Tory MPs accuse party officials of 'covering own backsides' in expenses probe

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BRITAIN-EU/

Tory MPs embroiled in controversy over 2015 General Election expenses have hit out at the party's central office for "cocking up" and then casting them "adrift" as the row rumbles on.

The Conservatives are facing an Electoral Commission probe and police inquiries over allegations that spending was not properly recorded on buses transporting activists to campaign in key marginal seats.

Kent Police has refused to confirm reports that Thanet South MP Craig Mackinlay was questioned for six hours under caution last Friday over his expenses for a campaign in which he beat former Ukip leader Nigel Farage.

Prime Minister Theresa May's chief of staff Nick Timothy was drawn into the controversy over Thanet South after Channel 4 News said it had seen emails which suggest he played a central role in the battle to keep Mr Farage out of Parliament.

Meanwhile, Karl McCartney, whose campaign to retain his Lincoln seat is under investigation, has accused Conservative central office (CCHQ) of withholding from MPs a draft report from the Electoral Commission on the probe.

Mr McCartney said he received the information from a Tory-appointed solicitor acting for the group and wrote to MP colleagues to tell them he had made "disquiet and disbelief" at CCHQ's actions clear.

Then, in another email leaked to Sky News, he wrote to Conservative Party chairman Patrick McLoughlin to tell him MPs "feel completely cast adrift by CCHQ/whips/the Parliamentary Party and left to fend for themselves".

He went on: "At what stage do you think you (the party) might inform us that another media shitstorm is coming? We didn't create this mess, the clever dicks at CCHQ did, and I don't see their professional reputations being trashed in the media much.

"The initial cock-ups, 'strategy' and ineptitude with regard to this issue that has so negatively impacted our: lives, standing in our communities, standing amongst colleagues, families and our regard for particular parts of the party centrally, and were all of CCHQ's making...need to stop.

"We are the ones who are now (and since the beginning as individuals have been) in the media spotlight and it might have been a little more reassuring and collegiate if the powers that be in our party perhaps tried to be a little bit more supportive and less interested in covering their own backsides."

He asked what the ramifications were of the commission's report and why it was not given to Tory MPs, and called for centrally-issued guidance on dealing with media inquiries.

Commenting on the leaked emails, Mr McCartney said in a statement: "I have made my forthright views clear privately to a number of senior representatives of the Conservative Party on behalf of my backbench colleagues at various times since the partisan decision by the Electoral Commission to examine only Conservative candidates' election expenses was made.

"The Conservative Party advised us that the so-called campaign 'battle buses' were, as at previous general elections and in keeping with the practice of both the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats, a national campaign expense.

"This meant that they were not to be declared in our own election expenses.

"It seems odd that, even in the Electoral Commission's reports on the Labour Party and Liberal Democrat's conduct and national election expense return, there is no mention of any need for local candidates to declare campaign 'battle buses' on their own local election expense returns.

"It is unfortunate that private internal emails sent to a small number of cross-referenced recipients has somehow wended its way into the hands of the media.

"As ever with these matters, whoever has acted in this way seriously needs to take a long hard look at themselves in the mirror and question their own ethics in the way they operate."

Responding to inquiries about the Sun's report that Mr Mackinlay had been subject to questioning last week, Kent Police said in a statement: "The Kent Police investigation into this complex matter is ongoing and officers continue to follow lines of inquiry.

"Therefore it would not be appropriate to comment further.

"Officers from Kent Police continue to work with the Electoral Commission as the investigation continues."

Conservative sources said CCHQ has not received the draft report from the Electoral Commission, contradicting Mr McCartney's claims.

The party is "co-operating with the ongoing investigations", a spokesman said.