24 Feb 2016

Tory election expenses – new claims from party activists

Party members are calling for an investigation into the party’s election spending after new receipts and documents were obtained by Channel 4 News.

This programme has uncovered evidence of a third hotel booked for party campaign workers during the Clacton By-Election in 2014, that was seemingly not declared,

Channel 4 News has also obtained staff rosters seemingly showing the scale of the operation on the ground, with 27 workers named as involved in campaigning, of which 23 are named on hotel bookings.

We can even reveal the party’s election agent Victoria Goff, now Carslake, signed off the spending declaration, despite almost a month of room bookings in one hotel in her own name.

Last night the chair of the Clacton Conservative Party Association Delyth Miles said party members would be “absolutely totally and utterly disgusted” if spending wasn’t properly declared, and called for an investigation.

She said: “There are some questions that have to be answered by some people in the party.

“They need to be investigating this fully.”

The revelation is the latest in a series of details uncovered by a Channel 4 News investigation into Conservative Party spending in the run up to the General Election in 2015.

Last week the Electoral Commission launched an investigation after this programme also raised questions about spending by the Conservatives for two hotels in the General Election campaign in South Thanet against UKIP leader Nigel Farage.

Channel 4 News has also previously revealed how the Conservative Party spent more than £90,000 on six hotels for campaign workers as they fought to stop the rise of Ukip in three by-election campaigns, in Clacton, Newark and Rochester & Strood in 2014.

If the hotels – two in each by-election campaign – had been declared it would have taken the party well over the strict £100,000 by-election spending limit that ensures elections are fair.

Now Channel 4 News has obtained new evidence of a third hotel, the Rock, on the seafront at Frinton that was booked for Conservative campaigners.

Read all our coverage on #ElectionExpenses on our website: www.electionexpenses.co.uk

Documents show six Tory workers staying for at least 36 nights, while the owner said some stayed for a number of weeks, at a total cost estimated at up to £5,000.
It takes the total of undeclared hotel receipts in the Clacton By-Election to £31,786.

The programme has also obtained staff rosters sent by election agent Ms Carslake that seemingly shows at least 23 workers who were put up across the three hotels were working directly on the election campaign, with many split between six separate campaigning sectors.

Victoria Carslake, currently the party’s Head of Local Government, submitted the spending declaration as part of her role as election agent in the Clacton By-Election in 2014.

Under her maiden name Victoria Goff she signed off the party’s spending return under her party name as “complete and accurate… as required by law”.

It showed no hotel accommodation, even though she was among 21 Conservative campaign workers with room reservations at the town’s luxury Lifehouse Hotel and Spa during the campaign.

In total, she was named on bookings at the hotel for 28 nights.

None of the nights for any of the party workers were declared.

Electoral Commission guidance says all hotel accommodation for those involved in the campaign must be declared, and it is a criminal offence to knowingly make a false declaration.

Channel 4 News has also obtained evidence linking the operation on the ground to senior figures in the Campaigning Department of Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ).

Rooms at the Rock hotel were apparently paid for personally by senior Campaign Specialist Marion Little, taking the number of hotel rooms that were booked in either Ms Little’s name or using her home address in Hertfordshire, or paid by her, to 770 across the three by-election campaigns.

New emails show further involvement by Ms Little, who appears to have a direct role in organising the Clacton campaign, and in closing down campaign centres known as “bunkers”, before moving the operation south of the River Medway to the Rochester & Strood by-election the following month.

In an email Ms Little wrote: “The Helium canister needs to come to the Bunker so we can get it to Rochester.


“Finally, and most importantly THANK YOU – I look forward to seeing you all south of the river.”

Katie Woodland was a Conservative Party campaign manager for Telford when she was asked to go to Clacton in October to help with the by-election campaign.
She was put up for two nights in the town’s Premier Inn – nights that do not appear on the official declarations.

Ms Woodland said: “I would say, based on the evidence I’ve seen, the fact that it happened in three by-elections, one after the other, it’s systematic.
“And they know the law. They’ve been running elections for years.

“To do it three in a row, and to do it pretty big in a couple of places means there was full intention behind it.

“If they’d gone over by a couple of rooms because they miscalculated, you know £30 or £40 accidentally, that’s different.

“To six, seven, 40, 50, thousand pounds. You can’t do £50,000 accidentally.”