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Changes to political finance laws recommended, to improve transparency and confidence in elections

Published: 14 Nov 2017

The Electoral Commission has called for changes to the law to further improve transparency and strengthen confidence in the UK’s political finance rules, in a report published today on political finance regulation at the general election. Also published today are the campaign expenditure returns of political parties and registered non-party campaigners that spent £250,000 or less campaigning at the 2017 UK Parliamentary general election (UKPGE) and details of candidates’ spending and donations.

Political finance regulation at the June 2017 UK general election

The Commission reports that most candidates, political parties and non-party campaigners have complied with the rules on campaigning at the UK parliamentary general election.

Candidates, political parties and non-party campaigners made significant use of digital campaigning in this election, providing new opportunities for campaigners to engage voters, but the report also identifies risks to transparency. Commission recommendations include:

  • Online campaign material produced by political parties and non-party campaigners should – like its printed equivalent – be required to include an imprint stating who has published it. This would enable voters to identify who is spending money trying to influence them at elections.
  • Campaigners should be required to report more detailed breakdowns of spending, including different types of advertising such as online and social media promotion.

The Commission also continues to recommend that its investigative and sanctioning powers at major elections should be extended to include offences relating to candidate spending and donations.

Sir John Holmes, Chair of the Electoral Commission, said:

“Most candidates, parties and campaigners comply with the rules. However, failures to comply can reduce transparency and damage voters’ confidence in elections, which is why breaches must be dealt with effectively. We want to work with the UK’s governments and legislatures to ensure further transparency about spending on digital and online campaigns, and to reassure voters accordingly. These changes should be in place ahead of the next scheduled national elections.”

The report can be viewed in full here.

General election campaign spending returns of less than £250,000

Seventy five political parties stood candidates at the 2017 UK general election.

During the regulated period which ran from 9 June 2016 to polling day on Thursday 8 June 2017:

  • Twenty-four parties in Great Britain reported spending a total of £189,948 on campaigning. A further twenty-nine parties submitted nil returns and four parties failed to submit any expenditure returns by the deadline.
  • Eleven parties in Northern Ireland reported spending a total of £118,071
  • Seventeen non-party campaigners from across the UK submitted returns to the Commission totalling £1,864,599.

Seven political parties spent more than £250,000 campaigning at the general election. These parties have until 8 December 2017 to submit an independently audited return to the Commission. The Commission will publish this information early next year.

The tables below show the ten political parties, of those whose returns are published today, with the highest reported campaign expenditure. The second table shows reported spending by non-party campaigners whose returns are published today.

Table 1: Top 10 political parties in Great Britain that reported spending of less than £250,000

Party Name

Expenditure

Plaid Cymru

£105,656

Co-operative Party

£40,078

National Health Action Party

£13,284

Christian Peoples Alliance

£8,844

Humanity

£4,255

The Radical Party

£3,814

Animal Welfare Party

£3,147

Scotland's Independence Referendum Party

£1,575

Scottish Green Party

£1,368

Blue Revolution

£1,077

Figures for spending by political parties in Northern Ireland can be seen here

Table 2: non-party campaigners

Non-Party Campaigner Name

Expenditure

League Against Cruel Sports (UK) Limited

£226,414

Unite the Union

£213,014

National Association of Schoolmaster Union of Women Teachers (campaign name: NASUWT The Teachers' Union)

£210,317

UNISON

£187,848

Mr Henry Porter

£160,728

Compass

£139,290

HOPE not hate Ltd

£125,837

People's Assembly Against Austerity

£104,504

Open Britain Ltd

£91,980

Britain Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)

£76,385

Scotland In Union

£73,818

The World Transformed

£60,590

Referendum Facts

£43,982

Friends of the Earth Trust

£43,385

Communication Workers Union

£40,164

Momentum

£38,743

Jeremy J Hosking

£27,600

Reported spend by non-party campaigners at the general election totals more than £1.8 million to date, illustrating why it is important that there are rules about their funding and spending to ensure transparency for voters.

In addition to the overall expenditure, political parties and non-party campaigners allocate all spending against one of nine categories. Details by category, as well as copies of individual invoices and receipts can be found on the Commission’s website here.

Candidate donations and spending figures

The Commission has also today published a spreadsheet outlining the total spent by candidates who stood at the 2017 general election which can be found here

3,304 Parliamentary candidates contested the general election on 8 June 2017 in Great Britain, spending a total of £13,736,184.69.

Each candidate at the election was required to submit a spending return to the Returning Officer for their constituency no later than 35 days after the declaration of the result. Each of these returns is available for public inspection by contacting the relevant Returning Officer.

Enforcement

Failure to comply with political finance laws can reduce transparency for voters and confidence that an election was well run. It is therefore important that when breaches occur they are dealt with robustly and effectively.

Six political parties failed to deliver their expenditure returns by the statutory deadline of 8 September, and are under investigation. A further two campaigners are under investigation for potentially incomplete spending returns. We continue to review the spending returns for compliance with the rules.

Parties and non-party campaigners that may not have complied with the reporting rules are considered in line with the Electoral Commission’s enforcement policy which is available on our website here. We publish details of all sanctions on a monthly basis here.

Ends

For more information please contact:

Electoral Commission press office on 020 7271 0704, press@electoralcommission.org.uk
Out of office hours 07789 920414

Notes to editors

1. The Electoral Commission is the independent body which oversees elections and regulates political finance in the UK. It works to promote public confidence in the democratic process and ensure its integrity by:

  • enabling the delivery of free and fair elections and referendums, focusing on the needs of electors and addressing the changing environment to ensure every vote remains secure and accessible
  • regulating political finance – taking proactive steps to increase transparency, ensure compliance and pursue breaches
  • using our expertise to make and advocate for changes to our democracy, aiming to improve fairness, transparency and efficiency

The Commission was set up in 2000 and reports to the UK and Scottish Parliaments.

2. The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (2000) introduced controls on campaign expenditure by political parties contesting UK Parliamentary elections. Political parties and non-party campaigners that spent £250,000 or less were required to submit their returns by 8 September 2017. Parties with expenditure over £250,000 must deliver an audited report to the Commission within six months of the election.

3. The seven political parties submitting returns over £250,000 are the Conservative Party, the Green Party, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party (SNP), UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the Women’s Equality Party. Two non-party campaigners, Best for Britain and the National Union of Teachers, are expected to submit audited returns of over £250,000.

4. Non-party campaigners must register with the Commission before they can spend more than £20,000 on campaigning in England, or £10,000 in any of Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland and are required to submit an expenditure return if they campaigned and spent over these sums of money at the UK Parliamentary General election.

5. Figures in this press release are rounded to the nearest £.

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