The battle for Eastleigh was one of the tightest at the General Election. Chris Huhne managed to hold the seat after a hard-fought battle with Maria Hutchings, the Conservative candidate. Huhne declared campaign expenses of £10,911.05 in the 23 days before the General Election – a mere £113 under the the legal limit of £11,024.
After examining the expenses returns of Chris Huhne the Sunlight Centre for Open Politics posed a number of question to Eastleigh Liberal Democrats. A week later we are yet to receive a response. Given how close Chris Huhne was to his expenses limit it is necessary to have absolute transparency in order to assure the public that no impropriety was taking place.
One area of concern is the ‘Itchen Valley Printing Society’, a company that provided a large proportion of Chris Huhne’s campaign literature. He spent £4,426 with the organisation – over 40% of his total spend in the short campaign.
But despite its vague name the organisation is far from independent. The Itchen Valley Printing Society is based at 109a Leigh Road, Eastleigh – the same address as Chris Huhne’s constituency office. And in 2007 Huhne claimed over £2,600 of taxpayer’s money from his parliamentary Communications Fund to fund an ‘Envelope Stuffing Machine’ for the Printing Society.
It is feasible that there is a printing press at the small suburban office that serves as Eastleigh Lib Dem HQ. But the leaflets that were distributed by Chris Huhne during the election all state in their smallprint that they were printed by ‘Park Communications Ltd’ of Alpine Way, London:
The Sunlight COPs have asked why Park Communications did not directly invoice Eastleigh Liberal Democrats but instead filtered all these expenses through the Itchen Valley Printing Society. We want to ensure that Park were charging a fair price. The invoices provided do not allow us to do so.
Park Communications is the Lib Dems’ favourite printer and supplied materials to many Lib Dem candidates in marginal seats. Its chief executive, Heath Mason, has close connections to high flying Lib Dems and co-hosted a reception at last autumn’s party conference with Hilary Stephenson, the head of the Lib Dem’s Campaigns Department. Stephenson notably advised Lib Dems on how to squeeze their Communications Allowance for party-political gain.
The Sunlight COPs have several unanswered questions that can be seen below: