Elections 2015

Lincolnshire Police said they are investigating allegations of irregularities in general election spending by the Conservative Party.

The force initially conducted ‘general enquiries‘ after an investigation by Channel 4 News claimed the party abused rules in the 2015 general election and three 2014 by-elections.

Particular attention has been brought to the Conservative Party’s “BattleBus 2015” campaign, which saw activists bussed to 29 marginal constituencies in England, including Lincoln.

The media probe revealed more than £38,000 of spending on accommodation for Conservative activists touring the country on the bus, the absence of which from the party’s expenses was blamed on an “administrative error”.

The party went on to secure 22 seats in the 29 destinations, key to them securing an overall majority in the House of Commons.

A Lincolnshire Police probe is now underway into allegations circling the MPs implicated in the accusations.

The deadline for any prosecutions is one year from the date of any offence.

According to Channel 4, a total of 18 police forces in the country have now been granted or are seeking an extension to the time limit on investigations.

Lincolnshire Police have not confirmed whether a judge order allowing more time for the investigation has been granted or sought.

A spokesperson from Lincolnshire Police said on Friday, June 3: “We are investigating these allegations but as these investigations are ongoing, we will be making no further comment at this stage.

In Lincoln, Conservative candidate Karl McCartney went on to defeat Labour’s Lucy Rigby by 1,443 votes, an increase on his majority of 1,058 from 2010.

McCartney declared a total of £12,628.68 in the short campaign for the election, more than any other candidate but well inside the spending limit of £13,136.28.

This included staff costs, advertising, the hiring of a PA system and correx posters, and other standard election items such as rosettes and magnetic signs.

No mention was made of the BattleBus, which arrived in Lincoln on May 4, the same week as the election.

McCartney insisted previously that he and his party complied with 2015 general election laws.

He confirmed that he and his colleagues ‘pro-actively provided information’ to Lincolnshire Police.

He has also accused “those with limited knowledge of election law” of an attempted smear the reputation of fellow Conservative politicians, candidates and their agents.

He said last month: “My election expense return for the 2015 general election was completed and returned by my election agent in accordance with election law.

“The party’s national bus tour was authorised and paid for by the Conservative Party nationally, was intended to promote the party’s success in the general election, and therefore did not form part of my local election expenses.”

Making a false spending declaration in an election carries a punishment of up to a year in prison and/or an unlimited fine.

Anyone found guilty is also barred from running in a general election or holding any elected office for three years.

With the dust now beginning to settle after the traumatic events of the night of May 7, those of us who would not normally expect to vote Conservative in a general election must be asking ourselves where we should be considering placing our vote in future.

I, like many people, convinced that the polls leading up to the election were correct, and believing that the so called ‘incumbency factor’ would see around 30 Lib Dem MPs returned together with a handful of UKIP members, felt a bit like Lord Ashdown did after seeing that infamous exit poll, although eating hats is not one of my specialities.

I felt sorrier for him when, on ‘Question Time’ the following evening, he wondered whether any smaller party would enter a coalition with a bigger one again if this was the result.

In actual fact, the opinion polls were not wrong when it came to the smaller parties. The percentages were about right. Unfortunately, they were not reflected in the distribution of seats.

What they did not anticipate was the swing from Labour to Conservative, which made all the difference, plus the fact that the Lib Dems were wiped out in their so called heartlands of the West Country by clever targeting from their erstwhile partners.

For those who can remember, it was a bit like the 1992 result in reverse, when most people expected John Major to lose. I wonder whether this ‘victory’ might, like John Major’s, prove to be a poisoned chalice for David Cameron. We’ve got five years to find out.

When you step back, several interesting facts emerge. It apparently takes over 3 million votes to elect one UKIP MP and around 20,000 to elect a Tory. The Tories achieved a small overall majority in parliament with the support of about a quarter of those eligible to vote. The SNP, north of the border, with 50% of the vote, actually won around 98% of the seats there.
So, clearly, it’s the voting system that is at fault.

However, getting Dave and his crew to agree to support a change to some form of proportional representation is about as likely as getting the Pope to convert to Islam.

