UK Politics

Electoral Commission to probe Tory Thanet South spending

Conservative posters used in the 2015 general election

A probe has been launched into claims about the Conservative Party's spending during the general election in the UKIP-contested seat of Thanet South, the Electoral Commission has said.

The claims - made by Channel 4 - allege that some bills were wrongly declared in the party's spending returns.

The commission said it would look at bills for two hotels in the Kent constituency.

A Conservative spokesman said spending was all legal and "correctly recorded".

During last year's election UKIP's Nigel Farage lost out in the race for South Thanet seat to the Conservative Party's Craig Mackinlay.

The rules around candidate spending and any potential criminal offence can only be investigated by the police under the Representation of the People Act (RPA) 1983 - not the Electoral Commission.

'Investigate if appropriate'

But while the commission has no powers to investigate or sanction alleged candidate spending offences, it does have powers in relation to national campaign spending.

Kent Police says it will not pursue an investigation over individual candidate spending in Thanet South during the commission's review.

"At this stage the matter will sit with the Electoral Commission. Kent Police officers will liaise closely with the Electoral Commission and investigate if appropriate," a spokeswoman said.

The commission said it would specifically consider whether stays at the Royal Harbour Hotel in Ramsgate and the Premier Inn in Margate, should have been included in national campaign spending or not.

"The investigation opened by the commission today focuses on whether the Conservative Party met their reporting obligations under the Political Parties Elections and Referendums Act," a statement said.

The commission's sanctioning powers are limited to a civil penalty of up to £20,000.

The allegations were first made by on 20 January and relate to how much an individual can spend on their campaign during an election.

The commission said that during what was defined as the "short campaign" - which ran from 30 March to 7 May - £8,700 could be spent, plus 6p for every "registered parliamentary elector".

In his blog Michael Crick - the political correspondent for Channel 4 - said the legal expense limit in Thanet South for that period was £15,016.

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