Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader, has just appeared on Sky News alleging that the Electoral Commission is part of an establishment plot to close them down. If I were in his position I'd probably play the injured party to gain public sympathy. After all, for a Party with an annual income of £250,000, it could be curtains if they have to find £367,000 to hand over to Gordon Brown (under the rules the donation is not returned to the donor). Let's ignore the party political side of this for a moment and look at it dispassionately.
Farage is right when he says that the legislation was drafted to catch illicit foreign donations. He alleges it is all down to a simple clerical error. Well, up to a point. It is actually illegal not to put yourself on the electoral register, and we should not ignore the fact it was down to UKIP to ensure he was actually on it. This partly explains why UKIP's accounts are so late. It is clear that UKIP knew this was going to be an issue and have spent the last six months attempting to persuade the Electoral Commission to give them nothing more than a rap on the knuckles.
There is also the issue of fair play here. It was quite right to fine them for the late submission of their accounts, but it is certainly arguable that the punishment of losing £367,000 was far worse than the crime. Their was no attempt to deceive, the donor was British and it was fully declared, albeit late. The question for UKIP now is whether they can afford a Judicial Review. I am no lawyer, but it is certainly a case that is ripe for one I would have thought.
I'm also interested in the implications of this for the Liberal Democrats who still face the prospect of repaying the £2.4 million they received from the jailed fraudster Michael Brown. The Electoral Commission had intended to make a judgement on the permissability of the donation by the end of last year, but as the City of London Police are still conducting their own inquiry, the Commission is waiting until that comes to an end.