If only the Labour Party, which does appear genuinely to have lost its way at the moment, could be persuaded to support change, we might get a result after 2020 if things stay as they are. Certainly all the other minor parties are on board.

So, it looks as if nothing will happen in the next five years unless rough seas ahead and a few by elections change the balance of power significantly. So let’s move on and stop speculating about what might have happened. We’ve got some tough decisions to make as a nation in the next five years. Here’s my top three, in no particular order.

For those of us who currently serve in local government, one is how to manage even more cuts in public expenditure that are in the pipeline and are likely to be implemented by a Tory government with a working majority.

Secondly, it is possible that the referendum on EU membership might be brought forward to 2016, which brings with it the question of immigration and employment.

Thirdly, it is the threat posed by terrorism worldwide and, more locally, the apparent aggression of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Domestic issues such as how we pay for our health care, how we build enough homes for future generations or how we provide proper education and training for our youngsters will, in my opinion, depend on how much more we are prepared to pay. As I have said before, many of us currently expect Scandinavian levels of public services on North American levels of taxation.

I am increasingly of the opinion that we can only sort out our local government through fundamental reform both of structure and finance. If the new government is really serious about devolving power to local communities these communities have to have an administrative structure to cope.

That’s why it is sensible for the Lincolnshire County Council to look at all options, including cost saving measures such as Unitary status, before something is imposed on us, similar to what George Osborne is proposing for his ‘Northern Power House’ in Manchester.

Are we in the shire counties really prepared to be offered only ‘devolution lite’ compared with our big brothers and sisters in the larger urban areas?

In order to pay for our services, we need to take a hard look at the Council Tax for a start. Increasing the number of bands would make sense as the tax has never been reviewed in England since it was introduced in the early 1990s.

To make our democracy work better we also need to think seriously about establishing a Federal United Kingdom, with each nation playing an equal part and, in the case of England, consideration being given to either an English parliament or several regional legislatures. These could be filled by nominations from other elected bodies rather than being subject to direct election.

The referendum on EU membership, whether or not we get treaty change, will undoubtedly chart our nation’s course for several generations. For those of us in favour of staying in, let’s not make the same mistake that the NO to Independence campaigners made north of the border and assume that the facts alone will win the argument.

Many Scots just did not believe the No campaign, their default position being to accuse its members of scare mongering. Clearly the case for staying an EU member, in terms of jobs alone, is massive; but it is also necessary to appeal to the heart.

Let’s not forget that, only twenty years ago, those eastern European countries whose citizens seem keen to come and work here now, were then part of the Warsaw Pact, with Soviet controlled nuclear missiles on their soil pointing west towards us.

Also, we need to accept that everything in the EU garden isn’t rosy. Indeed, I reckon that quite a few countries agree with us when we say that we need to roll back the European super state and return it to something like the concept that we voted two to one in favour of (me included) back in 1975.

Renewing the means of delivering Trident is unlikely to stop a Jihadist with a bomb in his rucksack; but it might encourage Mr Putin to hold back from trying it on with the Baltic States.

I wonder whether he would have grabbed bits of the Ukraine if that country had not agreed to give up its share of the nuclear arsenal left over when the Soviet Union disappeared. Many of us hoped that, with the symbolic collapse of the Berlin Wall signalling the end of communism, the world would become a better place. How wrong we were.

There is a strong case to be made that we live in a far more dangerous world today than we did during the Cold War, and that’s not even mentioning global warming and climate change, some of which is undoubtedly man made.

John was a councillor for thirty years, finally retiring in 2017. A schoolteacher by profession, he served on the North Hykeham Town Council (1987-2011), the North Kesteven District Council (1987-1999, 2001-2007) and the Lincolnshire County Council (2001-2017). He was also a County Council member of the former Lincolnshire Police Authority for eight years until standing down in 2009. In 1997 he was the Lib Dem Parliamentary candidate for Sleaford and North Hykeham. He is currently not a member of any political party.

