Exclusive: Tories to challenge Liberal Democrats on overspend in St Albans
Local Conservative party associations are preparing to challenge the Liberal Democrats on the party’s local spending during December’s General Election, with the hope of overturning at least one result.
A case is being readied to challenge St Albans, where pro-Leave Conservative Ann Main lost to Daisy Cooper, according to sources close to the matter.
A number of Tories in parts of London and the South West have also said they are also toying with challenging the result, with meetings taking place both in Westminster and in local seats to discuss the issue.
However one MP said the plan was to “focus our energies” on a seat which could turn back to blue. Richmond Park, where the locally-popular MP Sarah Olney ousted Zac Goldsmith, who was sitting on a tiny majority, is not thought to be on the hit list.
Multiple Conservative MPs and their campaign agents have told City A.M. of unusually high levels of Lib Dem leaflets going out to constituents during last year’s campaign. There are instances where individuals have reported receiving nearly 30 pieces of literature.
“I can’t come up with a way that you can do that [within the rules],” one party agent told City A.M. “We probably put out about a fifth of the literature they did and we are close enough to limit that I would not want to go much beyond – certainly not enough to to do four or five-times more.”
Alec Campbell, who worked on Main’s campaign, said: “The challenge is always trying to understand whether every household in the constituency has got that level of literature or just isolated individuals.”
Under Electoral Commission rules, updated in the wake of the Craig McKinlay expenses case in South Thanet, notional spending must be declared as an election expense in the candidate’s return even if the notional spending has not been authorised by the candidate, the candidate’s agent or someone authorised by either or both of them.
The rules stipulate that local or candidate spend is a maximum of either 6p or 9p per elector, equivalent to around £15,000 in St Albans. This includes advertising of any kind, unsolicited material sent to voters, transport costs, public meetings, staff costs, accommodation and administrative costs.
Party-level spend can include a local newspaper advert as long as it does not mention the local candidate or specifically targeted local issues.
A Liberal Democrat spokeswoman said: “All local expenditure in the election was reported correctly and clearly identified in our election return which has been filed with the returning officer.”