Candidates and financial exclusion

I’ve seen a number of comments recently about the financial cost of being a candidate. That is particularly sharp with people standing for parliament, but not limited to them.

As a party, we try to take diversity seriously. This is about justice and Liberal Democrat values. It’s pragmatic, in that we’re all diminished if we casually discard the talents of people from disadvantaged groups. There is also a bigger challenge: the changes we push for in society have to be made within the party and in our choice of candidates. Addressing problems this creates may not be easy, but is a first step to bringing change more widely. Addressing any problems this creates also helps us find ways to address barriers to change more widely.

One of the knotty points is around wealth.

The targeting of seats is unavoidable under our present electoral system, so there is no way round the fact that a high proportion of party’s resources has to be directed to winnable seats.

Away from target seats, the financial situation on candidates can be really difficult, especially when local parties are small and have limited resources. Yet it is also important to fight these seats, both to build up the party where it is presently less strong, and to be serious about being a potential party of government. I’ve seen guidance that potential candidates should not be asked what they can contribute financially to their campaign, as this discriminates against the less wealthy. But most parliamentary candidates work very hard in an election campaign and the pressure to end up putting more personal resources into the campaign can be intense — even if that pressure begins with them rather than anyone else. Anecdotes include someone saying they hoped there wouldn’t be another election soon as they had been self-funding and were more-or-less wiped out, and an agent asking the candidate to provide the deposit two days before the nomination form was to go in as if this was a perfectly reasonable request (and failing to register for their regional party’s deposit guarantee scheme).

A sign of change was Dominic Mathon’s recent article on LibDem voice about an Access Fund for the London Assembly elections, but there is more to do.

This burden falls particularly hard on candidates who are unemployed or struggling financially. Yet these are voices that need to be heard — economic regeneration for the country hangs on reaching these groups of people.

As a chilling example, another candidate congratulated me on my campaign website, but then explained that, as she was unemployed, she couldn’t afford to have one herself. A few days later, she congratulated me on a radio interview she’d heard. There’s no reason to think she’s less capable of doing a radio interview than me. How far had the undermining that came from not being able to afford a website hit her confidence, hurting her and her campaign? A little money could have helped both.

Struggling financially is soul-rotting, and something people often seek to hide (for very odd reasons). We need MPs who know what this is like. Neither “trickledown” nor “wealth redistribution” (nor benefit cuts) have solved the problem. In the Labour world, Jeremy Corbyn has suggested grants for aspiring MPs from less wealthy backgrounds, which recognises the problem, but also risks perpetuating it by not engaging with the bigger picture. “Being the change we want to see” means seeking ways to help people who would struggle with the cost of being a candidate. It is both a matter of diversity inside the party, and helping us think about ways of delivering genuine improvement for those at the bottom of the economic pile.

* Mark Argent was the Liberal Democrat candidate in Huntingdon Constituency in 2019 and blogs at

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  • Harry Hayfield 27th Aug '15 - 12:08pm

    I’m starting out on this road and although I can manage the £50 needed to lodge a formal application, my problem is that I am finding it nigh on impossible to find the three signatures needed to also lodge that application. Given that we are in full blown #fightback mode, could that element be reduced to just the signature of either the constituency chair, leader of the Lib Dem group on the principle council or chairperson of the local branch?

  • “Struggling financially is soul-rotting, and something people often seek to hide (for very odd reasons). We need MPs who know what this is like. ”

    Yes I agree, which is why we should stop selecting as candidate’s rich boys who went to Eton and Westminster and then on to Oxbridge.
    An interesting piece in The Guardian this week reminds us that those two schools send more people to Oxbridge than all the schools in Wales put together.
    They then go on to be selected as candidates, to be MPs and eventually as today The House of Lords.
    Self-perpetuating oligarchy.

