Published on 9 Mar 2017 Sections

Tory whistleblowers accuse Conservatives of ‘huge betrayal’ of electorate over expenses

Two members of a Conservative campaigning “hit squad” in the 2015 election tell Channel 4 News the party “cheated” by not properly declaring its election spending.

Election expenses

Over the past year, a Channel 4 News investigations team has unearthed compelling evidence that the Conservative Party may have broken election laws to fight three by-elections in 2014 and win power in the 2015 General Election.

The Battlebus 2015 campaign sent a fleet of coaches filled with Conservative activists into 29 marginal seats in the final weeks of the 2015 General Election – to persuade voters on the doorstep.

The whole Battlebus campaign is now under investigation – after allegations that Conservative candidates may have broken election law by failing to declare the costs on their local spending returns.

The Party has repeatedly said the spending on the bus tour should have been declared nationally not locally.

But two Tory whistleblowers have spoken to Channel 4 News and cast doubt on that claim.

They say the party is “lying” about what happened on the Battlebus – and is now engaged in a “cover-up”.

If you have any information please email
c4investigations@itn.co.uk

Battlebus activists

Gregg and Louise Kinsell volunteered for the Conservatives in the final few days of the “Battlebus 2015” campaign in the South West, working in four key seats for the party.

Louise says that: “We worked for the local candidates and MPs to ensure that they won their seat and we were sent wherever they thought we would help.”

The Conservatives insist the Battlebus was a national event, with volunteers only promoting the party and not specific local candidates. As such the Battlebus was only declared in the Party’s national campaign expenses.

Last year, David Cameron said: “Lots of political parties have these bus tours – you know buses that go round different constituencies and this is a national expense.”

Read the full timeline of the Election Expenses investigation - every report, the documents and profiles of all the key characters.

But the Kinsells say they were tasked with promoting local candidates,
including being given local briefing papers and seat-specific scripts, being furnished with specific voter data and distributing local leaflets.

Gregg said: “If people are saying, and the MPs concerned in these areas are saying it was part of a greater expense nationally for the Conservatives, that is a lie and an obvious falsehood. In that case I feel especially motivated to go to the police and go to the Electoral Commission.”

“So they are telling lies about what we did – and we duped people on the doors, it feels like cheating.”

All four seats visited by the Kinsells on the Battlebus tour were won for the Tories and the party took 14 seats in the South West in total, wiping out their Liberal Democrats coalition partners from the region.

Louise Kinsell said, “We went down and worked for individual candidates who then won their seat. If they hadn’t won their seat, the Conservatives may not have won the election.”

Police investigation

The Battlebus tour is currently under investigation. Under election laws, any costs incurred to promote a candidate, must be declared on local candidate spending returns. It’s a criminal offence for the candidate and agent to knowingly make a false declaration.

Channel 4 News has previously revealed that hundreds of thousands of pounds in Conservative campaign spending may not have been properly declared.

And the Kinsells have revealed more examples of what they believe are questionable campaign spending.

The Battlebus group stayed at the Jury’s Inn in Plymouth. Channel 4 News has seen a hotel bill for 29 rooms at the Jury’s Inn totalling £2,520. But that hotel does not appear to have been declared in the national expenses.

The Battlebus tour was then accommodated at the Premier Inn and Travelodge in Hayle, Cornwall. Again, these hotels do not appear to have been accounted for in the Conservative national returns.

The Conservative Party has previously stated that the failure to declare the hotels used on the Battlebus campaign as an “administrative error”.

In the nine seats visited by the Battlebus in the South West, the Conservatives candidates declared that they had spent below the legal limit, as governed by electoral law.

However, Channel 4 News has calculated the cost of the buses, hotels, and staff for the Battlebus tour in the region amounts to £2,460 for each seat visited. If the activists took part in local campaigning, this cost should have been declared on local spending returns.

The Kinsells say there is now a “code of silence” amongst Party activists about what took place on the Battlebus tour.

“It has shocked me that they have been this arrogant and think they can get away with it.”

The Kinsells say they feel betrayed by the Conservatives. “We were on the bus. We know what happened. We know what we were doing. And they know what we were doing.

Gregg Kinsell said: “I feel like there’s been a betrayal. We were unwitting participants in a huge betrayal. That’s how I feel.”

A Conservative spokesman said: “We are cooperating with the ongoing investigations.”

None of the candidates responsed to requests for comment.