25 Oct 2016

Labour hit with record £20,000 fine over ‘Edstone’ tablet

The Electoral Commission imposes its biggest ever fine after Labour failed to declare Ed Miliband’s notorious stone tablet of promises in its election spending return.

Ed Miliband with the

The party commissioned the eight-foot stone tablet shortly before the 2015 General Election and the “Edstone” – inscribed with six key pledges from then-leader Ed Miliband – featured heavily in the latter stages of the campaign.

Mr Miliband said he would have placed the stone slab, which was widely derided by commentators and critics of the party, in the Downing Street Rose Garden as a reminder to the new Labour government to keep its promises.

But Labour left two payments totalling £7,614 relating to the stone off its election campaign spending return, a breach of election rules which sparked an investigation by the Electoral Commission.

The party was ordered to review all its election spending and was later found to have missed 74 payments totalling £123,748, as well as 33 separate invoices totalling £34,392 from the official return.

The party has been fined £20,000 – the maximum penalty allowed, and the largest imposed by the commission since it was launched in 2001.

The Electoral Commission found that the Labour treasurer Iain McNicol had committed two offences under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (PPERA) however no further action was being taken against him personally.

A Labour spokeswoman said: “Labour has co-operated fully with the Electoral Commission during its investigation into general election 2015 campaign spending by political parties.

Internal procedural errors led to a relatively small number of items of expenditure not being declared properly. Labour statement

“The commission’s investigation found that internal procedural errors led to a relatively small number of items of expenditure not being declared properly.

“The party regrets these administrative errors. However, these amounted to just over 1 per cent of our total spending of over £12m during this election.

“We accept the findings of the report and have already tightened our internal recording procedures to address the commission’s concerns.”

The Electoral Commission said: “Initial inquiries aimed to determine why two payments totalling £7,614, relating to spending incurred on a stone tablet – referred to in the media as the ‘EdStone’ – were missing from the party’s campaign spending return.

“It was established that these payments were missing from the party’s return and the commission launched an investigation.”

The commission has called for an increase in the maximum £20,000 penalty available to it for a single offence.

It is vital that the larger parties comply with these rules and report their finances accurately. Bob Posner

Director of party and election finance, Bob Posner, said: “The Labour Party is a well-established, experienced party.

“Rules on reporting campaign spending have been in place for over 15 years and it is vital that the larger parties comply with these rules and report their finances accurately if voters are to have confidence in the system.”

Conservative party

A Channel 4 investigation uncovered compelling evidence suggesting large-scale and systematic abuse of election rules by the Conservative Party in last year’s General Election and three key by-elections in 2014 that are currently being investigated by the Electoral Commission and 10 police forces.

With respect to both the by-elections and the South Thanet allegations, the Conservative Party said: “All election spending has been correctly recorded in accordance with the law”. They also informed us that the omission to declare hostel costs in national or local returns was due to an “administrative error”.

Regarding the individual candidates, the party said: “All local spending has been correctly declared in line with the requirements of the Representation of the People Act.”