As Labour’s anti-Semitism storm continues to dominate PMQs, it’s almost too easy to forget that the Tories are dealing with a big problem of their own. Today electoral watchdogs are meeting with police to ask for more time to decide whether to launch possible criminal investigations into Conservative campaign spending in the general election. Following a Channel 4 investigation by Michael Crick earlier this year, the party has admitted that it failed to declare £38,000 of general election expenses.
While they blame this on an ‘administrative error’, Grant Shapps appeared on Daily Politics to be quizzed by Andrew Neil on the topic. As co-chairman of the party at the time of the election campaign, surely Shapps would have some invaluable insight to offer? Alas not. Instead what followed was an awkward exchange as Shapps squirmed and tried to avoid answering numerous questions on the potential fraud. Shapps repeatedly said he was not one to ‘shirk his responsibilities’ while appearing to do exactly that:
GS: I can tell you that compliance was not my area and I can’t really shed much light on…
AN: You knew nothing about this?
AN: So as chairman of the party, you allowed the expenses of these campaigners who were going to local constituencies staying in local hotels, you allowed them to be charged to the national campaign and not the local campaign
GS: So I was co-chairman, compliance wasn’t my side of things — the campaigning side of things but not the money and the finance side
AN: But you were behind this battle bus business
GS: The actual campaign itself, but not the compliance side
AN: So you didn’t wonder as to where the charges were being made
GS: As I say, I’m not one to shirk my responsibilities…
AN: … well it sounds like you are
GS: This side of things was not my side of things
Shapps did at least offer an opinion on how things ought to have been done. He pointed out that ‘everything should of been… has to be done within the law’, adding that it is now up to the electoral commission to judge whether it had been. However, once conversation returned to who was responsible, Shapps appeared lost for words once again:
AN: If you weren’t in charge of compliance, who was?
GS: Well other people in CCHQ at the time
GS: Other people
AN: Lord Feldman?
GS: I don’t want to go into more detail
AN: Well, you were the Tory chairman — if you weren’t in charge of compliance, you were obliged to know who was
GS: There’s an entire compliance department there
AN: So, you just want to spread the blame? I mean you’re banged to rights on this, aren’t you? As a party you are banged to rights on misappropriation of electoral spending, and it’s a criminal offence.
It’s not looking good for Lord Feldman.