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General Election 2015 explained: Who finances the parties, who gets the most - and how much does the campaign cost?

Continuing our daily miscellany celebrating the facts, figures and folklore of British general elections

Friday 17 April 2015 21:23 BST
Pound coins
Pound coins (Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

No.6 Finance


The 2010 general election

Cost £113,255,271 of public money to administer – an increase of nearly 60 per cent on 2005 and more than twice as much as in 2001. Just over a quarter – £28,655,271 – was spent on distributing candidates’ mailings,

Returning Officers’ expenses came to £71,613,784.

Before 1918, Returning Officers’ administrative costs were paid (collectively) by the candidates in their constituency. Had such a system been in place in 2010, candidates would have faced an average bill of £27,290.

Actual spending

These figures above do not include a further £45.5m spent by individual candidates and national parties. Of this, the parties spent about £31.5m and the candidates about £14m. A further £3m was spent by registered third parties.

Of the £31.5m spent by parties, £16.7m was spent by the Conservatives, £8 m by Labour, and £4.8m by the Liberal Democrats.

Just under a third – £9,095,766 – was spent on advertising, while £821,054 was spent on PRESS CONFERENCES.

This was less than in 2005, when party expenditure totalled £42.3m.

In real terms, expenditure on elections was far higher in the 19th century than it is today, because of the cost of bribing and treating electors. In the 1860s, the average cost of each vote, adjusted for inflation, was around £60, while campaign spending in the 1880 general election – in real terms – exceeded £100m.

Spending limits

Expenditure by parties and candidates is restricted during a general election campaign period. The campaign proper began on 30 March, but there is also a “long campaign” period of up to a year during which campaign spending is regulated as well. For political parties, this regulated period began on 23 May 2014; for non-party campaigners, it began on 19 September 2014; and for candidates began on 19 December 2014.

Candidates were allowed to spend up to £30,700 during the long campaign (plus 9p per elector for county constituencies and 6p per elector in borough constituencies). For the short campaign, a separate limit applies: £8,700 (plus 9p or 6p per elector).


A total of £65,654,486 was donated to UK political parties in 2014. Of this, £20,326,862 was received in the final quarter of the year.

In 2014 the main political parties accepted the following donations:

Conservatives: £28,930,508;

Labour: £18,747,702;

Liberal Democrats: £8,221,771; Ukip: £3,847,474;

SNP: £3,772,594;

Co-operative Party: £843,557;

Green: £661,410

Plaid Cymru: £184,585

Nearly £2.5m was given to parties during the first week of the election campaign proper, from 30 March to 5 April.

The main recipients were:

Labour: £1.89m;

Conservatives: £501,85;

Ukip: £35,416;

Liberal Democrats: £20,000;

Co-operative Party: £13,792;

Green: £8,400


Political parties are allowed to accept donations and loans only if they come from a “permissible source”. That is: an individual registered on a UK electoral register (including bequests); or a UK registered company, partnership or unincorporated association that carries on business in the UK; a Great Britain registered political party; or a UK registered trade union, building society or friendly society.

There are no rules limiting the amount of money that individuals may give, as long as the donation is declared and the donor is permissible. It is the amount that parties may spend that is limited.

The biggest donors in the final quarter of 2014 were:

UNISON (£1,384,289 to Labour);

Unite the Union (£1,336,570 to Labour);

GMB (£1,088,810 to Labour);

Michael D Gooley (£500,000 to the Conservatives);

Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (£416,872 to Labour);

Max Batley (£400,000 to the Liberal Democrats);

Rock Services Ltd (£394,254 to Ukip);

PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP (£386,605 to Labour);

Lord Glendonbrook (£334,000 to the Conservatives);

David J Rowland (£322,700 to the Conservatives).


At the end of 2014, the UK’s political parties had loans worth just under £13m between them; credit facilities (such as overdrafts) worth just under £6.2m; and connected transactions (such as guarantees) worth £40,000.

At the end of December 2014, Electoral Commission figures showed that Labour owed around £10.75m. The Conservatives owed £1.1m, with credit facilities for a further £5.5m. The Liberal Democrats owed around £414,000 with credit facilities for a further £572,500.

According to information released under the Freedom of Information Act, last summer

£2,670.65 had been owed for 90 days of more for unpaid Commons bar and restaurant bills. Twenty-eight MPs were responsible for the outstanding balances.


Opposition parties receive a certain amount of state funding (known as Short Money after the former Leader of the Commons, Edward Short), while all parties receive Policy Development Grants from the Electoral Commission.

Amounts vary according to the parties’ degrees of representation in Parliament.

Since 1 April 2014. Opposition Parties have been eligible for £16,689.13 for every seat won at the last general election, plus £33.33 for every 200 votes the party received.

Short Money received by the various parties in 2014-15:

Labour: £6,684,794.15 (including £777,538.48 towards the costs of the Leader of the Opposition’s office);

Democratic Unionist Party: £166,249.65;

Green Party: £66,019.67;

Plaid Cymru: £79,858.37; Social Democratic and Labour Party: £70,528.29;

Scottish National Party: £187,294.34.

The Liberal Democrats had received an average of £1,418,191.18 a year in Short Money in the decade prior to entering Government – and have received none since.


Parties with at least two MPs who have taken the oath of allegiance are eligible for a share of grants of up to £2m a year (administered by the Electoral Commission) to “assist in developing policies for inclusion in manifestos for elections”.


Since 1918, candidates in parliamentary elections have had to make a financial deposit. The original deposit amount was £150 (about £4,500 at today’s values). Candidates who polled fewer than 12.5 per cent of the votes cast would lose their deposits. This threshold was reduced to 5 per cent in 1985, when the size of the deposit was set at £500.

The 1,893 candidates who lost their deposits in 2010 generated £946,500 for the Treasury’s Consolidated Fund (in other words, the Government’s current account); this was a 36.6 per cent increase on 2005, while the percentage of candidates losing their deposits –45.6 per cent – was the highest ever.

Of this, £229,500 was contributed by Ukip, £164,000 by the Green Party and £133,000 by the British National Party. Five Labour candidates and two Conservatives (but no Liberal Democrats) also lost their deposits.

Between 1963 and 1997, Screaming Lord Sutch of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party forfeited 41 deposits.

The greatest number of deposits forfeited in a single seat in the same election is 17 (out of 19 candidates in the 1993 Newbury by-election).

Election expenses

After the election, all candidates must file an election expenses return with their (Acting) Returning Officer, to make sure spending limits have been adhered to. Money spent on the election cannot be claimed back.

The smallest expenses return ever in a general election was the £54 spent by James Maxton (Independent Labour Party, Glasgow Bridgeton) in 1935.

On Monday: No.7: Gambling

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