14 Jul 2014

Conservatives: Newark spending £4,000 within legal limit

The Conservatives claim to have spent £96,191 on winning last month’s by-election in Newark, according to the party expense returns required by law, and which were published for the first time today.  That’s £3,809 below the official spending limit in by-elections of £100,000 per party.

The Tory figure for Newark works out at almost six pounds per vote.  The Conservative candidate, Robert Jenrick, won the election with 45 per cent of the vote, well ahead of Ukip’s man Roger Helmer, who got 25.9 per cent.

At the election count both the Ukip leader Nigel Farage and the Liberal Democrat contender David Watts expressed strong doubts about whether the huge Conservative campaign, which was one of the strongest mounted by the party in many years, had stuck within the official £100,000 limit.

Mr Watts, who came sixth in Newark, with just 1,004 votes, estimated, in an interview with Channel 4 News, that the Conservatives really spent around £250,000 in achieving their victory.

Ukip claim to have spent £84,349, which is only £11,842 less than the Tories.  Yet anybody who observed both campaigns at close quarters – as I did – will find it hard to believe that the gap in party spending was that narrow.

Perhaps the most charitable way of looking at it is to say the Conservatives did a remarkable job in obtaining value-for-money!


The spending totals returned by the main parties were as follows (rounded to the nearest pound):

  • Conservative – £96,191

  • Ukip – £84,349

  • Labour – £25,272

  • Liberal Democrat – £16,782

The other interesting feature is the Labour total – £25,272 – which is barely a quarter of what the party could have spent.  That just shows, in my view, how bogus Labour’s claims were to be taking the contest seriously.  Had it been a genuine effort, Labour’s figure would be approaching the £100,000 limit.

Newark has been a Labour seat in the past (most recently between 1997 and 2001), admittedly on less favourable boundaries.  But with less than a year to go before the general election, it’s still the sort of seat an ambitious opposition party should have been trying to win.

Indeed, Labour spent only about 50 per cent more than the Liberal Democrats.  Their paltry 1,004 votes cost more than £16 each, which may be some kind of record for a major party.

All parties will, of course, have been extra careful in making sure that they declared every penny they spent, given Newark history.  In 1999, after a trial at Nottingham Crown Court, the last Labour MP for Newark, Fiona Jones, was disqualified for exceeding her election expense limits, though the conviction was overturned on appeal.