The cost of votes: from Spock's ears to bespoke suits

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Indy Politics

Labour and the Conservatives spent nearly £1.3m on political advisers in the run up to the last general election, according to party accounts.

Labour poured £755,964 into advice and polling from backroom strategists. Most of it - £530,375 - went for polling and consultancy by the American-based company Penn Schoen and Berland, run by the pollster Mark Penn, the former Clinton administration adviser who coined Labour's election slogan "Forward not Back".

Alastair Campbell, the former Downing Street communications chief, charged £47,000 for four months' work while Mr Blair's personal pollster, Philip Gould, was paid £143,000.

Detailed election returns show the Conservatives paid £441,000 to Lynton Crosby, the Australian electoral tactician, for being the mastermind behind Michael Howard's campaign. The party also paid nearly £100,000 to the political strategist Rupert Darwall, a former adviser to Norman Lamont. The accounts show the Conservatives also spent £308,000 on tracker polls and £43,000 on focus groups.

The full election accounts of the three main parties were opened up to the media yesterday by the Electoral Commission, the independent watchdog that oversees party spending. Details contained in hundreds of pages of receipts filling 25 ring binders give an astonishing account of the millions of pounds poured by the parties into everything from morning croissants to novelty costumes for actors to hound rival parties.

The accounts, revealed in the wake of the "cash-for-peerages" affair, give the first full insight into where the millions of pounds in election expenditure went, and will fuel opposition to state funding of politics.

Labour spent £17.9m during the campaign, closely followed by the Conservatives, who dispensed £17.8m. The Liberal Democrats spent £4.3m.

But the detailed accounts show that the Conservatives spent nearly £900,000 on direct mail supporting their campaigns on immigration, while Labour poured £131,000 into the production of its party election broadcasts. The accounts also show the mundane and eccentric expenses of elections. Labour, for example, spent more than £374,000 on John Prescott's battle bus, including £75,000 for converting the £264,000 luxury coach. Michael Howard's 18-seat helicopter cost £250,000.

The Conservatives spent £3,500 hiring two groundhog suits - specially imported from America - so activists could stand outside Labour's press conferences a few doors away when journalists arrived.

Labour's returns, by contrast, include £299 for five Star Trek suits, used for activists to follow the Tory frontbencher John Redwood - nicknamed the Vulcan. The Government car and despatch agency billed Labour £61,000 for Tony Blair to travel in his official car, including £53.46 to ferry him from No 10 to Buckingham Palace on the day the general election was called. The bill included two hours' waiting.

The Conservatives paid £67,000 to a California-based internet company, Cause-America Branding, for one million e-mail addresses of voters in British marginal seats, selected according to postcode.

The fee included feedback to Conservative Central Office telling co-ordinators whether each e-mail had been opened, if the political broadcast it contained had been opened and whether the e-mail had been forwarded to other addresses.

After it was revealed last week that Labour had paid £7,700 for the celebrity hair stylist Andre Suard to coif Cherie Blair for 28 days during the campaign, the accounts also cast light on Conservative hairdressing policy.

An invoice from the London salon Hugh & Stephen reveals that Sandra Howard, the former Tory leader's wife, spent £65 on having her hair done for the wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles. Her husband, meanwhile spent £3,638.35 on make-up, while not to be outdone, the then Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy spent £4,800 on suits and ties and £355 at a "bespoke shirt-maker".

Peter Kilfoyle, the Labour MP for Liverpool Walton, said: "You have to ask what is the value for money from this. The £700,000 that went to Labour's advisers would have paid for £1,000 in every constituency. It could have paid for an election address to every household."

Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, said: "If we are going to see Labour and the Tories spend so much on trivia ... they are not the best people to run the country. Charles Kennedy will still be wearing his suits after the election."

The beneficiaries

ALASTAIR CAMPBELL

The former director of communications returned two years after his resignation to run Labour's election communications. A former political editor of the Daily Mirror and Today newspapers, Mr Campbell, 48, became Tony Blair's spokesman in 1994. He played a crucial role in the 1997 election win but he was also blamed for Labour's "culture of spin". He was questioned by the Hutton inquiry over the Dr David Kelly affair.

MARK PENN

A Harvard-educated pollster who used to advise Bill Clinton, Penn coined Labour's slogan "Forward Not Back". His US-based company has advised corporations such as BP, Coca-Cola, McDonald's and American Express, putting "the lessons learnt on the campaign trail into the boardroom". The company claims to have helped to elect "a US president and more than 20 foreign heads of state". Also advises Hillary Clinton.

LYNTON CROSBY

The mastermind of four consecutive election victories in Australia for the right-winger John Howard, Mr Crosby was hired by Michael Howard in autumn 2004 to improve the party's prospects last summer. The 49-year-old PR man has a record of ruthless and inflammatory tactics, particularly on immigration issues. He introduced a system where the author of the day's best press release stood up and took a bow.

RUPERT DARWALL

The strategy consultant, who is a director of the Reform think-tank, was special advisor to Norman Lamont when he was Chancellor. He attacked Iain Duncan Smith's Tories in 2002 for obsessing over the party's image and relying on "children" at Central Office to draw up strategy and tactics. Employed by David Davis, David Cameron's defeated leadership rival, to draft speeches and newspaper articles last year.

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