New tool reveals stark differences in general election candidates’ spending
PUBLISHED: 16:57 28 May 2020
The Electoral Commission has announced a new tool regarding last year’s general election, revealing stark differences in the spending of the four candidates for the Saffron Walden constituency.
The tool allows users to see and compare Saffron Walden candidates’ donations and spending during the 2019 UK parliamentary general election.
According to the Electoral Commission, the independent UK body overseeing elections and regulating political finance, this “provides greater transparency into how candidates spent money to influence voters”.
The website reveals that the biggest spending in Saffron Walden was the Liberal Democrat candidate Mike Hibbs’ at £7,273. Mr Hibbs came second in the 2019 election with 12,120 votes (19 percent of total votes), after coming third in the 2017 general election with 8,528 votes.
Mike Hibbs’ spending was closely followed by the Conservative candidate Kemi Badenoch’s at £7,194, who is the current MP for the Saffron Walden constituency, after winning again in last year’s elections with 2,085 more votes than in 2017 – taking her support to 39,714 residents (63 percent of votes).
The two candidates each spent more than the average candidate spending reported to the Electoral Commission, which was £4,923 across the United Kingdom.
The other two candidates in last year’s general election spent well below the national average, with £2,311 spent by Labour candidate Thomas van de Bilt, and £1,551 spent by the Green Party candidate, Coby Wing.
Mr van de Bilt came third with 8,305 votes (13 percent), followed by Mrs Wing with 2,947 votes (just under five percent).
The new tool allows people to see what the money was spent on – for example, MP Kemi Badenoch spent £1,023 on “paid staff time”, which includes any agent fees.
The same search criterion reveals no money was spent by the other candidates on this matter.
An Electoral Commission spokesperson told the Reporter that the money can come from various sources, such as donations, crowdfunding and a party’s local branch.
They also said that, to see who donated to a candidate, people have to visit the council in person and view the returns there – an “out-of-date law” they would like to see changed.
This newspaper submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to Uttlesford District Council, to find out how each party has funded their campaign in the Saffron Walden constituency.
The “permissible donors” for the Conservative campaign are listed as the current MP for Saffron Walden, Kemi Badenoch, as well as the Saffron Walden Constituency Association, Christian Criscione and the Conservative Campaign Headquarters - but Mr Criscione, district councillor and new local Conservatives leader, who was Mrs Badenoch’s election agent, said the local Conservatives “rarely, if ever, take donations from people outside the local area.”
He explained the reason why he is down as a donor is because he donated time for Mrs Badenoch’s campaign, with an estimated value of £500. With regards to the MP’s presence on the list of donors, he said “the reason she is down as a donor is because she campaigned through her website and spent money on it” - but said it was a “minor amount”, “something like £25”.
A spokesperson for Kemi Badenoch said the MP’s direct spending during the election period was approximately £64, and that this was declared in the return made by the election agent.
“Kemi has always paid for her website herself, rather than claim the cost from the taxpayer.
“However, during an election period, if election messages are posted on it, then it must be included as an expense,” the spokesperson said.
Three donors are listed for the Liberal Democrat campaign: the Saffron Walden Constituency Liberal Demorats, Melvin Caton and Antoinette Wattebot - the Lib Dem candidate for Felsted and Stebbing in last year’s district election.
Liberal Democrat district councillor for Stansted South and Birchanger, Melvin Caton, who was the Lib Dem’s election agent in the general election, said he donated in Stansted and Ms Wattebot donated in Thaxted.
“The way we deal with it is, people donate to the local party and the local party donates money to the agent,” Cllr Caton said, adding:
“I have to tell the national party if anyone donates over £500, and that is declared.”
For the Labour campaign, eight donors were listed, including candidate Tom van de Bilt’s family members, and local Labour members and supporters – among them, Books Express, a small Saffron Walden-based bookseller and publishing house ran by Labour member John Evans, and Peter Donovan, a retired publisher who was Mr van de Bilt’s predecessor as constituency secretary.
Speaking for this newspaper, Tom van de Bilt, who is also a Stansted parish councillor, said: “In terms of the overall spend, it’s clear that Labour nationally could not match the Tories’ big donors, so the party had to focus resources on realistic target seats.
“We ran a people-powered campaign, relying on the skills and enthusiasm of our volunteers, which is substantial. We had no premises, the election headquarters was my house. We had no staffing costs, my agent was a volunteer, our video production, graphic design and social media were by volunteers.”
The Greens had the biggest number of listed donors. 13 people appear on the FOI document, the vast majority of whom donated through an online crowdfunder. Party members such as Edward Gildea and Saffron Walden Town Councillor Trilby Roberts are on the list.
“We would love if all parties would not be allowed to receive a lot of money from both businesses and individuals, because I don’t think you should be allowed to buy power,” Mr Gildea said, adding:
“I wouldn’t give our democracy above five [on a scale from one to 10] and a lot of that has got to do with the power of businesses, and businesses who lobby politicians.”
Data regarding money spent during last year’s general election, which is said to have been collected by returning officers and candidates, can be found on https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/.
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