  • Richard Underhill 27th Aug '15 - 12:58pm

    Mark Argent “The targeting of seats is unavoidable under our present electoral system, so there is no way round the fact that a high proportion of party’s resources has to be directed to winnable seats.”
    This article is mainly about money and first-past-the-post elections. The election for mayor of greater London is by second preference votes, but the size of the constituenct preovides a challenge. Simultaneously there is an election for the Greater London Assembly, which includes an element of proportional representation. At least one of our former MPs in London used the GLA as a stepping stone and continued to achieve as a mInister.

  • Richard Underhill 27th Aug '15 - 1:04pm

    Harry Hayfield 27th Aug ’15 – 12:08pm Please spell out your problem more fully. Are you in a derelict seat? Are you a parish or borough councillor? Are you mainly interested in being an MP? MEP? Police and Crime Commissioner? or, if in London, GLA? Do you have a particular cause?
    If this information is confidential will you be going to federal conference in Bournemouth?

  • Harry Hayfield 27th Aug '15 - 2:31pm

    Nope, it’s not confidential Richard. I am not in a derelict seat (at least I would like to think that Ceredigion is not listed as one), I am a community councillor (and have been since 2012) and am interested in being selected as a regional list candidate for the National Assembly elections being held in 2016. As for a particular cause, the main thing would be to ensure that carers are represented at all levels of elected officials.

  • Richard Underhill 27th Aug '15 - 3:00pm

    Harry Hayfield 27th Aug ’15 – 2:31pm OK, so what exactly is the problem? and how can readers of LDV help?

  • Harry Hayfield 27th Aug '15 - 5:40pm

    Basically, I need three referees (one of whom must be a party office holder) and the other two can be anyone (but I think it would be better if they were fellow Lib Dem councillors from Wales). Cllr. Mike Powell (from Rhondda, Cynon, Taff) has agreed in principle to be one of my referees but he has not sent his membership number or contact details yet.

  • Mark Argent raises an interesting issue and links this to barriers in society generally. Of course there are other groups of people who struggle to be candidates in winnable seats. Within the party this is understandable, we wish our candidates to be leaders, to be very active and to lead by example to encourage volunteers to do as much as possible. Human nature I suppose plays a part, why should I deliver leaflets for this person when they are doing very little as part of their campaign. Finances are an issue for the party, as are human resources – we never have enough. Do we as a party wish to transfer resources from winning two seats to enable one person who is suffering from some kind of exclusion to be elected for one?

    There is a wider issue, if a person lacks the finances or support to win say a council seat, do they also lack the finances and support to be as free as someone else who doesn’t suffer from these exclusion issues? As liberals do we think it is one of our tasks to tax the general population so these financial and/or support issues are met from the public purse and that person can enjoy the same freedoms as everyone else?

  • John Tilley 28th Aug '15 - 6:29am

    Richard Underhill 27th Aug ’15 – 12:58pm
    “…. one of our former MPs in London used the GLA as a stepping stone and continued to achieve as a mInister.”

    Richard, do you mean Susan Kramer? She is a former MP who went on to be a minister. Was she ever an elected member of the GLA? I apologise to her and to you if I have forgotten.

  • Jane Ann Liston 28th Aug '15 - 8:58am

    I was disturbed when one candidate told me she had taken a sabbatical ( so unpaid) to be a full-time campaigning candidate (not in a particularly winnable seat either), and spoke as though this was expected. Not every potential candidate can afford to do that and I hope we are not moving towards a situation when it is expected. Also, the councillor contribution often takes no account of ability to pay, with the same percentage required regardless of whether one ‘s income includes private means, a pension, paid employment or nothing over and above the allowance. I fear that could deter candidates who have little money. There can also be an expectation of a certain standard of dress which can be a problem for the less well-off.

    On the plus side, though I was only a paper candidate in the GE, I still had some travelling to undertake e.g. for hustings. Fortunately this was recognised and the local party paid my fares.

  • I’ve only ever helped rich people get in to Parliament (all Lib Dems), it’s a bit depressing. Having a well-funded campaign is sadly one of the most important factors for modern PPC’s, folks of modest means have little hope of tackling people with the money to buy substantial advertising. Winning and money go hand in hand, it’s wrong but it seems to be worse now than it was 20 years back.

