minister’s debts from billing the taxpayer.

I trust that in the course of your inquiry you will also refer to the police any evidence of illegal and criminal behaviour in breach of the Representation of the People Act, including but not limited to the non-declaration of election expenses and donations in kind, the submission of false returns and any other wrongdoing.

Given the public interest in this matter I will be making this letter public.

Yours sincerely,

Angela Rayner MP

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