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.

Non-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.’


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