2010 election spending

The Electoral Commission, as it must every year, publishes the election campaign spending and donations to every political party and candidate , in handy (ish) spreadsheets. Some of the finer details are certainly worth grappling with the sporadic dummy-spitting of Excel’s filters and formatting…

Let’s look at the broad picture first. The general election of 2010 was as much ‘The Expenses Election” as “the expensive one”. The top 200 donations to candidates – not all of them winners, it must be said – totals over £7 million. It takes only 200 candidates to reach six-and-a-half-million pounds in spending. Some “digging down” uncovers the extremes people go to when candidature comes calling; James Thornton, who stood as an Independent in Poplar and Limehouse, spent £269 per vote to come 10th. His final total of nearly £16,000 is staggering.

So to is the percentage of money spent as a proportion of the “aggregate limit”, the legal upper amount allowed for each candidate in their seat. Stephen Lloyd (Liberal Democrat, Eastbourne), spent 99.62% of his allowed amount en route to winning; Christopher Philip (Conservative, Hampstead and Kilburn) didn’t win despite clocking up 98.93% of his maximum allowance. In the case of Stephen Lloyd, the total was just over £39,700.

Ten Labour candidates have who finished second have “total spent” amounts over £30,000. These range from Michael Foster at £38,645.97 (Hastings and Rye) to Jim Kinght (South Dorset) at £31,150.55. Both are former MPs. Both have ‘total donations’ over £30,000.

For the Liberal Democrats, riding at the time a wave of optimism (oh what far away lands that all seems….), the number of candidates topping £30,000 without winning the seat in the “total spend” column is 21, over twice the Labour amount, running from Lynne Beaumont at £30,457.63 (in Folkestone and Hythe, a distant target seat at one point) and up to Martin Tod in Winchester (at a whopping £40,382.72, more than 95% his allotted total). I’ll leave these facts here, you can make up your own mind on things…

Now let us turn to the British National Party, whose focus at the time was the ‘Battle for Barking” led by leader Nick Griffin. The total spend of their candidates who registered any costs adds up to £197,771. This does not include his personal cost of £22,498.77, an amount which is three times more than the next listed BNP failed candidate. (Let’s not forget that Griffin finished third in Barking, blaming the population change of that constituency for his failure).

Another interesting factor about the BNP results has been highlighted by a political forum I visit. Forty-four candidates lodge exactly £800 “total spend”, a further 142 put down their “total spend” at bob-on £400. Is this coincidence? Was Thomas Main (Glasgow North, position 6th) as exact with his financies as David Lomas (Ashton-under-Lyne, 4th)? Was this amount handed to each candidate in non-target seats (that is, anywhere outside Barking)?

Is this very good business sense from the BNP or accounting with a lot of scribbles and unexplained approximations? Is it further coincidence that two National Front candidates – Terry Williams in Birmingham Erdington, and Paul Morris in Birmingham Yardley, also lodged £400 each “total spend” ?

The other side of the financial details deals with political parties as entities in their own right. This tells a lot about the financial health (or otherwise) of the party machines.

Simple things first, then, and that means the column marked “Total” under the heading “Payments Made”. The top 5 are:

* Conservative Party £15,588,708
* Labour Party £7,131,811
* Liberal Democrats £4,718,503
* UK Independence Party £640,877
* Green Party £318,534

This shows the immense paying power of the “mainstream” parties, diverting huge funds (by British standards) into the electoral process. For the Tories, this mammoth amount includes over £6 million on “unsolicited material”, the much more glossy and professional leaflets pushed through your doors. For Labour, who were once on the backfoot with leafleting and doorstep politics, this “unsolicited material” devoured £4.1 million, almost exactly 50% of their total expenditure.

By far the “mighty” party for leafleting – no Lib Dem worth their salt are ever without FOCUS newsletters – the total in this column is £3.05 million.

Tellingly for the Lib Dems, their total for “rallies and events” is under £100,000, whereas Labour spent 8.5 times as much. Only in one regard do the Lib Dems come out as bigger spenders than Labour – “Canvassing and Market Research”, with £12,000 the difference between near-enough half-a-million each on phonebanks. If ever there was a sign that the letterbox isn’t king, this is it. Expect such shifts and changes in electoral campaigning to continue.

Other than stretching my self-taught knowledge of Pivot Tables, where does this leave our understanding of British politics today?

One – and it’s a big one, fnarr fnarr – the amount of money dished out can be explained purely as a consequence of the election being regarded as a) close (and in the end, t’was close), and b) somehow more relevent given all MPs needed to cleanse their reputations and c) somehow more relevant given Esther Rantzen was losing in Luton South (taking of whom, £24,000 spent to finish 4th and have “ESTHER LOSES LUTON SOUTH” appear on the bottom of the BBC News screen). Okay, maybe just “a” and “b”.

