Eastleigh Lib Dems have been left reeling as The Daily Mail published allegations by former colleagues that the party had deliberately underreported their general election spending by £10,000.
The local party is already trying to come to terms with the news that a Police investigation has been launched into the allegations surrounding the driving record of Chris Huhne the borough’s Lib Dem MP.
Councillor Glynn Davies-Dear and Andy Moore left the Lib Dems earlier this year to sit as independents. At the time Mr Davies Dear told the BBC that Mr Huhne’s admitted marital infidelity had made him ‘feel dirty’.
The two independents were incensed when Andy Moore failed to retain his seat in May’s local election after Liberal Democrats had distributed leaflets which seemed to suggest their candidate Keith Trenchard, was a sitting Councillor.
After reporting the matter to the Police Mr Davies- Dear, a former Mayor told Eastleigh News:
“My eyes have certainly been opened to the true nature of a Party I had never thought employed underhand or questionable tactics when I was a member. I had always assumed it was the same Party I first joined, I could never understand the accusations one was forever hearing in the Press of the LDs being the “Nasty Party”. Of course I had never been on the receiving end nor seen them under any real pressure locally.”
The Daily Mail has published details of a recording Mr Moore made of a post election Lib Dem meeting which, the Independents claim, contains an admission that Mr Huhne’s campaign had cost £60,000.
During the Election campaign, each candidate had a total spending limit of £39,977 which consisted of a £28,913 limit for the ‘Long campaign’ and £11,063 for the’ short campaign’.
The transcript published by The Daily Mail features Anne Winstanley – the local party treasurer and Mr Huhne’s Agent – as follows:
Anne Winstanley: [referring to donation total] ‘We thought it was going to more than cover it…’
Paul Bicknell: ‘How much did Chris actually raise for his General Election campaign – the last I heard it was sort of like £39,000.’
Anne Winstanley: ‘Hmmm…about £50,000.’
PB: ‘So he got £50,000.’
AW: ‘Well, we paid for other things as well as just the leaflets, like all those materials that are re-usable in other elections…’
PB: ‘So even with Chris’s £50,000 that he raised through donations and his rich friends and what have you, you still had to put in ten on top, so election expenses came to 60,000… yeah?
Angela Roling: ‘So how much did the election actually cost, not what you’ve told them down at the er…?’
AW: ‘The total cost, what I’ve told you down there… [indicating written note on campaign costs that add up to £47,400]… that’s what I declared.’
AR: ‘Yeah, but it’s more than that.’
AW: ‘The elections have cost more than we declared.’
A former party agent with experience of submitting returns explained to Eastleigh News:
“The amount of money raised, the amount of money which is then spent and the amount of money that has to be declared can be quite separate – there were two election campaigns at the time, local as well as general, and the conversation is clearly about the total cost of the two campaigns.
Taken out of context this conversation may suggest to those unfamiliar with election expenses that there had been overspend but I would be surprised if that was the case.”
Of course there is no limit to the amount of money they could spend on election materials before the long campaign started. They only have to declare expenses incurred between January 1st and May 5th.
Lib Dem Blogger Mark Pack also wrote on ‘Lib Dem Voice’:
“For somewhere such as Eastleigh with local elections on the same day as the general election last year, campaign activities could have had to count against the constituency expense limit (Chris Huhne’s), the council ward expense limits, the general election national expense limit and even – in a few cases – the law says that expenses would not have counted against any of those limits. So not only is it possible, it’s quite normal for the amount spent on campaigning to exceed what is in the constituency expense return.”
Responding to the allegations Ms Winstanley issued a statement to the BBC in which she said the general election expenses:
“Were as declared to the Electoral Commission. Additional expenditure in this period was for the local election campaigns, or not attributable to the campaign”
Eastleigh News understands that although Ms Winstanley was as the agent responsible for returning the final expenses – the party had employed someone to make up and audit the returns for her.
We also understand that further complaints to the electoral commission regarding Eastleigh Lib Dems election funding – specifically regarding alleged breaches of the rules regarding loans – may be forthcoming from other parties.
Questions have previously been asked about Eastleigh Lib Dem election expenses by ‘The Sunlight Centre for Open Politics”.
Sunlight COPS is run by right wing bloggers Harry Cole and Paul Staines however they employed an independent researcher to visit Eastleigh for a look at the expenses returns and the questions seem legitimate.
The researcher wrote to Anne Winstanley last July requesting clarification on several items including expenses incurred by Itchen Valley Printing Society which appears to be based at the constituency office and prints Lib Dem election materials as well as the ‘Focus’ newsletter.
Eastleigh News has copies of the correspondence between the researcher and Eastleigh Liberal Democrats. Copies of the letter were sent by email, fax and Royal Mail to Anne Winstanley and emails were also sent to Chris Huhne and party worker Olli Newham.
Despite promises to respond no reply was ever received
Harry Cole – who also blogs for ‘Guido Fawkes’ told Eastleigh News
“Despite numerous attempts to make contact, nobody in Huhne’s office was willing to talk. It’s almost as if they found the questions uncomfortable.”
One Eastleigh voter, aged 54, who did not wish to be named reacted angrily to the news:
“I refuse to believe a bunch of embarrassing, crappy, patronising and poorly risographed leaflets could possibly cost £60K”
“They were highly absorbent though”
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Photo: © Stephen Slominski
Hmmm… photo at the end of that video looks familiar…kerching!!