Thursday, 4 December 2014

Hope not Hate under reports Euro campaign expenditure by £22k on consultants alone

Hope not Hate Ltd director Lowles -
another incorrect return to the
Electoral Commission
We discussed at the beginning of this year about how one way or another Hope not Hate escaped paying £70,000 in VAT after consultants Blue State Digital failed to include the government's slice on their invoices, thus illegally reducing their bills by the then VAT rate of 17.5%.

It now seems that once again Hope not Hate are playing games with BSD invoices on their electoral returns. This year, the company itself appears to escape the taint of scandal which always surrounds Nick Lowles' electoral declarations of expenditure as the interesting bit is the lack of BSD invoices submitted as a part of HnH's overall expenses. Included in this batch are just two, totalling some £14,000. At least this time they contain the appropriate amount of VAT. Blue State Digital, as explained in our earlier article, also provide consultancy services to the Labour Party and several trade unions, and many of the senior management have close links to Labour. In their own publicity material, they boast about how they act only on behalf of 'progressive' causes. Belonging to Euro-fanatic Sir Martin Sorrell's WPP group, BSD sprang from Howard Dean's failed presidential bid in the US, and specialise in running online campaigns.

Blue State Digital - at least they remembered to add VAT
For the European elections, the 'regulated period' of expenditure set by the Electoral Commission ran from January to May this year, and yet HnH have submitted BSD invoices for only March and April. Both of these feature 'Strategic Consulting - European Parliament Elections Retainer' for £ 5166.66 per month, plus VAT. One features monthly technology licensing fees at £900/month, while the other doesn't - did they stop using the technology for campaigning? Did BSD decide they could have it for nothing? - in which case, where is the donation report relating to it? And what happened in January, February, and May? BSD are retained consultants of Hope not Hate, and have historically charged around £6,000/month for their services in addition to the technology fees. HnH's website and e-mail tools are maintained by BSD, and nobody could deny that their website formed a major part of their campaign against UKIP, so why did Lowles fail to declare this expenditure to the Electoral Commission? By our reckoning, Hope not Hate should have included Blue State Digital costs of £36,399.95 in their return rather than the £13,479,98 they actually declared, an under-reporting of £22,919.97.

HnH Witch-in-Chief Ruth Smeeth,
charged with magicking up the
entire campaign with no donations
We're not certain why Hope not Hate submitted such a laughably low return to the Electoral Commission. Despite boasting the 'largest ever' campaign against UKIP including 2.5m leaflets and an 8 page, full colour wrap around on the Daily Mirror, they claim to have spent just over £129,000 during the entire controlled period while receiving no donations whatsoever. If you remove the true cost of their consultants - £36k - then they claim to have run this campaign for just £93,000!! Remove 5/12th of Lowles reported £60k salary - £25k - and the rest of the campaign cost £68,000. Witchcraft, particularly given that they claim to have received no donations in excess of £500 during the controlled period. In the 2010 general election, they claimed expenditure of over £319,000 and a full list of donations from Unions and others for a much smaller campaign.

What we can't quite work out is what the point is of all this. The largest trade unions still admit to funding Hope not Hate - UNISON boast of the 'joint campaign' on their website - so what is the point of pretending that they don't have big money behind them unless it is a trial run ahead of the introduction of the 'Lobbying Act' (the Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill) to see what they can reasonably expect to get away with in terms of concealing expenditure and donations from disclosure. We're at a loss as to what the alternatives are, unless they are attempting to play down their 'big money' links as they continue to try and raise un-needed donations from private individuals, but even that would be connected to the Lobbying Act: this was the reason for their 'become a supporter for a quid' campaign.

We're well aware that the Electoral Commission has a history of bullying the smallest boy in the playground, as previous focus on UKIP has proved: most recently, Nigel Farage was fined £200 for failing to specifically declare his constituency office even though it appears on his European Parliamentary declaration, while the Liberal Democrats have still not been forced to return the £2.5m of stolen money they received from a jailed, non-resident donor. Will they act on this? Several people have indicated a willingness to submit complaints and we expect them to be with the Electoral Commission within the week, but we suspect that vested interests within the big unions and the Labour Party will prevent much happening.

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