Meanwhile, on my Side of the Ocean

Posted on April 2, 2008. Filed under: Politics | Tags: |

Last week, I posted about the crazy level of funding and the incredible amount of time that is ploughed into an American Presidential election campaign. The reason I was looking at that in the first place is that here in London we’re having our own executive election soon, for the country’s only elected mayor. We don’t have a TV in the flat, and I don’t read the free morning or evening papers that are practically thrown at the populace getting on the Tube, but it occurred to me I hadn’t heard a huge amount about the campaigns of any of the main parties. I know who’s running (because that’s a celebrity as well as political issue), but I haven’t heard any policy decisions from anyone, nor what any candidate is running on. It’s not as if we don’t get news, we have t’Internet (three cheers anyone?) and the radio for that. It turns out that campaigning here is just a shorter, and slightly less expensive action.

Dropping the Mayoral election by the way side, the electoral campaign for Parliament (some of the representatives of which comprise the Executive, and all of of which comprise the legislature) has only vague time limits, but tight spending limits. I get this information from a series of leaflets published by Parliament by way of dreadpiraterachel, who recently went to a conference at Westminster. Particularly interesting is the short section on campaigns, especially since there have been rumblings here over the last 2 years about the funding of political parties. This includes a police investigation, and the resignation of a fairly well respected MP to face allegations of improper financial conduct for a short internal campaign he recently ran.

A General Election is called by the Prime Minister anything up to 5 years after a parliament first forms, and during the campaign for the new elections, all previously occupied seats are emptied. Although the sitting MP will continue to do their work as well as campaigning, this necessarily speeds up the election, and campaigns generally run for 3 weeks. Given this, and the fact that there are currently 646 seats in the house, you can imagine a campaign would cost a lot of money. In fact, current legislation limits the amount a single party can spend in the year leading up to a campaign. Currently this would be £19.77 million for a party that was contesting every seat in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.

Interestingly, parties themselves tend to fund candidates, although they can raise money through other means. The current limit for an urban ‘borough’ seat is £7,150 + 5p per registered voter in the seat, and £7,150 + 7p per voter in a rural ‘county’ seat.

For me, it’s interesting that the limits here are so tightly set, yet comparatively unknown to the average voter, especially since money is such a big issue in the US Presidential election. It seems the government has gotten this thing more right than not here (although party funding itself is a whole other story, for someone else to cover ;->).

I just thought I’d jot down the information as it makes an interesting contrast. Anyone any thoughts?

PS as a subnote, the leaflet on elections here contains this fantastic Q&A (copyright of the Crown):
What influence does an election campaign have?
Despite the millions of pounds spent on campaigning, evidence suggests that the majority of votes have decided how they will vote before the election campaign begins and few people are influenced by what they read or hear.

If this is the case, why do parties bother?

Well quite.


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