Gavin Barwell, Croydon Central’s new MP, is blaming an “administrative error” by his agent for breaking the rules ahead of May’s General Election – and he says that his Conservative colleague, Croydon South MP Richard Ottaway, is subject to the same blunders.
Ottaway, of course, is no stranger to expenses scandals, having been named in the Daily Telegraph‘s campaign for making outrageously excessive claims against his Westminster allowances.
Now, if the Electoral Commission says he has a case to answer, he could be called in to court where he could face a one-year prison sentence, a small fine, or a by-election could be called.
Only last year, in a behind-closed-doors session of the local Croydon Tory party, Ottaway gave a solemn commitment that he would not transgress over expenses again, and so secured his nomination for the General Election.
Barwell featured prominently in a C4 News report last night that showed that the strict election expenditure rules had been broken in Croydon.
Today, the MP has admitted to the Croydon Guardian that he and Ottaway were subject to similar accounting errors by their agent, Ian Parker, who is now one of the Croydon Councillors voting through £70 million-worth of local budget cuts.
Barwell spent more than £36,000 on his election campaign, almost 50 per cent more than his nearest rival in Croydon Central, Labour’s Gerry Ryan.
- In today’s report, Barwell blamed Parker for an “administrative error” in both his and Ottaway’s campaigns, in failing to apportion the cost of renting offices at the local Conservative Constituency Party HQ in Purley.
- Barwell admits that Parker also failed to declare a £500 deposit on election literature.
“I’m not an expert, but we have to go to a court – you have to convince the court it’s an administrative error.
“To be honest I’m really relaxed about it. It’s irritating, obviously I’d rather it hadn’t happened, but genuinely it’s an admin error.”
Barwell previously worked for the Conservative party’s major donor, the non-domiciled, tax-dodging billionaire Lord Ashcroft, who is believed to have provided significant funds to the Tory election campaign, especially for candidates in marginal constituencies, such as Croydon Central, where former Conservative MP Andrew Pelling stood as an independent candidate this year.
Barwell also admitted to the Croydon Guardian that his tight election race had forced him to distribute all his campaign leaflets. “We used all ours, primarily because we knew Croydon Central was going to be a tight race and we knew we were going to be spending close to the limit.
“We were very careful.”
Evidently, not careful enough.
Making a false declaration about election expenditure can carry a penalty of up to a year’s imprisonment, while failing to provide accurate expenditure details can carry a fine of up to £5,000 under the Representation of the People Act 1983.
The Electoral Commission will announce next week whether any action will be taken over Barwell’s and Ottaway’s expenses.