Halfway in, it’s been a good 2016. I’m getting paid to write both fiction and non-fiction, I’ve passed my magazine on to a new editor where I am sure it will flourish, I’ve got rid of some long-standing toxic people from my life; I’ve not been hospitalised for a while due to bizarre injuries and my wonderful wife is pregnant. I have a great job with Nottingham City of Literature, where I get to meet people I’ve admired for ages; it’s nearly Summer and my I’ll be a dad in four months. Yes, I mentioned that already. I’m chuffed to bits. A whole new human built out of some of me and some of that excellent woman I married.
So what could make it better? World peace? A decent summer? Anna Soubry going to prison?
The first two are definitely implausible, if not impossible as idiots wield power / climate change remains unchecked. But the latter? A fair few people are suggesting that El Soubz is in for a fall. Much more many people haven’t even heard she might be sliding into the brown stinky stuff. I thought I’d give you a comprehensive overview of what the state of play is. Anyone fancy a bit of Socratic Dialogue to kick this off? Yes, I would. Well, ok, let’s go:
I’ve heard Soubz and her fellow Tories are in a spot of bother about election expenses. Has she been caught trying to claim money for getting the moat of her palatial Leicestershire pad cleaned?
Nope, not quite that simple as the stuff that happened in 2009. Arguably, this is a lot worse.
The Tories had a real problem last election. Their membership was lower than ever, with an average age of well into pensionable years. Activist membership (people who go out and canvass, rather than like the idea of being a member as it gets them invites to events) is very low.
This means that they struggle to campaign at General Elections. They are awash with money, centrally (millions roll in from a various bunch of spivs, crooks and tax avoiders, eager to preserve the status quo), but they can’t spend this locally due to caps on spending.
Caps on spending? What’s that all about then?
Politics and money have always had a strong relationship. Here, in Nottinghamshire, it was common a 150 years ago for the Tories to buy in votes: one account in the archives describe an election where a considerable proportion of voters died after drinking the copious amount of ale promised them – after the election. When this was system was contended in the 1831 Electoral Reform Bill, the peer in charge of Nottingham, Henry Pelham, 4th Duke of Newcastle took the Tory line of opposition.The system must stay corrupt, was his contention, and he voted accordingly. When they heard about it, Nottingham folk rose up and burnt down his house. This was quite a thing, as he lived in Nottingham Castle at the time.
Over the years, a fairer system has been strenuously worked towards. In the USA, the lack of this has led the race to the White House to be one only available to those who can be bankrolled. Our system is designed to stop a billionaire demagogue such as Trump being able to effectively buy an election. This really pisses the hell out of the Tories. All that bribe/ lobbying cash: nowhere to put it.
The independent watchdog overseeing our democratic system, the Electoral Commission thus sets out a spending cap on elections, that have to be strenuously adhered to. Failure to do so is a criminal offence.
So why is Soubry in trouble? Her election expenses were UNDER the cap set by the Electoral Commision. You’re just trying to stir up shit, aren’t you?
The estimable Michael Crick from Channel 4 News has shown that proper investigative journalism is alive and well and pulled a blinder. A massive, very likely tedious investigation has exposed huge discrepancies in spending, discrepancies which if held to be an overspend would mean the election was void, and a criminal offence had been committed.
Wait a moment! I’ve just had another look at her election returns and they’re showing it was an UNDERSPEND!
They do indeed. She did declare she spend a few quid under the cap. However, the evidence is showing that she (illegally?) bought in help, courtesy of the ‘Battle Bus’.
Let’s see how the Electoral Commission view it:
There are two types of spending by or on behalf of parties at elections. These are:
Party campaign spending on campaigning to promote the party and its policies generally. For example, national newspaper adverts for the party, or leaflets explaining party policy. It also includes spending on promoting candidates at elections where the party nominates a list of candidates for a region, instead of individual candidates for local areas.
Candidate spending on campaigning to promote a particular candidate or candidates in their local area. For example, leaflets or websites that focus on one or more candidates and their views.
Different rules apply to the two types of spending.
The Battle Bus? I’ve heard something about these. Isn’t this the thing that led to a big internal Tory Party row and their Chairman quitting?
