Ramsgate ‘sleazebuster’ refers Tory £14,000 hotel bills to Kent police
Michael Barnbrook, a Ramsgate resident who specialises in lodging complaints about politicians, today wrote to Kent police following our report on Wednesday night about the Conservatives spending £14,000 at the Royal Harbour Hotel in Ramsgate. The hotel bills were revealed by the Electoral Commission on Wednesday as part of their disclosure of what each of the main parties spent on their national campaigns at the 2015 general election.
The obvious question is why hotel bills in Ramsgate are national spending? In reality, wasn’t the money spent as part of the Tories’ intense efforts to stop Nigel Farage winning the local constituency, Thanet South? If so, they money should have been included as part of the Tories’ spending on the local constituency campaign. But that would have meant they spent almost twice the £15,016 legal limit on how much candidates were allowed to spend on their campaigns in Thanet between 30 March and polling day on 7 May.
Mr Barnbrook is a former inspector with the Metropolitan Police, and a former member of the BNP and Ukip, who operates under the Twitter handle @Sleazebuster, and boasts a long record of complaints against politicians which have led to their resignation and/or imprisonment. He claims the scalps of Derek Conway, Eric Illsley, Denis MacShane, Michael Trend among other others, and 20 scalps in all. Barnbrook says he has made this complaint under sections 81, 82 and 84 of the 1983 Representation of the People Act, which make it a criminal offence for local party election agents not to make a full disclosure of all their election expenses.
Royal Harbour Hotel
The bills published this week show that the Conservatives hired four, five or six rooms at the Royal Harbour Hotel almost every night in the last four weeks of the 2015 campaign. Strangely, however, while the Electoral Commission website showings several rooms were also booked every night between 23 March and 7 May, there is a gap of nine days, between 30 March and 7 April when no rooms were paid for at all. The hotel is owned by James Thomas, who stood as a Conservative for Thanet District Council in the elections in May, but lost to Ukip.
The Conservatives were desperate to stop Nigel Farage winning Thanet South. Several reports have identified senior Conservatives who were despatched to the seat during the election to shore up the vote. The recent book by Tim Ross on the election campaign says that Lynton Crosby “threw everything he had at Thanet South. This included sent Theresa May’s special adviser Nick Timothy “to take charge of the party’s flagging campaign to stop Farage in Thanet, where henry Macrory, the party’s former press chief, and Marion Little, from CCHQ’s campaign team, were already on the ground.” Timothy and Little are said to have played especially important roles in winning the seat. James Forsyth later wrote in the Daily Mail that Timothy “ran the Tory campaign that beat Nigel Farage” , while Paul Goodman on the ConservativeHome website later claimed Timothy helped to engineer Farage’s defeat. A Tweet from the Conservative RoadTrip2020 campaign has described Marion Little as the “mastermind” of Craig Mackinlay’s victory. Ms Little was awarded an OBE in the New Year’s Honours List for “political service”. The list described her as “Campaign Specialist, Conservative Party”.
Today Ms Little told Channel 4 News that she did stay at the Royal Harbour Hotel “on and off during the election”, but wouldn’t specify how many nights that entailed. Also, Theresa May’s then special adviser Stephen Parkinson told me he spent 5-6 nights at the hotel while he was helping in Thanet South in a “voluntary capacity”, though the Conservatives paid his hotel bills. He wouldn’t say whether he had used the hotel as a base from which to campaign in other seats in the area.
We have not managed to make contact with their Nick Timothy or Henry Macrory. Mr Macrory told me on 4 May that he had been contracted by the Conservatives to work in Thanet South for the whole of the campaign. A former Ukip figure says Macrory told him the same thing. Yet curiously there doesn’t appear to be any receipt for Macrory’s services in either the local accounts submitted for the Mackinlay campaign, or in the Conseravtives’ national accounts published on Wednesday.
The Conservatives insist that all their expenditure is within the rules. I understand they will maintain that the bills for the royal Harbour hotel are within the rules because the staff staying there were working on other local campaigns as well. This seems off when there are no other marginal seats within an hour of Ramsgate.
This is an important issue. Legal limits on campaign spending are designed to stop rich parties buying election, and exceeding those limits is a criminal offence.
Ukip are deeply aggrieved at how much money the Conservatives spent in their efforts to stop Nigel Farage becoming an MP, but they are unlikely to join Michael Barnbrook in complaining to Kent police.