Did the Lib Dems know about Huhne's points swap?

Newly-released emails show that Vicky Pryce claimed to have told Vince Cable and others about the incident.

Did senior Lib Dems know that Vicky Pryce accepted speeding points on Chris Huhne's behalf? That's the suggestion from a series of fascinating emails released from the trial following Pryce's conviction. 

In an email dated 9 April 2011, Huhne's former wife told the Sunday Times's Isabel Oakeshott: 

Actually I had told Vince [Cable] and Rachel [his wife] about points before when the three of us were having supper about a month ago – they were horrified at the time but VC has probably forgotten it by now. He was v tired that night.

Nine days later, she informed Oakeshott:

Having lunch with Miriam c tmr. Should I hint at anything? I told Vince there is something hanging over him [Huhne] and he wanted to tell Clegg.

On 26 April 2011, Oakeshott asked Pryce:

To what extent is Clegg aware that something is hanging over Huhne (you mentioned it to Miriam, didn't you?)

Pryce replied:

Yes, I have told VC [Vince Cable], Miriam C, MOak [Lord Oakeshott] … and a few other Lib Dem Lords and others working close to NC [Nick Clegg]. 

Unsurprisingly, the Lib Dems have been quick to deny any suggestion of a cover-up. A party spokesman said: "Vince, Matthew and Miriam are all clear that the allegation about driving points was not raised with them."

In addition, a spokesman for Cable said: "Vince and Rachel have no recollection of the issue of points being raised with them over the course of dinner with Vicky Price on 28 January 2011.

They have consulted their personal records which confirm that the issue first came to their attention in May 2011 when the story broke in the press."

Miriam González Durántez said: "I have never ever been told by Vicky or anybody else about the traffic points story. I got to know about this when everybody else did."

And Lord Oakeshott, a close ally of Cable and a third cousin of Isabel Oakeshott, said: "Vicky must have been under great pressure but I am sure she never raised a question of points with me". 

But were they aware of "indirect" and "non-specific" concerns? That's the question that will be asked. 

Vicky Pryce, ex-wife of Chris Huhne, arrives at Southwark Crown Court on March 7, 2013 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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.