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Government’s Planned Election Spending Limit Hike to Benefit Conservatives

The move, along with other changes such as a constituency boundary review for the 2024 General Election, is set to provide an advantage to the ruling party

Boris Johnson during the 2019 General Election campaign. Photo: PA Images

Government’s Planned Election Spending Limit Hike Will Benefit Conservatives

The move, along with other changes such as a constituency boundary review for the 2024 General Election, is set to provide an advantage to the ruling party

The Conservative Party is planning a 69% increase in spending limits for the next General Election – re-igniting the funding ‘arms race’ between major political parties, which was halted in 2000 when a £20 million limit was imposed by the Labour Government.

The Government announced the proposed change in a written answer in the House of Commons just before Christmas. It could see the ceiling for individual party election spending raised from £20 million to £34 million.

The limit was introduced by Tony Blair’s Government after Conservative Party spending soared from £100,000 in 1974 to £27 million in 1997 – in an unsuccessful attempt to stop Labour winning a landslide in that year’s General Election.

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Chris Rennard challenged Cabinet Office Minister, Lord Nicholas True, in the House of Lords yesterday, pressing him to explain why the Government is considering the change when figures on past levels of spending published by the elections watchdog, the Electoral Commission, have shown “that increasing national party expenditure limits would benefit only the Conservative Party across Great Britain”.

“Taking these together with other proposals under consideration, but not widely known, to allow national party spending to be targeted more easily at marginal constituencies, are the Government not now ending any concept of the level playing field in elections?” he asked.

“Spending limits have been unchanged for national elections since 2000,” Lord True responded. “Failing to update them is actually changing policy by steadily reducing spending limits in real terms.”

Research by the House of Lords Library shows that only the Conservative Party came anywhere near the present £20 million limit spending – spending between £15.6 million and £18.6 million in the last four General Elections since 2010.

Labour spent between £8 million and £12 million over the same period, while the Liberal Democrats spent between £3.7 million and £6.7 million – though it has still to have its spending confirmed by the Electoral Commission for the 2019 General Election.

The only other party close to reaching the limit is the Scottish National Party (SNP), which put forward 59 parliamentary candidates in the 2019 General Election and nearly reached the £1.7 million limit for Scottish constituencies. It would benefit from the change.

According to the House of Lords Library, the Conservative Party manifesto’s was silent on any changes in election spending limits, which are being introduced as part of the repeal of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act introduced by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government following the 2010 General Election.

Lord True refused to say who had pressed the Government to increase the limit when asked in the Lords yesterday.

Lord Tyler added: “Given that the friend and family recipients of COVID crony contracts have already poured more than £8 million into Conservative Party coffers, does the minister acknowledge that this huge increase in permissive spending will encourage more millionaires to think that they can buy government favours, including nomination to this House?” 

But the change was defended by the Conservative Party treasurer Lord Leigh of Hurley: “I know that in 2000 the cost of a second-class stamp was 19p and it is now 66p. Therefore, does the minister agree that the rules need to reflect reality? Given that all parties were fined after the 2015 election, there is clearly a need to simplify the rules.”

This move, taken with other changes such as the constituency boundary review for the next General Election, is thought to benefit the Conservatives, which should gain 10 seats in 2024 as a result.

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