National election expenditure dropped, as 3% of candidates broke law

The Electoral Commission has published its review of expenditure at the 2010 general election, finding that national spending by parties dropped sharply from its 2005 peak, though it was still above 2001 levels.

Total reported national campaign expenditure by all political parties (i.e. excluding expenditure recorded on candidate expense returns and excluding expenditure that does not count towards any limits*) across the United Kingdom was £31.5 million, just under £11 million lower than in 2005 but nearly £5 million higher than 2001. Nearly all of the fall is accounted for by a £9.9 million drop in the amount spent by Labour.

Electoral Commission logoNon-submission of election expense records by Parliamentary candidates continues to be a problem, with as late as January 2011 3% of candidates still not having submitted the returns the law required to be submitted last summer. No legal action has been taken against any candidate for these failures, although none was a candidate who finished first or second in a constituency. The Electoral Commission says it is “currently considering” how to tackle this issue in future, and points out that at the moment the only action that can be taken is referral to the police for a criminal investigation which, in its view, “can be a disproportionate reaction to administrative non-compliance”.

Total expenditure for the 2010 election by the main parties was:

  • Conservative: £16.7m (national), £9.8m (total by candidates) for a grand total of £26.5 million
  • Labour: £8.0m (national), £6.5m (total by candidates) for a grand total of £14.5 million
  • Liberal Democrats: £4.8m (national), £5.0m (total by candidates) for a grand total of £9.8 million

The Liberal Democrats were the only party to have a greater local than national spend, although the two numbers are not fully comparable given the different time periods and definitions for them.

* This exemption includes some surprising items, such as staff salaries, and was the cause of one of my favourite exchanges with the Electoral Commission during my time working for the party. It went something like this: ‘Just want to check I’ve understood both the law and your guidance correctly. We have a member of staff here whose job title is General Election Planning Manager. However, their salary does not count towards the General Election expense limit, is that right?’ ‘Yes.’

Electoral Commission Campaign Expenditure Report 2010 General Election

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8 Comments

  • Ian Eiloart 2nd Mar '11 - 9:54am

    I wonder whether it would be reasonable to exempt candidates from submitting expense records if they poll below a certain threshold, and their expenditure hasn’t been close to the limit.

    Perhaps, if they lose their deposit; or if they come fifth or worse; or if their vote is less than the winning majority (the difference between first and second.)

    Maybe they could simply submit a statement that their expenses hadn’t exceeded, say, 50% of the limit.

  • David Wright 2nd Mar '11 - 12:34pm

    I was thinking that perhaps the RO could hold onto the deposit until they received the candidate’s expense claim, but that would have no impact on those who won below 5% of the vote, who seem to be the worst offenders.

    Perhaps the answer is an automatic fine of a further £500 for lateness, refundable in full on receiving the expense claim within 1 month and 90% thereafter, coupled with Ian’s idea of allowing a simple declaration that expenses haven’t exceeded (say) 10% of the limit where that applies. It would have to be a low % as if no details which can be checked are given, it needs to be obvious to the other parties that the candidate really has not spent much.

  • With you on that Judith. My troubles included a 60 mile dash to get another signature omitted by the candidate – on the day before the deadline. Same thing happened over nomination forms.
    Too damn complicated.

    And dont get me started on the PITA of separate sets of accounts and expenses for long and short campaigns. It should be permissible to submit one set of expenses where combined expenses are lower than the short campaign limit (lowest amount).

  • toryboysnevergrowup 7th Mar '11 - 1:33pm

    The comparisons with the 2001 figures have little meaning as they were not recorded on the same basis – they did not have the same 12 month period. I would also have some concern about the basis used for the national figures given that the basis for allocation of overheads is far from clear and the Tory view that “Ashcroft” spending in constituencies before the election occurred does not count towards national campaign spending.

  • toryboysnevergrowup 7th Mar '11 - 1:37pm

    Shouldn’t the Electoral Commission look into the level of the Tories national campaign expenditure? My impression is that if you look at their spend across the country in the 12 months before the election, excluding what is spent in consituencies in the short campaign, then the overall level would appear to be at a much higher level than in both 2005 and 2001 – but for some reason this is not reflected in the total. The EC could at least get the Tories auditors in for some detailed questioning?

  • toryboysnevergrowup 7th Mar '11 - 1:40pm

    You are not entirely right on staff expenditure – some salary costs e.g. those on short term contracts are included in the spend figures.

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