In June, a Channel 4 undercover investigation revealed strong evidence that the Conservatives may have committed election fraud by using a secretive call centre and paying people to canvas for them.
Though both the Tories and the call centre have denied the allegations, today police have announced that they are carrying out a ‘significant’ investigation into the allegations.
A Channel 4 News undercover investigator secured work at Blue Telecoms, a call centre in Neath, South Wales, in June. The firm hired “up to a hundred people on zero-hours contracts”, and they were instructed to say that they were “calling on behalf of Theresa May and the Conservative Party”.
Under electoral law, it is illegal to pay someone to canvas.
In a series of potentially unlawful practices, caller instructions are alleged to have included:
- Contacting voters and claim to be from ‘Axe Research – an independent market research company’. There is not a company under this name registered in England in Wales. It does not have a website, address or phone number. It is not listed on the data protection register.
- Cold calling prohibited numbers
- Not disclosing that they were working for Blue Telecoms
- Asking leading questions and repeating key campaign soundbites.
At the time, the Conservatives denied the allegations, saying:
Political parties of all colours pay for market research and direct marketing calls.
All the scripts supplied by the party for these calls are compliant with data protection and information law.
South Wales police have confirmed that they are investigating the business in a letter to Wayne David, Labour MP for Caerphilly.
The investigation is being conducted by the economic crime unit who are experienced in “electoral integrity investigations”. They explained that there was no timescale for the investigation as it is of:
sufficient scale and significance that South Wales Police are unable to offer any specific timescale.
The Information Commissioner’s Office also confirmed that it is:
currently investigating the Conservative Party in relation to a possible breach of Regulation 21 of the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003
Labour MP Mr David was clearly pleased with the ongoing investigations, saying:
The allegations that the Conservative Party and Blue Telecoms broke electoral law during a general election campaign are extremely serious and the public need to have confidence in our electoral process. That is fundamental to our democracy.
Affront to democracy
It was strongly suspected by many that the Tories would try to cover up allegations of potential fraud that Channel 4 News uncovered during their investigation. However, the police announcement today gives hope that if they are found guilty, they will be held accountable for any unlawful actions.
More than half of the record-breaking money received in the run up to the election was donated to the Conservative Party. They received almost £25 million from donors between April and June, compared with £9.5 million for Labour.
However, despite the Tories having this extra funding, the election was extremely close; the sheer number of grassroots Labour campaigners left the Tories desperately scrambling not to lose ground. If allegations that they resorted to using their funds for illegal practices prove to be true, it would be an affront to democracy: what would the election result have been if they had played by the rules?
One can only hope that in any case of unlawful practices, those responsible are brought to account and punished accordingly. It is important not to allow this case to be forgotten, as others may have been in the past.
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