21 Apr 2016

New evidence Tories bankrolled local activists in marginals

Channel 4 News reveals new evidence which contradicts claims by the Conservative Party that BattleBus was a “national campaign”, with evidence from key Labour marginals.

New evidence appears to show that the Conservative Party bankrolled an operation to bus activists to key marginal seats to campaign for local candidates, Channel 4 News can reveal.

The Conservative Party targeted 20 seats in the Midlands and the North they needed to win to defeat Labour in key marginal seats.

Photographs, social media posts and documents obtained by Channel 4 News undermine claims by the Conservative Party that BattleBus 2015 was a “national campaign” designed to “promote the Party”.

In Amber Valley for example, BattleBus campaigners were photographed on doorsteps handing out local leaflets for the candidate Nigel Mills.

In Dudley South BattleBus campaigners were photographed wearing rosettes for the candidate Greg Wood and holding up placards for the candidate.

In Sherwood Battlebus activists are shown holding leaflets for Mark Spencer that referred to “my local team”.

In Morecambe and Lunesdale campaigners are photographed distributing flyers for candidate David Morris.

The Conservative Party has refused to answer detailed questions on the undeclared hotel spending on the BattleBus campaign.

Activists briefed on “local issues”

Channel 4 News has obtained copies of briefing notes supplied to BattleBus campaigners on local issues:

In Northampton North activists were briefed on local issues like a new bus station, shops in the town centre and pedestrianised shopping areas.

In Nuneaton briefing notes provided information about the local hospital and two local academies that were placed in special measures.

In Sherwood they were briefed on the Bilsthorpe power station, flooding in Woodborough and Lambley and a campaign by the candidate to expend the Robin Hood Line to Edwinstone and Ollerton.

Undeclared hotel spends

The Conservative Party has admitted it failed to declare more than £38,201 in accommodation costs for the BattleBus campaign to the Electoral Commission due to an “administrative error”. This includes £13,653 spent at the Travelodge in Tamworth, where the Party took 35 rooms over 10 nights. The hotel was used as a base to campaign in nearby seats over 10 days.

In the North, 38 rooms were paid for at the Holiday Inn at Bolton over 5 nights at a cost of £9350.

Last night Channel 4 News revealed the BattleBus campaign racked up £15,056 in undeclared hotel spends in the South West.

Documents obtained by Channel 4 News show the entire campaign was signed off Conservative Party Chairman Lord Feldman, campaign mastermind Sir Lynton Crosby, Lord Stephen Gilbert, political secretary to the Prime Minister and former Party Chairman Grant Shapps.

The Electoral Commission is already investigating more than £100,000 pounds in hotel spending by the Conservative Party and revealed by Channel 4 News in a three month investigation.

That investigation focussed on undeclared hotel spends in three by-elections in Newark, Clacton and Rochester in 2014 and in South Thanet at the General Election. The Tories stated repeatedly that all their election spending was carried out in accordance with the law.

Today Adrian Sanders, the former Liberal Democrat MP for Torbay told the BBC’s World at One that the police need to investigate the claims: “If this is not taken seriously people will wonder about the police’s independence from a Conservative Home Secretary and Crime Commissioner.”