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Government Challenged Over Massive Hike to Election Spending Limit Which is Set to Benefit Conservatives

The change means parties will now be allowed to spend over £30m in order to win a General Election

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the G20 Summit in India in September 2023. Photo: Dan Kitwood/PA/Alamy

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Lords have challenged the Government over hikes to maximum election spending limits for parties, after ministers quietly raised the election spending cap by millions of pounds without a vote last week. 

Lib Dem peer Lord Rennard told the Lords on Wednesday: “Not one of the last five Governments have seen fit to increase the spending limits for political parties. So I wonder what is different about this Government? 

“In the last five elections, only one party, the Conservative Party, has come close to spending towards the election expense limit. So why does it now have to be increased by 80%? Which party will benefit?”

And in a jibe at Rishi Sunak, Lord Rennard added: “Boris Johnson managed to win the last general election by spending £16m pounds. So why does this Government seem to think that it needs to spend up to £36m pounds to try and get reelected and what will those donors expect in return for this cash?”

Baroness Penn, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department for Levelling Up, said it had been a “long time” since campaign spending limits were adjusted for inflation, with some having not changed since 2000. 

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“This means that as prices rise over time, the limits are effectively reduced. Parliament anticipated this when the limits were set, which is why the legislation allows for them to be adjusted to account for inflation. The Government has now begun making these adjustments to ensure spending limits are restored in real terms,” Baroness Penn said. 

It comes as figures from the House of Lords library show that the Conservatives got closest to reaching the spending limits of around £19m (below) at the last General Election.

One peer quizzed the minister about allegations from Lee Anderson MP that the Reform Party had offered to effectively pay him hundreds of thousands of pounds to defect from the COnservatives to the hard-right party. Baroness Penn replied: “I’m not sure exactly [what] my noble friend is referring to” – but added it seemed like a “serious matter.” 

Another peer said donations for the first six months of this year showed that the three largest donations were to the Conservative Party – including two individual donations of more than £5m. “One of them came from a joint British-Egyptian national, who was a minister of a previous Egyptian Government [Mohamed Mansour], and his interests appear to be primarily based in Dubai. 

“The other is someone who is listed on Companies House as an Indian national [Amit Lohia]…Is it not time that the Government became much stricter on the size [of donations]?” 

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Conservative frontbencher Baroness Penn said the Government had “no plans to limit the size of donations that are made”, claiming that there are “procedures in place to ensure there’s transparency.” 

Labour left-winger Lord Prem Sikka went further than others, telling the chamber: “The rich don’t actually donate money [to parties] – they invest and they expect a return.” He called for the minister to consider introducing a law which would require political parties to state what they’ve promised in return for donations. The minister rejected the suggestion. 

Multiple Conservative Party treasurers of recent years, including the current Treasurer, have donated a million-pounds or more to the party. 

Faced with further questions, the minister insisted that the “alternative to donations is Government funding of parties and campaigning…that’s not something we on these benches wish to see.” And she heaped praise on party donors who she said “make huge contributions to society”.

Parties do already receive public funding, known as “short money” to conduct their parliamentary operations. 

Figures below via the House of Lords library and Lord Rennard.

The Conservatives Got Closest to Hitting Spending Limits at the Last Election

PartyTotal expenditureNumber of candidatesSpending limit (£30,000 x number of candidates)% of spending limit spent
Conservative and Unionist Party£16,486,696.60635£19,050,000.0086.5
Labour Party£12,034,416.48581£17,430,000.0069
Co-operative Party£55,198.6650£1,500,000.003.7
Labour and Co-operative combined£12,089,615.14631£18,930,000.0063.9
Liberal Democrats£14,426,930.65611£18,330,000.0078.7
Green Party£476,868.70497£14,910,000.003.2
Scottish National Party (SNP)£1,004,952.7359£1,770,000.0056.8
Plaid Cymru£183,914.5536£1,080,000.0017
UK Independence Party (UKIP)£8,761.0044£1,320,000.000.7
Brexit Party (Reform UK)£5,038,576.70275£8,250,000.0061.1

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