  • Richard Underhill 28th Aug '15 - 2:43pm

    John Tilley 28th Aug ’15 – 6:29am Lynne Featherstone.

  • Richard Underhill 28th Aug '15 - 2:50pm

    As an RO i always told the local parties that not every candidate owns a car, not every candidate lives in the constituency and they should bear this in mind when choosing the shortlist.
    There was some reluctance, presumably because it might mean local member/s providing transport in rural areas if buses were inadequate (ho, ho).
    This was standard training for ROs to learn and pass on before 2015.
    It is presumably still policy.

  • Richard Underhill 28th Aug '15 - 2:54pm

    ChrisB 28th Aug ’15 – 1:33pm Success at fundraising does not guarantee election. The key issues are what is said. Please see “The Political Brain” written by a neuro-scientist who supports the Democrats in the USA, with a foreword by Bill Clinton.

  • Simon McGrath 29th Aug '15 - 9:42am

    @John Tilley
    “An interesting piece in The Guardian this week reminds us that those two schools send more people to Oxbridge than all the schools in Wales put together.”

    It is indeed a shocking indictment of the state of education in Wales

  • Paul L'Allier 29th Aug '15 - 10:06am

    Hi Harry. I asked two of my colleagues who were not party members. As far as I know the references has come back fine and I’ve been offered an assessment day (which I couldn’t manage). I don’t know what your work situation is, but have you got work colleagues you could ask?

  • Jane,
    The problem is that objectively the candidate who can make campaigning a full-time job really does have a better chance of winning. If you knock on doors 4 hours per day for 5 years you could easily talk to more than half the electorate in a Westminster seat personally. For a Liberal Democrat that would make a huge difference (if backed up of course by all the other campaigning tools). There is no substitute for the candidate meeting people in person, it cannot be done by a “team”. I would be pretty sure that by now there is hardly anyone in Westmorland and Lonsdale who has not shaken the hand of Tim Farron, or at least knows several people personally who have…

    We just do not have enough people anywhere who will vote purely for the Party, not the person (even in good years like 2010). The image of the person can be built up by media appearances etc, and by the endorsement of hardworking councillors and community activists, but even this does require considerable and sustained effort, and is less effective than really extensive personal contacts (provided of course that the candidate actually makes a good impression!). Local parties cannot be blamed for selecting candidates who say they can make that commitment.

    Unless the national party is prepared to give substantial wages to candidates, those with no financial pressures will always be favoured… The Labour Party used to do it by making them “trade union officials” (but of course this degree of hard work is totally unnecessary for most Labour candidates). In contrast we see that the reality is that candidates are paying for some or all of their own leaflets at all levels of candidature, very far from having everything paid for them…

    This of course is also one of the reasons for the gender bias in our Party – it reflects the fact that financially self-sufficient women are still less common than financially self-sufficient men in the UK. Leaving aside the “glass pram”, which is another major problem…

  • On the topic of candidates, I do not think that it has been reported on this site that Walter James, Liberal parliamentary candidate for Bury in 1945 and subsequently Editor of the Times Educational Supplement from 1952 to 1969, died on 5 August 2015 at the age of 103. It is very likely that he was the oldest living former Liberal PC at the time of his death, although there may still be other surviving Liberal parliamentary candidates from 1945 ?

  • Morgan-Ross Inwood 29th Aug '15 - 5:38pm

    I am interested in this article as this does strike a chord with me as I am considering going through the process but being from a disadvantaged background it does deter me a little. I have the funds to pay for the cost but still I feel there is bias in favour of those that have wealth etc. I have been told that being employed would my application if I decide to go through this, I am currently unemployed due to health grounds even though I have a degree.

    This issue is not just about Candidate selection but applies to those applying for jobs at HQ or Parliament aswell. Those applying for these types of jobs who are from a disadvantaged background and live outside London struggle to meet the upfront costs of relocating to London if they did get this type of job. I should know as I have looked into this recently because I was considering applying for a London based job.

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