Yes, that’s the fella. A nasty guy called Mark Clarke, who had been previously feted as a future Tory leader by his party, was in charge of the campaign to send buses to marginals. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this ‘Tatler Tory’ put in charge of this campaign was a horrendous bully . Despite numerous warnings from many in his own party, including Baroness Warsi, he was allowed to carry out a reign of terror while setting up the campaign. Such was his nastiness and ambition, a young activist, former Nottingham of University student Elliot Johnson , was allegedly driven to suicide after being subject to this bullying. Despite numerous attempts by Johnson and others begging the Conservative Party to examine the claims, Mark Clarke was only dismissed from the party once the media discovered Johnson had mentioned the bullying in his suicide note.
It is sad that it took a young man’s death to eventually rid themselves of Clark. Grant Shapps, the habitual liar co-chairman of the Tories, fell on his sword moments before he was pushed; but Lord Feldman, his fellow co-chairman, still reigns. Good friend of Cameron, you see. You can’t help that feeling if it wasn’t for a suicide triggering a load of illumination and whistleblowing, the nasty git Clark would now be A-listed for a Tory safe seat come 2020, and legislate on your life.
Ouch. Soubry isn’t like that though, surely? Isn’t she one of those ‘compassionate conservatives’?
Well, some might judge that an oxymoron but I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt.
What I mean is, she didn’t get involved in the battlebuses, did she?
She didn’t run the campaign to drive the buses round marginal constituencies, no. But she did benefit from them.
How? Surely she was just running her campaign and they happened to drop by, jump off and say how great Tories are, how we should vote Tory, and jump back on the bus?
If they did just that, then that would be fine. It would be filed under ‘National Spending‘.
So they filed it under that, right?
Errr, no. They failed to file it whatsoever. When challenged on this , Soubry took her usual stance of passing the buck and claimed ‘It was a cock-up’. As a former barrister, Soubz might have stumbled across the maxim “Ignorantia juris non excusat”: ignorance is no excuse.
That ignorance will be even more telling if the battlebus visit is found to have been not just campaigning for Tories in general, but for Soubry in particular.
Well,surely it wasn’t?
Not according to, errr, the Battlebus and Broxtowe Conservatives. They tweeted and retweeted, respectively, this on the day stating:
Notice the word ‘for’. Not with. ‘For’, This is crucial. If they were there to campaign ‘for’ her, then that was something that should have been included on the local spend, not the national. And if it was to be included,it would have rocketed Soubry well past her legal spending limit. Buses -and the dinners and hotel room of ‘activists’ don’t pay for themselves, y’know.
Woah, woah. One possibly mistyped tweet does not a prosecution make!
Absolutely. But when there is a systematic pattern of such expense abuse being exposed, it doesn’t look like the action of an exhausted fat-thumbed activist in charge of social media. When it is also revealed that their activists were door-knocking and leafleting specifically for the local candidate (the allegations in Broxtowe are that the Battle Bus team were saying what a battle Anna had put up against the tram* / supporting Independent businesses** / caring for the greenbelt***) then it looks like they were, with intent, ensuring that the playing field was far from even, and unfairly and illegally skewing the election.
Oh. ok. So she has to repay the difference?
It’s not a question of figures: it’s a matter of principle. It’s also a matter of law.
Again, woah. She won’t get arrested, will she?
It’s not impossible.
But if it’s a centrally imposed conspiracy, she was surely an innocent bystander?
This is complex, and I’m no legal expert. Yet if a degree of complicity is identified (and the act of meeting the Battlebus, and the guest for the day,Theresa May, suggests such), then it is likely she will be hoisted before the courts.
Bloody hell. Then what?
A court case, but as it will be one of many, this will drag on,. If found guilty, the sentencing guidelines state a year in jail; and a three year bar from holding public office. Which might seem a barrier, but almost ideal timing to be back in position to claim the safe seat of Rushcliffe in the General Election. Ho ho.
You’re dicking around now. This is sounding serious. Surely I should have heard more of it?
