The Guido Fawkes website has been breaking a series of increasingly serious allegations about the (mis) conduct of Wandsworth Conservatives.
It started here - with revelations of massive claims on the party's taxicab account with Addison Lee.
It continued with more serious allegations of embezzlement here and here
And yet more evidence was posted on his site today including this response from the party, which I'll come to later
Wandsworth Conservatives have a record of trying to hide the way they operate from the public. The three Wandsworth Conservative Associations, direct between them over £200,000 a year to Wandsworth Conservative Group (WCG) - supposedly nothing more than their group of 47 borough councillors. As an "unincorporated association" in Electoral Commission parlance, WCG do not have to produce accounts, cash-flow or expenditure: things "Accounting Units" - that is virtually every other party political organisation - have to publish on the EC's website.
If WCG was just the group of 47 councillors that would be reasonable. But it's evidently morphed into something more - ever since the three constituency parties decided to centralise their organisation, sell-off their Putney and Battersea offices and become the driver of all Conservative Party activity in Wandsworth borough. Their accounting units have become little more than shells, solely to channel money straight to WCG.
Yet the only substantive reference you'll ever find to WCG on the Electoral Commission's website can be found in the Tooting Conservative Association's accounts from way back in 2004 (from page 7) when they accidentally appended WCG's accounts.
This, in itself, appears to be a de facto abuse of the laws governing political parties. Unincorporated Associations were never set up to be conduits to enable political parties to evade regulation and transparency.
This is no small operation. Since 2004 Wimbledon Conservatives have been based at the Conservative campaign HQ in Summerstown, Tooting. Putney MP Justine Greening, Wimbledon MP Stephen Hammond, and presumably Battersea MP Jane Ellison since 2010, rent space there paid for through their Office Costs Allowance (ie taxpayers money channelled - legally - straight to Tory Party coffers) even though the office isn't in any of their constituencies. Wandsworth Conservatives employ staff - not just an agent but at least one secretary to support him. This again is hidden because of the - I believe unlawful - way the Conservatives are hiding their income.
We do not know how much Wandsworth Conservative Councillors contribute from their hefty basic allowance of £10,000 a year but, given there are 47 councillors, if they give £1,000 a year (not unreasonable given we're not even including the special responsibility allowances those with executive roles get paid) that's another £50,000. Again, hidden, in subversion of the spirit if not the letter of the law, which in this case is the PPERA.
The most remarkable statement that Guido has unearthed is this, from an anonymous source in the local party: "I was present at a meeting shortly after the 2010 elections where it became obvious that we were basically bankrupt."
An organisation with income of over £200,000 a year (which is - in good years - twice the income of Labour in Wandsworth) nearly went bankrupt in 2010? Even though this was a (double) election year: how? Why? With the sort of lax internal accounting that has been revealed here it's of little surprise. But it brings us on to the next remarkable statement, by the current "Chairman of Wandsworth Conservative Group" Anthony Cole (and as an aside, who is this person? He's not an elected councillor so is there now an entity outside the Conservative group governing the entirety of Conservative organisation in Wandsworth?):
“In the course of his employment with Wandsworth Conservative’s [sic.] Mr Morritt was required to incur expenses."
Well, that maybe so, but only because of the ludicrous way they choose to operate. They are not required to operate an expenses system: they choose to. I held the parallel job for Wandsworth Labour for nearly five years: at no point did I have (or want) an expense account, a taxi account or any of the other ludicrous largesse the Conservatives appear to have provided, and never bothered to audit. I got round Wandsworth on trains, buses, bikes and by walking more than adequately. This is central London, after all, not some rural idyll.
My constituency parties paid their election deposits direct to the town hall and the treasurers of those parties were repaid directly after the election. And let's be clear: Wandsworth Labour operates entirely differently, and entirely transparently. Our constituency parties remain the accounting units for their own income and expenditure - as the law obliges. They pass none of it to the group of Labour councillors. The Labour Group is not a secret engine of political organisation in Wandsworth. Everything Wandsworth Labour Parties raise and spend has been declared on the Electoral Commission website going back to 2002 when the law obliging them to came in. It's only the Conservatives who evidently have something to hide.
Set to one side, for now, the allegations against Mr Morritt. Wandsworth Conservatives - the party that prides itself on its prudent management of council finances - have shown that they are anything but prudent managers. Wandsworth Council has been on auto-pilot for nearly two decades: councillors do not run this borough, officers do. And the officers do it well, despite - not because - of at best inept and incompetent fat cat councillors. But this isn't what local democracy should be about. We the people elect councillors to run our boroughs. A borough run by technocrats is not what we pay vast sums in councillors allowances for (though it explains, perhaps, why the amounts we pay chief officers is so high). And Wandsworth Conservatives show that their ranks are stuffed with - at best - financially incontinent people who they then propel into safe seats.
It's not good enough. If Guido's revelations do nothing other than make it clear that Wandsworth Conservative Group should no longer be allowed to shield away its massive financial operations from the regulators, the public and indeed its own members, that will be a massive breakthrough. After all, it was their leader, David Cameron, who memorably claimed that "sunlight is the best disinfectant".
It's time to clean out the Augean Stable that is, evidently, Wandsworth Conservative Group.