28 Feb 2017

Election Expenses: New emails reveal PM’s top aide in central role in local campaign

A cache of secret documents obtained by Channel 4 News reveal the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Nick Timothy played a central role in a controversial election campaign now under police investigation.


The emails between Conservative campaigners could be crucial to the police probe into whether a Conservative MP properly declared tens of thousands of pounds of campaign spending on his spending return as required by law.

Catch up on the full Channel 4 News investigation into election expenses with this interactive timeline.

They also appear to directly contradict a previous statement issued by the Party which, when asked about Mr. Timothy’s role in South Thanet, said Mr Timothy “provided assistance for the Conservative Party’s national team”.

The Conservative Party has consistently denied that Mr Timothy worked directly on Craig Mackinlay’s local campaign against Nigel Farage in South Thanet in the 2015 General Election.

But emails seen by this programme appear to show Mr Timothy devising strategy and campaigning messages that were used by Mr Mackinlay’s local campaign.

Theresa May and Nick Timothy

Among the documents seen by Channel 4 News is a “message sheet” written by Mr Timothy dictating crucial arguments used to persuade voters in South Thanet to vote for the Conservative candidate.

Key sections of that text later appeared word for word on thousands of leaflets that were distributed to voters in the constituency.

The South Thanet seat is one of 29 currently under police investigation after Channel 4 News revealed hundreds of thousands of pounds in Conservative campaign spending may not have been properly declared.

The dates of the documents contained in the cache further suggest that Mr Timothy may have breached strict civil service rules that banned special advisors from any political activity while they are still receiving their taxpayer-funded salary.

New emails reveal Timothy’s role in the local campaign

The documents include emails sent by Mr Timothy to key staff about the direction of the Thanet campaign.

One exchange sent on the 29 March 2015 to a senior Conservative campaign strategist already working in South Thanet appears to show Mr Timothy devising strategy for the local Mackinlay campaign, writing at 15:58: “are we not putting ‘two horse’ race on everything? don’t we need to?”

Then, at 17:38 he sends another email to senior Conservatives entitled ‘First draft of messages’, containing a carefully crafted 500-word messaging document, with headings such as ‘Craig Mackinlay is a local man through and through’.

In the email he writes: “Let me know what you think of the first cut of the message sheet. So far, I’ve only worked off the polling book, some local research, and what Craig seems to have been saying locally.

He adds: “We have to define this as a two-horse race between us and UKIP as soon as possible.”

Within weeks, residents in South Thanet began to receive an A3 leaflet through their doors seemingly based on Mr. Timothy’s strategy, entitled: “IT COULDN’T BE CLOSER! Election in South Thanet is a Two-Horse Race Between the Conservatives and UKIP”, and including a number of phrases exactly matching the messages he had sent.

The leaflets carried an imprint stating they were promoted by Mr Mackinlay’s local agent, Nathan Gray, apparently acknowledging them as local campaign activity.

The emails could be key because the Conservative Party has consistently claimed that Mr Timothy was only involved in the national rather than the local campaign.

An investigation by Kent Police is examining whether a group of Conservatives, including Mr Timothy, who stayed at the Royal Harbour Hotel in Ramsgate were in fact working on the Mackinlay campaign.

Channel 4 News has previously revealed that the £14,000 bill racked up at the hotel was declared nationally. However if any of the Conservatives staying at the hotel were working to promote the local candidate, at the same time, then the costs for their accommodation should have been declared on the local spending returns.

If those costs should have been included in the local return, Mr Mackinlay would have breached his legal spending limit of just over £15,000.

The matter is also being examined by the Electoral Commission which is expected to report its findings within weeks.

In a statement last November the Conservative Party categorically denied that Mr. Timothy helped the local South Thanet campaign.

The party said: “During the GE 2015, Mr Timothy was a volunteer for the Conservative Party. His role included briefing policy and political work on Home Office policy, briefing party spokespeople on Home Office policy, supporting Theresa May, and working on a variety of other matters for the Conservative Party during the campaign.”

In relation to his role in Mr Mackinlay’s campaign the party said Mr. Timothy provided “assistance for the Conservative Party’s national team”.

Asked about his work for Mr. Mackinlay, the statement added: “Mr. Timothy would have given advice to any candidate who asked for it and indeed did so.”

There is no suggestion that Mr. Timothy was responsible for declaring campaign spending in South Thanet.

In a statement, a spokesman for Craig Mackinlay said: “We maintain that the South Thanet general election return was both lawful and proper.”

Code of Conduct

The Channel 4 News emails also raise questions about whether Mr Timothy broke civil service rules by working on the campaign, while he was still a paid government employee.

The Code of Conduct for Special Advisors in force at the time stated that those who “wish to take part in a … campaign … must first resign their appointment.”

The Conservative Party previously said that Mr Timothy was not involved in any campaigning until after he resigned on 30 March 2015, a position backed up by a letter from head of the civil service Sir Jeremy Heywood.

Yet some of the correspondence – from Mr Timothy’s Gmail account – dates from the 29 March 2015, the day before he resigned his post as special advisor to then-Home Secretary Theresa May.

He is also referenced in a document from the campaign dated 25 March, entitled ‘South Thanet update’ which under a ‘Help needed’ heading states: “Nick Timothy here asap”, while his name also appears in the party’s ‘South Thanet contacts’ list.

In a statement in November, the Conservative Party denied that Mr Timothy has breached the Special Advisers Code of Conduct, saying: “Since he took no part in the General Election campaign until after [30 March], it is clear that Mr Timothy did not breach the code.

“Mr Timothy is fully aware of the Code of Conduct governing the activity of Special Advisers, and we trust that you will not attempt to besmirch the character of a senior Downing Street official with inaccurate information.”

At the same time, Sir Jeremy Heywood wrote to Channel 4 News stating categorically that Mr Timothy did not campaign for the party before 30 March 2015 – the date Parliament was dissolved, marking the start of the final electioneering period known as the ‘short campaign’.

He wrote: “Nick Timothy left government employment on 30 March 2015 along with the majority of other special advisers.

“I have discussed the allegations in your letter with Mark Sedwill, Permanent Secretary at the Home Office who has confirmed that in accordance with the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers, Mr Timothy did not undertake any campaign activity when employed as a special adviser.”

Mr Timothy’s actions in South Thanet may now be a matter for the Prime Minister.

Tonight, in a further letter to Channel 4 News the Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood told Channel 4 News said he had reviewed the Channel 4 emails and had “no plans to carry out an investigation.”

“It is clear that the emails of 29 March were sent on a Sunday from Mr Timothy’s personal email account, clearly in his own time and on the afternoon before his last day in Government. They show he was preparing for what he would do once he was no longer in Government service.”