Politics: Tories spent more than pounds 20m in run-up to the election

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CONSERVATIVE spending in the run-up to the general election was more than pounds 28m, it was revealed last night, including almost pounds 10m in the last month.

But record donations of pounds 38m meant the party ended the 1996-7 financial year in the black. Despite election spending well in advance of Labour, which managed pounds 27m over the two and a half years leading to 1 May last year, the Tories had a pounds 7m surplus in March, 1997.

The party's annual report and accounts, published last night, does not give any list of its donors, large or small. Lord Parkinson, the party chairman, said that even by the end of the election campaign it had just about managed to break even. It would be "to some extent an intrusion" if political parties had their national spending on elections limited, he added. The Central Office accounts revealed the party had a "record surplus" of pounds 7.4m at the end of the party's financial year which closed on 31 March , just before the final weeks of the election.

But, Lord Parkinson said, if the accounts had run to 1 May itself, "the picture would have been totally different. In the ... next six weeks, that cash disappeared. Six weeks to the general election had consumed most of our cash. In the course of the six weeks after this, a further pounds 10m was spent, which brought the cost of the general election to pounds 28.3m," he said. He predicted Labour would announce it had spent "something like pounds 25m".

He also confirmed the Tories' total election bill included paying pounds 13m to the advertising company M & C Saatchi.

Given the result on 1 May and Labour's crushing election victory, Lord Parkinson joked: "I think M & C Saatchi had a good election."

Labour last night responded to the Tory accounts by calling for the party to say how it managed to find so much money to fight the election campaign. A senior Labour spokesman said: "Two years before the election, the Tories had a debt of nearly pounds 20m. Now they tell us that in the run-up to the election, they spent pounds 28m. So where did they get the pounds 48m from? That is a monumental sum. They clearly have something very serious to hide."

Labour publishes details of its major donors, and the Liberal Democrats have announced plans to do so.

Lord Neill is looking at the issue as part of a review of party funding.