Labour 'battle bus' controversy – Tories complain

A COMPLAINT has been made about a Labour election battle bus which came to Dewsbury in March last year.

Political website Guido Fawkes obtained records showing the event was not declared as a campaign expense by candidate Paula Sherriff.

Local Tories asked returning officer and Kirklees Council chief executive Adrian Lythgo to investigate.

He replied it is a matter for the Electoral Commission – so they referred their complaint alleging a breach of spending rules to them.

Those rules, which the Conservatives nationally are also accused of breaking, are not clear-cut.

The debate centres on how a Labour election battle bus came to Dewsbury on March 7 last year.

It brought to town MPs Tom Watson and Jon Ashworth, plus up to 100 activists.

The visit was during the “long campaign” period from December 19, 2014, to Parliament’s dissolution on March 30, 2015. This has a candidate spending limit of £30,700, plus 9p per voter in county seats and 6p per voter in borough seats.

The formula gave Miss Sherriff a spend of up to £37,774.72 for the “long campaign”.

Electoral law states: “If a battle bus promotes both the local candidate and national policies, then a portion of the cost of that bus should be allocated towards the candidate’s spending limit and a portion towards the party’s national spending limit.”

It adds that candidates should make an “honest assessment” as to whether such a visit is for their campaign or only for the party generally.

Both the Tories and Labour stand accused of using battle buses as solely national campaign spending.

Documents obtained by Guido Fawkes showed Miss Sherriff declared her transport costs during the “long campaign” as “nil”.

Her total spending was declared as £33,550.46, including £27,866.10 for unsolicited materials sent to voters.

Once the “real” election was under way from March 30 last year, candidates could spend a further £8,700, plus the 9p or 6p allowance per voter.

Tory constituency party chairman Mark Eastwood referred the battle bus to the Electoral Commission.

Mr Eastwood said: “Any sort of irregularity in the electoral process needs to be addressed as a serious matter and investigated thoroughly.

“But it’s not for me to say if any rules have been broken, it’s for the Electoral Commission to make a judgement.” A spokesman for the Labour Party said: “Labour is clear that the ‘Labour Express’ and the deputy leader’s tour during the general election campaign were part of a nationally branded tour.

“As such, the transport costs are rightly national spend. Labour’s spending is within the law and the rules set out by the Electoral Commission.”

• Police are still probing claims of a voting irregularity involving local Tories in Mirfield at this year’s Kirklees council elections.

Share this post