Both Channel 4 and The Mirror have been fairly hot on it, but yes, it’s barely raised a peep elsewhere. Rather than suspect a conspiracy, this is probably more down to the EU Referendum dominating. As any story would have to mention rivals Michael Crick / Channel 4 News, it’s awkward to report.
Remember the phone hacking scandal? That was being flagged up in a series of excellent articles by the forensic genius of Nick Davies, writing for The Guardian, years before it properly broke. Similarly, a code of virtual omerta dominated, not thorough plotting, but through publishing pragmatism.
Blah Blah Blah. I didn’t come here for a discussion on media ethics.
I’m sorry. Do you need to know anything more?
Bleddy hell, yes! So it looks like Anna Soubry is guilty, and she’ll lose her seat, and potentially get banged up in prison?
Well, I didn’t say that. The Tories will put up a fight.
Surely putting up a fight is tantamount to an admission of guilt?
I’m sure they’d prefer the police, and then the Crown Prosecution Service, to bat this aside. However, they’re worried.
In an unprecedented step, they gave one of the UK’s top lawyers, James Laddie QC, a heap of money to defend them on a particular case, the battle for South Thanet. Laddie was bought in with some sense of urgency to stop Kent Police from obtaining permission to extend the time they could investigate any fraud by a year. This is very weird: the self proclaimed party of law and order trying to block justice and due process.
Doesn’t that make them look more guilty?
A blocked investigation will always look more successful than one that leads to conviction. A short term blow is more acceptable than a long-term knock out.
Sadly the decision is made in closed court. We may never know the reason they are so desperate to stop any investigation.
Right. This is crazy. What’s happening here in Broxtowe?
Nottinghamshire police have applied, and have been given, a extension to investigate Soubry and dundering prig Mark Spencers’ expenses for an extra year. I can’t see what she’s saying on Twitter: she blocks anyone she doesn’t like. But the latest info, as the net tightens, is that she feels that it is time to try and pass the blame.
The most obvious scapegoat will be their electoral agent. Soubz could argue that they were too busy being MP’s to check every penny and farthing. It is doubtful that would make any impact: disbarring from office would still be a likely penalty: she could dodge a conviction herself and merely lose office, lick her wounds and move to a safe seat come 2020, or the Lords.
So who will take the hit?
Her agent was a guy called Richard Jackson. He would be the obvious target.
I think I recognise that name?
Give it a minute it’ll come to you.
Ngggghhhhhhhh..tip of tongue, no don’t tell me…..
Ok. No hold on, this could take all…
THE BLOKE WHO RUNS BROXTOWE BOROUGH COUNCIL??? THAT RICHARD JACKSON???
Well done! You looked like you were struggling. Yes, that bloke.
What, the spiv-suited, reputably oleaginous erstwhile used car salesman Richard Jackson?
So the bloke who closed down the Beeston toilets, shuttered the DH Lawrence centre up in Eastwood, threw the council cash office staff on the dole and put the boroughs leisure centres up for grabs could be thrown to the Electoral Commission lions?
Yes. Soubry has a rich history of blaming others for her own faults, and a career-threatening situation like this will probably be no exception. If it reaches court, watch as Jackson is thrown to the mob while she makes her escape.
That is callous, surely?
Not really. He is a Brexiteer, spotted applauding with gusto at Gove’s recent visit to Boots. Soubry is increasingly at odds with her own council: her utter failure to secure a fair funding deal for the council is hurting the coffers severely.
So what next?
Hopefully the police will be granted as much time to do a thorough job, without Soubry obfuscating. I’ll keep an eye on stuff and report back if any significant details appear. Keep your eye on Channel 4 News and The Mirror, they have the lead on this. And cross those fingers. Soubry could very well soon be ousted. She could even up jailed. But fear not, she’s done her research on women’s prisons…
*which she subsequently praised on completion, claiming it could make Beeston ‘As good as West Bridgford, one day’.
** despite actively briefing against BID, and more recently scuppering any hope of helping pubs tied into chains by screwing up the implementation of a new code for nasty, asset stripping pub companies.
*** Did I ever mention that her partner, Neil DaviDson, was a director of a greenbelt-hating, shonky-to-the-max building firm, Persimmon? And she has, with gusto, invited fracking into Broxtowe?