General election expense returns feature Lego and lessons for Lib Dems

Details of the national election expense returns for the bigger parties at the 2017 general election have been published by the Electoral Commission.

There is some intriguing detail in there, such as the £34.30 the Liberal Democrats spent at Legoland (+5 political geek points if this immediately made you think of Danny Alexander).

There is also a striking big picture story for the Liberal Democrats: total central party spend was £6.8m compared with Labour’s £11m. That means the Lib Dem spend was only a little short of being two-thirds of Labour’s.

Pause for praise for the fundraising team which achieved that for the Liberal Democrats – and without trade union funding, including in Labour’s total.

But then ask did it feel like the Lib Dem general election effort was really that close to Labour’s in overall spend across the country? Labour seemed to be much further ahead than that.


Part of the answer is that official central election expenditure only captures part of the picture. That’s why the wider eco-system of official and unofficial supportive organisations around a party is so important. Another part is about how well used such funds are.

Both of those parts are issues addressed in the pamphlet I co-authored, Reinventing the Liberal Democrats.

P.S. There are also ongoing legal issues for a range of parties and bodies:

Details of enforcement action relating to political parties

  • The Conservative Party, Green Party and the Labour Party are under investigation for submitting spending returns that were missing invoices and for submitting potentially inaccurate statements of payments made.
  • The Conservative Party and Liberal Democrats are under investigation for making multiple payments to suppliers where either the claim for payment was received past the 30 day deadline or it was paid after the 60 day deadline following the election. These deadlines are specified in law.
  • The Women’s Equality Party is under investigation for submitting a spending return that was inconsistent with its donation reports covering the same period.

Details of enforcement action relating to non-party campaigners

  • Best for Britain is under investigation for submitting a spending return that was missing invoices. The campaigner is also under investigation for not returning a £25,000 donation from an impermissible donor within 30 days as required by PPERA.
  • The National Union for Teachers is under investigation for submitting a spending return that was missing an invoice.

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