Thursday, November 01, 2007

Saints and Sinners: UK Con Air Travel Exposed


Today is All Saints Day. Clearly yesterday being Halloween was a perfect day for communing with the spirits and observing ghostly traces of poltegeists and strange flying objects. Divining for Dave-id's paranormal vibes Unity finds plenty flitting about on the dark side.

Sums buried like bad news declared fully and openly: one third of a million pounds of internal travel are strangely in a different order of magnitude upwards, for short haul, than those for long haul. Some of which have not even broken the £1,000 barrier apparently.

Could this be because the recorded short haul journeys are paid for by UK interest who are permissible donors? Whereas most of the long haul ones are from Flying Lion - NOT a permissible donor or lender - and might well be clawed back when PPERA is properly interpreted. So best to downplay the cost and declare only 3% of the commercial equivalent?

The exception for non-UK donors paying reasonable travel costs for visits to their sites is clearly not intended as Carte Bleu for extravagant jet-setting.

9 comments:

tory boys never grow up said...

You are wrong on Con Air not being a permissible donor - Para 7 of Sch 7 of PPERA specifically allows donors of overseas travel to count as permissible donors although that would not usually be the case.

The more interesting angle is whether this counts as sponsorship under Parlimentary rules - since sponsorship is limited to one third of the general election expenditure limit. Or does that only apply to Trade Unions rather than Lord Ashcroft?

It would also be interesting to know whether the Ashcroft money spent in the Constituencies in the 12 months prior to the 2005 General Election was included in the Tories National Campaign Expenditure total. The Act makes it clear that campaign expenditure undertaken by consituency parties to promote the party or its candidates should be included in the national total. My guess is that it wasn't given that although the Tories clearly outspent Labour at the last election (in terms of people, media spend, call centre activity) they reported a total spend figure (for the 12 month period prior to the General Election) which was just inside the limit.

Interesting to see the number of private plane trips taken by Cameron - not so much a carbon footrprint but a carbon stampede.

Chris Paul said...

Must say I believe the concession in PPERA schedule 7 is not supposed to be for persistent provision of luxury services. The guidance from the EC is of a manufacturer with a factory in a constituency hosting a trip to their HQ. That's not the sort of thing Flying lion are doing.

And if the Tories are confident of this why are they declaring so much more per airmile for the UK stuff than for the overseas stuff which appears to be in a more luxurious and expensive aircraft?

tory boys never grow up said...

I suspect the reason is political rather than legal - doesn't look good if several shadow cabinet ministers are beholden to Baron Ashcroft for tens of thousand each. Worth looking at is there are any Parliament Code of Conduct reasons however. Also worth remembering whenever Tories go on about our MPs being sponsored by Trade Unions.

Evan Price said...

Sorry to have been away for a bit ... sadly work means that I cannot spend every day playing on the WWW.

I am sorry to say that I don't agree with Chris in his criticism of these expenses. I agree that Para 7 of Sched 7 applies in part in the manner suggested by 'tory boys never grow up' (whoever that may be - and of course the name used is almost as entertaining as the suggestion contained in it).

The problem with attacks on the so-called 'Ashcroft' money is that there are no limits as to what can be spent in individual constituencies by law or otherwise, save what people can raise. MPs have voted themselves a £10,000 per year additional budget to inform their constituents about what they do ... and of course this should not be used for campaigning, but I have little doubt that the problem of defining what amounts to information and what amounts to campaigning will mean that much will be spent in a partisan manner ... the result is that the incumbant (of whatever party) has an additional £10,000 to spend contacting constituents.

Anyone seeking to unseat an MP (and with the wind in Tory sails at present it looks as if it is Labour MPs that are at greater risk this week - although the reverse could be said of a month ago) has additional disadvantage as a result of the additional expense available to MPs.

As to Union funding of Labour - it is funny that the Conservative Party offered limits that would have covered all time and constituency spending, if Labour were prepared to accept the £50,000 cap on all individual donations ...

tory boys never grow up said...

The problem with attacks on the so-called 'Ashcroft' money is that there are no limits as to what can be spent in individual constituencies by law or otherwise.

This is not true - money spent by constituencies in the 12 months prior to a General Election/European/Scottish Parliament/Welsh Assembley Election - which meets the definition of campaign expenditure (i.e. promotes the Party or its candidates) counts as part of the National Spend total - look at Schedule to PPERA on campign expenditure.

tory boys never grow up said...

Evan

The reference should be to section 72(8) of the body of PPERA rather than the Schedule.

Chris Paul said...

Always interesting to have a learned opinion from Evan. An explanation on why the Tories recipients have declared humungous amounts for UK travel paid for by UK interests but ridiculously low amounts for overseas travel paid for by Ashcroft/FL would be of interest.

Why ever is that?

The illustration in the EC guidance is of a completely different kind of hosted travel than what Ashcroft is doing. His support is like cash.

The Tories can proactively decide where to "spend" it rather than being invited by specific events, sites and meetings.

Very, very different. Hence the under declaring? In case of clawback?

Has someone in CCHQ decided that the law isn't clear here and that they could be done as they are, as m'learned friends say, "taking the piss"?

As to the Communications Allowance and indeed the existing availability of taxpayer cash for parliamentary reports ... this is supposed to be strictly regulated and strictly non political.

This clearly does not work as my repeated example of John Leech shows. But nonetheless these things should not be used for bar charts, for attack messages, for pro Labour messages, to profile candidates, for party political purposes.

It is for Tory PPCs (and indeed ours in your seats) to police this and complain. But meanwhile the Ashcroft millions or collected pennies from Trade unionists can be used to attack incumbents and for politicking and for all sorts of things that the existing cash cannot be used for. Not sure about the CA.

As TBNGU says there are annual limits. Effectively a rolling 12-month limit as an election might be called at any time and it wouldn't do to have splurged too much too soon ...

Evan Price said...

I am sorry; of course when referring to there being no expenditure limit, I meant outside the time of an election, as defined in the relevant legislative provisions.

The difficulty with claiming that Flying Lion (is it really called that?) is provided 'cash donations' is that it isn't providing cash ... it is making an asset that it has available for use. In tax cases this would be called a 'benefit in kind' and so taxable ... but at what value? Complex rules and guidance build up to establish the value ... and by analogy, the EC guidance becomes important once again.

I realise that this is exercising you greatly, but I don't agree with your analysis.

tory boys never grow up said...

Evan

I wouldn't want to stand up in court and argue the "market value" of a private jet flight was the same as a BA first class ticket - particularly when you can easily call up a charter firm and get a quote. If you do - perhaps you could offer your services on a no win no fee basis ;.)

Glad to see that you acknowledge the spending of AShcroft money by Constituencies in the 12 months prior to General and European Elections should be included in the Tories National Campaign expenditure for the 2004 and 2005 Elections - now all someone needs to do is go and look at the returns at the Electoral Commission (publicly available) to see whether it was - my guess is they may be surprised! Of course if it wasn't there is a good chance that the Tories broke the national expenditure limits - now that would be an interesting story.