Grant Shapps claims Theresa May aide was 'front and centre' of controversial South Thanet campaign

Posted On: 
12th March 2017

Former Tory chairman Grant Shapps has claimed one of Theresa May's most senior aides "orchestrated" a Tory campaign currently being investigated by the police.

Grant Shapps addressing Tory conference in 2014
Credit: 
PA

Mr Shapps said the Prime Minister's joint chief of staff, Nick Timothy, was "front and centre" of the 2015 general election operation in South Thanet, where Tory MP Craig McKinlay successfully defeated then Ukip leader Nigel Farage. 

The campaign is being investigated after claims the Conservatives block-booked hotels for activists without registering the cost as local expenditure. 

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Both Mr McKinlay and his agent Nathan Gray deny any wrongdoing, while the Conservatives have said Mr Timothy did not play a key role in the campaign.

A party spokesman said last November that the then Home Office aide had been "briefing party spokespeople on Home Office policy, supporting Theresa May and working on a variety of other matters".

But Mr Shapps, who was co-chairman of the party during the election, told the Sunday Times that Mr Timothy had been integral to the effort in the Kent seat.

“I remember discovering partway through the campaign, I think, that Timothy was actually down full-time in Thanet," he said.

“The wider issue is, were election expenses bust, and you can’t hire a hotel without applying any of that to local expenditure,

“And it just happens that Nick seems to have been orchestrating a lot of the activity down there, and he’s definitely front and centre of it, unfortunately from his point of view.”

Speaking to the same paper, a party source rubbished Mr Shapps' claims, saying: "How the hell would he know? He was barely in Conservative campaign HQ so I am not sure on what basis he thinks he can comment. He wouldn’t know what was and wasn’t going on.”

The two men have clashed before when Mr Shapps blocked Mr Timothy and another of Mrs May's advisers from standing as MPs in 2014. 

He was apparently concerned that neither Mr Timothy nor Stephen Parkinson had done any phone canvassing during the Rochester by-election, which was won by Ukip's Mark Reckless. 

However the two special advisers insisted their code of conduct meant they could not take part in party political activity.

According to reports Mrs May, who was Home Secretary at the time, intervened directly on behalf of her aides to try to have the suspension lifted.