The game is never outside the reach of non-party members, though it certainly seems so even under the unique circumstances of 2010. Parties are driven to the brink of bankruptcy by American-style races to the top of the spending tree, desperate to flush more members’ money into risographs and coffee mornings. The overall consequence has not been greater confidence in the political process.

It will be interesting to see what will come from two pressing economic concerns – the diminishing donations into political parties and the general attitude towards political spending. These stats could be the last of their kind…

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We’re all in this forever

James Bond and Victoria Coren make gambling look sexy. George Osborne has spun the Roulette Wheel with all the allure of knitting phlegm. His Spending Review was sprinkled with good news, in the same way a paper-cut finger wafted around a bit splatters blood on the walls.

(There will be blood on the carpet following the SR. If any LibDems are pushed into on-coming traffic there is still a chance Charles Kennendy could be called upon to top-up Osborne’s water with Islay Malt. Or cyanide).

Such is the breadth and depth of the SR that the reaction has seems breathless and confused. The BBC having its life effectively guaranteed for 6 years is news nevertheless greeted with utter incredulity. “Save The BBC!” doesn’t sound quite so logical when the review has done just that. Over the six years, a freeze is as good as a cut, so expect Match of the Day 2014 to feature unrivalled coverage of the Zamaretto Midlands League.** But still they shout it, like football fans cheering for a player they hadn’t noticed substituted (which, incidentally, reminds me of a recent Burscough game which involved a young fella continually cheering a player who wasn’t even on the bench. Oh how we laughed…).

Much as been made of the (pre-announced) proposal to remove child benefit from higher wage earners. Cue the most bizarre through-the-looking-glass political arguments in modern times. “The lowest earners in society should not fund the child benefit of the well off!” cries David Cameron. “The most well off are entitled to handouts no matter how middle class they are!” bellows Ed Miliband. If Gordon Brown’s removal of the 10p tax rate made you question the known-knowns of British politics, welcome to Kafka Plus…

The SR was neither rape upon the nation or reasoned treatment for an ill patient; the truth lies somewhere in the muddle. Over 100 pages of mindgasm explain each Department’s budget in terms Sir Humph could not disagree with. Everything is covered; from a new suspension bridge over the Mersey to a Universal Benefit (one handout to unite us, etc. and so forth). In truth, of course, no politician truly denies the scale of the problem faced by the Chancellor; the nation is in mammoth debt, and so are its people.

The Osborne Agenda is pithily labelled “ideological” by critics who, on the whole, are exactly as ideological. Union leaders dust off their placards, Labour members fill up with nostalgia for childhood lost in demonstrations and marches. Thought ideological divides in politics were dead? Welcome to the most significant divide between sides since the introduction of the Community Charge.

The review comes at the very end of what could be called “the age of entitlement”. With a benign economy, low interest rates and banks throwing mortgages and credit cards around like samples at a supermarket, it is little wonder so many millions of people took advantage. I certainly did, maxing out the credit card on long weekends and (most shamefully of all, perhaps) Domino’s pizza. But years of 100% mortgages, holidays and flatscreen televisions did not build the debt mountain bequeathed by Labour; the two tales of national and personal debt run parallel, and one is disguised as an elephant. The demise of Woolworths, near demise of Wedgewood, epic scales of economic catastrophe across all the professional football leagues; they too wore the elephant suits. There are only so many ‘known knowns’ we dare acknowledge, no?

The review touches us all. With such drastic cuts in local council funding – council tax frozen for at least one year, though not necessarily across the country I suspect, notice the Sir Humph lexicon in the Report – every library, swimming pool and elderly care centre will suffer from the sharp pencil. Councils may learn from this sharp slap across the buttocks, scrapping the ‘non jobs’ which soak up so much money. “Audience development officer” for £30 grand a year? £19,000 a year is a decent enough wage for anyone – but for a “street football co-ordinator”? Does it sound patronising to draw attention to these jobs, or instructive? Is this another trip through the looking glass? When the Daily Mail covered the “non-job” story, a council spokesperson explained that money was spent on “everything from lollipop ladies to librarians”. Good, how it should be, and unfortunately such roles may be curtailed by the council funding slash-and-burn. There is something rotten with the system if – and, alas, I am not making this up – “teeth cleansing instructors” are on the Town Hall payroll.

Within the lifetime of this fixed-term parliament – if we ever get there – the Spending Review will soak into our wallets, our skin, get under our hair, interrupt our phonecalls with a high-pitched noise like a cat being tickled by an ovengloved hand. The size, depth and generosity of the welfare state must be tackled. Ditto the inexorable pouring of Government borrowing. And the size, nature and behaviour of our police force in their ‘war with fear’ must be altered. In short, the Coalition are tasked with achieving reform through force; it doesn’t make me feel easy or comfortable, but neither do Northern Rail’s damp and frosty Pacers and I have to put up with them too….

