Police receive electoral fraud complaint over Northampton MP Michael Ellis’s campaign spending

The Conservative "battle bus" visited Northampton in April last year. The Tories have come under heavy fire for registering the bus as a national expense - though it has emerged its activiststs were briefed on local matters.
The Conservative "battle bus" visited Northampton in April last year. The Tories have come under heavy fire for registering the bus as a national expense - though it has emerged its activiststs were briefed on local matters.

Northamptonshire Police is considering whether to launch an electoral fraud investigation in the Northampton North constituency after alleged discrepancies in Michael Ellis’s 2015 campaign expenses.

Northamptonshire Police is one of eight forces around the UK to consider an application to extend time to investigate allegations of electoral fraud by Conservative candidates standing in the General Election last year.

A force spokesman has confirmed Michael Ellis’s Northampton North constituency is among those being investigated.

She said: “Northamptonshire Police have received an allegation of electoral fraud and an inquiry has been launched.

“We have liaised with the Electoral Commission this week and are now considering an application for an extension on time to investigate the allegation, which relates to the 2015 General Election campaign in the Northampton North constituency.

“It would be inappropriate for us to comment further at this stage.”

Speaking in the House of Commons, Scottish National Party frontbench spokesman Pete Wishart claimed the investigations centred around the Tory campaign’s ‘battle bus’, which visited marginal constituencies in the lead-up to the vote in 2015.

He said: “The claims are absolutely extraordinary and centre around Conservative candidates, 28 Conservative candidates, failing to register the use of a battle bus for local campaigning and something like £38,000 of accommodation for local campaigns.

“If anybody’s found guilty of such a charge it could result in one year imprisonment and an unlimited fine.”

Michael Ellis has been contacted for comment.

Northamptonshire Police would not confirm what the investigation related to.

Earlier this year a Channel Four investigation found that activists who toured the country on the battle bus were briefed on local issues.

In Northampton North the team was given advice on the “new bus station, shops in the town centre and pedestrianised shopping areas”.

Critics have claimed individual candidates should have been made to declare the battle bus visits under their own capped local expenses, rather than at a national level.

Local candidate spending is capped at between £12,000 and £15,000 for the 39 days before an election.

Northampton North Conservative Association chairman Jamie Lane said: “Procedures have been followed.

“I have total confidence in Michael Ellis and his agent.

“I am sure this is a national issue that will be dealt with nationally.”

A Conservative spokesperson said: “CCHQ campaigned across the country for the return of a Conservative Government.

“Such campaigning would be part of the national return, not local return, as the Electoral Commission has said.

“As is apparent from our National Return, the Party declared expenditure related to our CCHQ-organised Battlebus.

“However, due to administrative error it omitted to declare the accommodation costs of those using the vehicles.

“This is something we have already brought to the attention of the Electoral Commission in order to amend the return.

“The Party always took the view that our national Battlebus, a highly-publicised campaign activity, was part of the National Return – and we would have no reason not to declare it as such, given that the Party was some millions below the national spending threshold.

“Other political parties ran similar vehicles which visited different Parliamentary constituencies as part of their national campaigning.”