Nick Palmer writes: First, apologies – I need to cancel the discussion of Europe on Sunday: I hope to return to the issue at a later date.
Various constituents have asked about the Daily Mirror story alleging possible illegal spending by the Conservatives to win support in the General Election – for those who missed the story, it’s here.
It’s not in dispute that the Conservatives made up for the shortage of local campaigners by bussing in a large team to a series of marginal seats. The question is whether the payment of hotel expenses for people on a national bus who say they’re campaigning for a local candidate should be counted as local spending or national spending. If the former, then the spending limit has potentially been breached in a number of constituencies. If the latter, then the law needs to be looked at again, since it would be an obvious gap.
The reason this matters is that the spending limits are the only that we are able to avoid the US situation developing, in which only the very rich or people with very rich friends can normally compete. The Conservative Party has a very substantial advantage in financial resources, which they are currently reinforcing by changing the law to reduce Labour’s income from trade unions, as well as reducing the money paid to all Opposition parties for policy research..
Personally, I’d like to see much lower spending limits at a national level, balanced by an opportunity for each party to present its programme on TV in some detail. That’s how they do it in Denmark – each party gets half an hour to put its ideas forward, followed by 45 minutes of searching questions on the details by a panel of independent experts. The larger parties don’t get more time (though their broadcasts are closer to election day): it’s their responsibility to see that their ideas stand up to scrutiny without getting special treatment. In these days of Euro-debate, it’s worth noting that other countries sometimes do things better!