Tory MP Gavin Barwell, who won the Croydon Central parliamentary seat last May by just 165 votes, has tried to meet strict election spending limits by submitting that his campaign office cost only £1.84 a day.The Daily Mirror is reporting that Barwell “failed to mention any office rental costs in the official declaration of his election spending that he is required to provide by law”.
The Representation of the People Act demands that candidates in elections comply with strict spending limits. In his official accounts, Barwell has sought to minimise the amount he claims that he spent on his election printing bills by saying that not all his leaflets were delivered.
The Mirror has been investigating the Conservative Party’s spending, and its efforts to “buy the election” with bus hire and hotel accommodation in marginal seats around the country, involving 29 parliamentary seats. Barwell has become the 30th Tory MP to be subject to police inquiries.
Barwell’s election expenses were the subject of a High Court hearing in 2010, over concerns about his campaign’s accounting practice after the previous General Election.
On that occasion, it was the amounts attributed out of his campaign budget for the hire of Conservative Party offices which was placed under scrutiny. Mirror journalists have discovered that in 2015, Barwell again made an interesting judgement over the value of his office space.
“Instead, he told the Mirror that the figure of £71.76 included as ‘business rates’ – equivalent to £1.84 a day – represented the rental value of the office he shared with two other Tory candidates,” the paper reports.
Barwell has boasted that he managed to raise £90,000 towards his fighting fund – almost twice the total he was allowed to spend over the monitored five-month election period. According to his spending record submitted by his campaign officials, he claims that he spent £252 less than the strict spending limit of £13,287 for the final 39 days before the election.
Barwell may have only kept within that budget by minimising some of the costs he incurred.
And as he did five years earlier, Barwell has passed the buck to his election agent, former Coulsdon councillor Ian Parker.
Barwell told the Mirror: “I am informed by my election agent that rent is included in the return under the heading ‘Business rates’ as the rent figures are derived from the rateable value shown on the business rate bill.
“The administration of the campaign was done from the headquarters of Croydon Conservative Federation, which is not in my constituency. Croydon Conservatives own this building so we don’t pay any rent. In such circumstances, the law requires you to declare a notional rent. This was calculated based on the rateable value… so we are only required to declare a fraction of the notional rent.”
Whether that explanation, and the low office rent valuation, is in any way credible or acceptable is now to be assessed by a specialist police team which deals with election matters.
The Electoral Commission is holding a meeting with the Crown Prosecution Service and investigating police forces this week to discuss the various allegations.
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