Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Andrew Mitchell isn't the only Tory for whom this saga bodes ill. David Cameron is rightly worried too (Independent)

With elections for police commissioners on the horizon, the timing could hardly be worse for the Tories, says Steve Richards. Their new Chief Whip's job just got much harder.

2. Tax on wealth is true to Tory principles (Financial Times)

There is nothing Thatcherite about backing established wealth and there are not many votes in it, writes Janan Ganesh.

3. Osborne is sharpening his axe – but will Cameron let him use it? (Daily Telegraph)

Ministers wonder whether Cameron will be ready to defy those who insist that the economy cannot withstand any further reduction in demand, writes Benedict Brogan.

4. Mitt Romney and the myth of self-created millionaires (Guardian)

The parasitical ultra-rich often deny the role of others in the acquisition of their wealth – and even seek to punish them for it, says George Monbiot.

5. India is part of an upside-down world (Financial Times)

With more poor than Africa and more billionaires than Britain, the country is both rich and poor, writes Gideon Rachman.

6. Police v Mitchell: this looks a lot like revenge (Times) (£)

Regardless of who is right about ‘plebs’, just look at the track record of the police and you see the need for reform, says Hugo Rifkind.

7. This pleb jibe exposes the Tories' Flashman thinking (Guardian)

David Cameron and Andrew Mitchell rule for 'people like us', writes Polly Toynbee. The Lib Dems should never be complicit in their attacks on the poor.

8. The pensions revolution arriving by stealth (Daily Telegraph)

Half the country may not know it, but a huge change is coming in the way we pay for old age, says Philip Johnston.

9. The rich are paying their fair share (Independent)

The Lib Dems say we should tax the rich more, writes Dominic Lawson. But the numbers prove that would not address the real problem.

10. Hands off our homes (Guardian)

From London to the Lake District, the wealthy are buying properties they rarely use, writes Simon Hughes. Councils need powers to prevent this.

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Why haven't we heard more about the allegations of Tory election fraud?

Police and prosecutors have joined a probe into election fraud allegations that could erase the Tory majority.

The facts

The Conservative Party is facing accusations of breaking election spending rules during its 2015 campaign. Following a Channel 4 investigation, it has admitted to failing to declare more than £38,000 of expenses, money it says was spent on accommodation for Tory activists.

It’s up to the Electoral Commission, which met this week with prosecutors and police forces, to decide whether or not to launch criminal investigations into this spending.

Allegations that the money benefited campaigns in individual seats have put the Tories in hot water – they may have illegally exceeded the constituency-specific spending limit. Making a false spending declaration in an election carries a punishment of up to a year in prison and/or an unlimited fine, and anyone found guilty is also barred from running in a general election or holding any elected office for three years.

But the party claims that, as the money was spent on “BattleBus” activists who were driving around the country, it counts as national spending from HQ, rather than being part of individual candidates’ spending.

The Electoral Commission, Crown Prosecution Service and representatives of 15 police forces met this week to discuss the claims. This has resulted in extra time being allowed (an extension on the 12 months allowed under the Representation of the People Act) for relevant police forces to decide what action to take.

Up to 29 Conservative candidates are thought to have benefitted from “BattleBus” campaigning, many of whom were fighting marginal seats.

As Channel 4’s Michael Crick reported yesterday:

“It will be interesting to see if they actually start naming constituencies where they think offences may have occurred. That would then put elected MPs, Conservative MPs, in the frame.

“And indeed, if they were to look at all the constituencies that we’ve been making allegations about over the last few months, it could actually endanger the government’s majority in the House of Commons.”

The conspiracy claims

So why haven’t we heard about this? It undermines the credibility of the entire Tory general election campaign. The claims could even constitute a scandal that would trigger by-elections across the country and potentially erase the Tory majority. The Tories have a working majority of 18, so if they lost in 18 by-elections (were at least 18 MPs to be found guilty), then they would lose their majority.

Some, particularly online leftwing voices, have accused the media of conspiring not to cover this story. Our rightwing press and the cowardly BBC, they argue, are ignoring a story that could potentially call the Conservative general election victory into question.

Anger about this story being low on the political agenda is understandable. It hasn’t been prominent, considering it could result in prosecutions (indeed, the Devon and Cornwall police force is reportedly already investigating, following its meeting with the Electoral Commission). And if, say, The Sun were a left-leaning paper, it probably would have framed it in a dramatic way that would have grabbed readers’ attention.

But there isn’t a media conspiracy of silence. BBC News has been covering developments since the beginning of the year, including similar claims about 2014 by-elections, and Grant Shapps MP (Conservative chairman during the election) was hauled onto the BBC Daily Politics sofa to respond to the allegations. And the BBC’s Today programme put the allegations to Communities & Local Government Secretary Greg Clark this morning. Channel 4 News has been investigating the story, and breaking developments, from the start. The Mirror has done a big investigation into each of the MPs’ campaigns that have been accused. And all of the main papers have published news reports on the story.

The reason it may seem like silence, or lack of due prominence, is because this is an ongoing investigation. So far there have been no arrests, and the allegations remain just that: allegations. Care is required by media organisations not to falsely accuse anyone of criminal activity. And, pushed by journalists, the Conservatives have given their side of the story, so we’re not going to get a great deal more from them. Now it’s up to police forces to decide to take action.

So far, the only things to report on have been what would and would not count as a breach of electoral law (rather a dry subject), and whether or not the Electoral Commission would achieve an extension on the time allowed by law for investigating (also somewhat technical). And, however dull, these things have been reported. They may not have been shared a huge amount online, or bounced to the top of “most-read” boxes – but this is because readers aren’t usually that interested in the ins and outs of the Representation of the People Act, no matter how much those who want this government toppled wish they were.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.