There has been much in the news over the last few days about Rochester & Strood Conservative Association's decision to serve a County Court Summons on Mark Reckless and his Agent Chris Irvine over the cost of Conservative campaign literature authorised by them and printed 48 hours prior to his defection to UKIP, all of which had to be scrapped. See HERE and.HERE.
I was not aware of this action until I read about it in the Kent Messenger newspaper, and there was no reason that I should be. Although I live in Rochester and am a member of Rochester and Strood Association I am not an active member and don't serve on its Executive Council or Management Committee. This has not stopped a number of people seeking my view.
There are two issues at stake here, and it is important not to confuse them.
The first was his defection. Yes, like almost every other Conservative activist I know (and a significant number of local residents I met shared this view) I was angry about his defection and felt he had not behaved wholly honourably. However I am sufficiently long in the tooth not to take it personally, though had I been one of those people who had spent the last ten years working for his election, I might understandably have felt differently. Defections are political gold, and their timing is always handled with care. Over the years I have handled several defections (at a much lower level) and I have never given advanced notice as this spoils the surprise. In fact when Marta Andreasen defected from UKIP to the Conservatives two years ago I am sure the timing of that was handled by her Conservative minders with equal care. That's all part of the rough and tumble of politics.
The issue here isn't his defection or the actions around it. As far as I can see it's something quite different. It is the legality of Mr Reckless and Mr Irvine spending money which was not theirs to spend, and in doing so defrauding the Conservative Association of use of that money for the purpose it was raised, especially as he would have known that money would have been used to campaign against him following his defection.
I have not read the writ nor am I an authority on such matters, but if it can be proved that at the time Mr Reckless (and his agent) authorised the expenditure they knew the timing of the defection and that the expenditure would be wasted, then I would hope a court would seriously consider they had acted unlawfully. At the very least the Association has every right to test the issue.
There is however another, perhaps even more important, dimension. And that is one of honour.
Mark Reckless knows the members of Rochester and Strood Conservative Association as well as anyone. He was part of the Association for 15 years. They first selected him pre 2001 and again in 2005 and continued to stand loyally behind him in 2010, in difficult circumstances. R&SCCA is not a naturally wealthy area and its success is due mainly to a loyal and dedicated band of voluntary workers who go above and beyond the call of duty for no personal gain. The money they raise does not come from big corporate donors, it comes from hundreds of small donations, raffles, suppers and garden parties, almost all of it from people on fixed retirement incomes who give willingly to keep a Conservative MP in Parliament.
This issue reminds me of an incident in my own life from 20 years ago. I was a partner in a small business which sadly did not succeed. The business closed down with small but not insubstantial debts to suppliers and the landlord. There were three of us involved. One partner washed his hands and walked away and we never saw him again. I, having sunk my life savings into the business to help get it up and running, simply had nothing left. The third partner, who had substantial family assets, ended up with the debts as we were a partnership and "jointly and severally liable". Over the following two years in small lumps of £200 / £300 a month I repaid my share and I repaid 50% of the third partner's share too, as it was simply the right and honourable thing to do.
IF Mark Reckless knew he was about to defect to UKIP when he signed off that expenditure, then regardless of the legal position, he too should consider what is the right and honourable thing for him to do.