Labour’s unsuccessful parliamentary candidate for Lincoln, Lucy Rigby, has said that lessons must be taken away from the party’s defeat in the general election earlier this month.

Although Labour’s share of the vote increased in Lincoln compared to 2010, with more than 2,500 more people voting for the party, it was not enough to defeat the Conservative candidate Karl McCartney, who also enjoyed a rise in support to hold onto the seat.

Indeed, the Conservatives increased their majority from just over 1,000 to over 1,400.

With nearly two weeks having passed since polling day, The Lincolnite caught up with Rigby to hear her thoughts on what was a dreadful night for Labour locally and nationally.

She said: “Lincoln was pretty unique in the East Midlands. Although Karl McCartney’s majority increased, it only went up by 300 or so votes. It’s perhaps difficult to take any comfort from losing and I struggled to do so, but a lot of things went right in our campaign locally, especially compared to the rest of the region.

“One of the most gut-wrenching things from election night was when the results were read out I kept thinking about all the people who had spent years trying to make Lincoln a better place to live and it was a hideous feeling to have let them down.”

Labour MP candidate for Lincoln Lucy Rigby alongside her supporters at Grafton House. Photo: The Lincolnite

Labour MP candidate for Lincoln Lucy Rigby alongside her supporters at Grafton House. Photo: The Lincolnite

The Labour candidate suggested that national issues were a key deciding factor in ensuring that marginal seats such as Lincoln stayed blue.

“You can’t underestimate how the message of the SNP holding the country to ransom cut through in the final month of the campaign. I think the Cameron scaremongering was really effective in this regard and put a lot of people off Labour when I spoke to them on the doorsteps,” she said.

“I thought that the Tories’ national campaign was very effective in terms of the air war – the billboards, the advertising – and their negative message of fear of the SNP and fear of the Labour Party in charge of the economy ultimately worked.

“I think it’s important in future elections we try and match the Tories in the air war and we’ve got a lot of work to do on our economic credibility. Despite us fighting a great campaign locally, we didn’t do enough to regain people’s trust.”

Moving forward, she believes that the tone of the party needs to be changed, to attract more than just traditional Labour voters.

“I want to see the Labour Party on the side of people who go out to work, save a bit of money, who want to buy a new car and aspire to get their foot on the housing ladder, to be promoted at work, to earn more and provide for their family.

“I think our tone needed to be slightly more nuanced. We wanted to scrap the bedroom tax, and it’s a great shame that it won’t happen, and we talked an awful lot about it which was fine.

“But we also were going to scrap Stamp Duty on homes up to £300,000 for first-time-buyers. It was an amazing policy which was just as good as scrapping the bedroom tax but we only spent 24 hours talking about it during the election campaign, despite it being really popular on the doorsteps.”

Labour leader Ed Miliband visited Lincoln for a People's Question Time session. Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

Former Labour leader Ed Miliband in Lincoln for a People’s Question Time session. Photo: Steve Smailes for The Lincolnite

Whilst arguing for changes in how Labour presents its policies to the public, Rigby wouldn’t be drawn on who she believes is the right person to lead the party, merely saying that “it’s too early to tell.”

She did, however, praise former leader Ed Miliband for “putting a tremendous effort into our campaign locally in Lincoln and indeed nationally.”

Despite this, she conceded that the party needed a complete re-think following defeat.

“It’s really important that we rebuild in the right way and learn the right lessons from not winning seats like Lincoln.

“I don’t think it’s that helpful though to start using terms like New Labour, Old Labour, Blairite, Brownite – Tony Blair became Prime Minister in 1997 which is a long time ago and the country has changed so much in that time, even in the years since Brown.”

Whether she is directly involved in this rebuilding process is unclear. Less than two weeks after the result, she has not ruled anything in or out.

“The experience was pretty depressing and I have to admit it’s been a hard few days.

“I don’t think losing puts you off being interested in politics. Perhaps it might have put me off standing but it will never stop me wanting the country to be a fairer place to live.

“I can’t imagine going through that again right now but maybe in a week’s time or in a month’s time I’ll feel differently.”

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