**You thought it didn’t exist, eh?

cabbages and kings

This is how it must feel for Gibraltar’s young new athletics hope, having saved up his own money for the trip to Beijing, only to finish last in the only qualifying heat in which he was to take part. It would take self flagellation on a Catholic scale not to feel some sense of achievement.

So, anyhoo, knowing that self-praise is no praise at all, I am happy to report nonetheless that people at work are giving me that kind of congratulations-mixed-with-bemusement on news that, somehow, I have stretched £13.48 across the four weeks of November. By a muddling together of colleagues’ generous donations, late night perusal of reduced-to-clear shelves, and walking the 5 miles to work (and back), in addition to a 40-day “dry spell” without any booze, the money has made it all the way to pay day week with 45p to my name.

As I made clear in the other posts on my temporary financial flux (see below), throughout this period I have not wanted to appear as some “poverty tourist”. At times this period from mid-October to this week has been very humbling, difficult, tiring, but not once did I feel as though mine was the worst lot of all. That I could walk three streets from my front door to people whose financial situations are far deeper and far more permanent than mine impressed upon me just how lucky I am that, in time, my situation would be resolved.

In my experience, the talk-show cliché “you think it would never happen to you: and then it does”, has had its truth shown in the weeks where so many previous months of easy spending and impulse buying seemed to have no consequence at all. I cannot claim to be immune from future foul-ups, although I dare say I will never again fall into such deep problems. However I wonder how many people are out there, possibly on no more significant take home pay than me, who assume the national economic mess is of no consequence or significance to them?

This weekend, my temporary struggle against budgetary constraints will come to a close. Just in time for Christmas, too, well done Fate, good timing. I have the proof that my bank took three days before taking out the one final big spend from October, the catalyst for all this mess. I will take a lot of lessons from this. I don’t know quite what will happen after not having any booze for 40 days: maybe my next series of posts will focus on the scientific proof that one pint can knock a grown man sideways…

Previous posts on this subject –
*no money, no excuses
*Pennywise
*Climbing out of recession

Climbing out of recession

Previous posts – No Money, No Excuses Pennywise

Like Earl Hickey, I have made a list. Topping the list is my usual November pay-day wage, a four-figure sum. From there is subtracted the final installment of the Inland Revenue’s required payment, various bank charges, rent, and utility bills. As currently calculated my budget for the remainder of this month is around £50.

As described in the earlier posts on this subject, I am acutely aware of how this financial situation, tough as it may be, is a temporary measure. That it involves such an extreme drop from one figure to the other is unusual but not unique.

It is one resulting from earlier errors now rectified and learned from.

There are people possibly no further from my house than two streets away whose financial state is far deeper and harder than mine. However if something has really come to the centre of my mind these past few weeks it has been just how easy it can be for a person to remain at the foot of a steep financial mountain despite their best efforts. I am more aware than I was last month, on a three-week budget of seven pounds, of how best to make the money last; and I cannot ignore the words from my boss who reminded me how her generation often had to make very little go a very long way.

What has angered me more than usual during this period is the continued availability of ‘easy money’, even with the recession so deep and long-lasting, and the nation’s banks under such scrutiny. Plans to tighten up credit card terms are to be broadly welcomed although any forced increase in minimum payments must, surely, take into consideration the ‘death spiral’ into which people fall when forced to pay more than they can afford. Again, I have to make clear that the depth into which people fall is largely their own fault – “guns don’t kill people, people do” – however it does not take long to see how the banks and credit card companies encouraged quick loans and easy credit when times were good with little regard to the long term consequences.

One particular consequence from banks having to almost stop the availability of loans and easy credit is the continuation of loan companies advertising and door-knocking to entice the already vulnerable into contracts they cannot possibly afford. This really gets to me now that I can appreciate just how easy it can be to fall from a complacent attitude to spending into a very tight and tough financial hardship.

One company I caught advertising during a daytime cookery show yesterday – I won’t name them – used a plain looking model pretending to be a housewife talking in glowing terms about getting same day “top ups” to her wages, in easy to afford amounts for paying back at her convenience. The terms and conditions printed in very small text along the bottom of the screen confirmed nothing more strenuous than a valid e-mail address would suffice for identity. Its APR – the rate of repayment, a good indication of the relationship between the end amount you pay with the amount originally loaned – was quoted as 2,356%. Two thousand, three hundred, and fifty-six percent.

I am confident that my attitude to money and spending will be all the better from my experiences last month and this. I remain, however, concerned and indeed marked by this period as a time when I could see far clearer than before how much must be done by government, banks, and financial institutions, to stop the culture of cheap money and spending without consequence. The financial meltdown will not end at the behest of bored journalists looking for a new scandal to type up: people who remain at the bottom of the pile because of our deep, dark recession may be suffering for decades to come, leaving that as the real legacy of our elected representatives’ drive to “end the era of boom and bust”.

backstory – moshpit

Manchester, night. Far too many stories could start this way, I concede. Platforms 13/14, waiting for the last train of the night, so-called ‘vomit rocket’ among train staff. To be specific, then; Manchester, night, in a bar with complete strangers.

To being with, most of what happened on this particular night has been long since sorted out and forgotten. Misunderstanding and on my part perhaps too much exasperation rather than reasoned questioning. I did stay for about an hour, crouched and cross-legged, with a bit of a sulk, but otherwise looking like a drug-dealer whose sitting down was far more subtle a positioning than standing-up, active and obvious. Who was I there to review, originally? I forget. I shook the hand of one of the band’s members, who looked like Preston College’s former SU head, hair all over the place like fireworks, only black.

Before this, then, the strangers, of whom I counted four. Two of them I cannot bring to mind at all, I just know they existed. One bloke was clearly gay without ever saying anything to prove it; the fact just sat alongside him, unremarked. The woman was quite attractive, and funny, with the dry irony preferred by indie-kids. We made refuge in her (or their?) flat, eating pasta. I used up all my usual jokes and anecdotes until the problem on the door. Like me they had names on lists, open doors, pleased-to-see-yous. But all this has been sorted, now. I had been a little angrier than I should, all told. In the drizzle, on the street-corner, I must have looked like a runaway, only one with a mobile phone.

If not this story, then “Manchester, night”, could introduce the walk I had to make from the Academy to the Roadhouse with one leg of my jeans torn knee-to-boot. Without any context the image must have been totally hilarious, or else the effects of a fight. I had, in fact, been reviewing (I always say this, as though I am an inspector. I’ve heard other journalists say “assignment”, which doesn’t do it for me. “Other journalists”, have you heard?).

Alexisonfire, it was, and a very good gig it was too. I would go on to interview Dallas Green, who was attractively geeky and deadpan. The kids around me were a bit of a muddle, though. Some had clearly not revised how best to act at gigs, so did their best to be violent. I can hold my ground very well – many a bus and train commute behind me – so am not pushed to either side very easily despite my frame. I fold my arms, hold tight. Some gave up ultimately, watching the gig through their mobile phones, or muttering something about me while barging their way to the front by other means. At some point there was a foothold made, a successful push ahead, resulting in a small tear to my jeans, opened up like a wound within minutes. I walked out to the streets as proud and unaffected as a man could with one jeans-leg tied into his sock.

(Incidental memory – Fightstar, who I have seen three times now, Preston. Not much drink inside me. Actual moshpit ‘action’ is not my scene, all things considered, but close proximity can often suck you in like tiny flecks of hair sucked down the plughole after shaving. I left with bruises and a stolen hoodie, lost in the clump of shirtless men and angry, grit-teethed girls with sharp-fringes)

This is not entirely about how this old man has grown awfully cynical about the behaviour of younger people at gigs, although there is something to be said. To show that even folk like me get things wrong, I could either make reference to the night I nearly fainted during a Jack Penate gig (that is, at the gig, not at him); or when my jeans fell down during Coheed and Cambria.

But never violent. To my memory. Yet.

helicopter

Gordon Brown is mad. This much we have established. On the subject of helicopters provided to our troops in Afghanistan he is both mad and deluded. Bob Ainsworth – our man at the Defense Ministry reportedly nicknamed “Bob Ain’t Worth It” by senior miltary types – is clearly just as unable to grasp the issue seriously. There are not enough helicopters in Afghanistan, that much is clear. All this “60% increase” nonsense is playing with numbers – the amount of troops and the increase in helicopters do not match.

Calls for more equipment seem to fly over the head of Brown. At the Liason Committee earlier this week – minutes of which do not seem to be easily at hand – he refused even to answer the simple question about whether a request for more troops was made. Any straight answer is seen as a potential trap for Gordon Brown, that much is frank and obvious. He cannot give a straight answer in case the truth trips him up, it’s almost paranoia. Maybe it is.

This time last year the Times reported on one of the Ministry of Defences many cock-ups – £500m wasted on Chinooks stuck in a warehouse in Cambridgeshire warehouse. Are these dust-covered helicopters counted among the increase in equipment supply I wonder?

Gordon Brown was quite rightly put on the ropes by David Cameron on the subject of public spending – everyone but Brown it seems is smart enough to realise that taxes will have to increase to deal with the £700bn (and counting) public debt wrapped around our neck by our one-time Chancellor. Now Cameron, and Nick Clegg, are triumphing over Gordon again.

Brown has never done a decent thing in his entire political career. Just one thing will save his reputation – calling a general election. Everyone – from our soldiers in Aghanistan to low-paid workers suffering under the abolition of the 10p tax rate – deserves better than Labour.