Political Promise

The Finances of Elections

In Conor Campbell on June 3, 2010 at 6:43 pm

Introducing Political Promise’s latest recruit Conor Campbell

From January until May 6th I undertook an internship with the Labour Party in Reading West. The candidate Naz Sarkar was hoping to replace the incumbent MP of the time, Labour MP Martin Salter, who had decided to step down from public office after 13 years as Reading West’s MP.

Martin had decided to retire about a year or so before the most recent election, so in essence it did not give the new candidate a great deal of time to compete with the Conservative selection, Mr Alok Sharma, who had been already campaigning for 3 and a half years. Adding to this disadvantage was the fact that Naz Sarkar, who had won the chance to run as candidate, was not actually a local member. Naz was a councillor in Waltham Forest, in London, and had done a fantastic job in proving that he was the best man for the job. Despite Naz’s extensive level of enthusiasm and hard work, the amount of local exposure we would have to gain for success was always going to be a challenge…

In spite of the effort that Naz and those around him put in, there was one aspect that we in the party could never hope to improve upon, the finances. The most important example of this has to be concerning the limited amount of time that the party had an Organiser to run the campaign. When I started in January there was not any official organiser to speak of, and it was only in February that an organiser was appointed. The organiser did a fantastic job and his efforts truly helped turn around the operation in Reading, as he removed much of the responsibility from Naz. In turn this would allow him to be completely free to concentrate on the campaign. By the time the election rolled around we had managed to speak to over half the electorate, and the main reason was the addition of a dedicated organiser. If the party had access to funding which would enable us to hire a full time organiser, how many more undecided voters would we have been able to meet?

Finance is a major factor when trying to spread the visual presence of the candidate’s name. In comparison to the Conservative’s, Labour suffers in this department. All the posters, billboards and stakes which parties bring out in the run up to elections are an attempt to get their candidate’s name out into the public sphere. While we had plenty of A4 posters which carried Naz’s name we had no garden stakes which contained the name, and no billboards whatsoever. The Labour Party in Reading also had no extra large, airbrushed or un-airbrushed, posters decorating the town’s buildings, informing Readings inhabitants of our opponents ‘failings’. The financial responsibility of these billboards and stakes with Naz’s name on would have fallen upon the members of the local party, something which we could not afford. Those people who had not met Naz personally had little other opportunities to learn his name. The Conservative party were able to plaster their candidate’s name and image on every free space they could buy. To give you an example of their financial capabilities, they purchased a derelict building next to our campaign HQ in order to decorate it in blue and white.

The majority of our leaflets were simple A4 black and white photocopies, compared to the glossy card soaked in colour which promoted the Conservative message. All of the Labour envelopes stuffed and the leaflets delivered were done by the hands and feet of volunteers from the party. These activities took precious time away from canvassing .A question once asked of us was ‘How come the Conservative’s have their information delivered by the postman?’

I am fully aware that the situation is as difficult, if not more so for the Liberal Democrats and many of the smaller parties. I am not claiming that if the short campaign budget was properly enforced upon all parties then Labour would have kept Reading West. However, name recognition is vital as it ensures the public see you as being active and like an advertisement for any product, the greater amount of exposure you can gain, the better your chances of success.

To conclude I do not feel that Labour lost this seat purely due to expenses, although I am convinced that the subject of finances is a huge factor in fighting a successful campaign.

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  1. State funding of political parties would end this disadvantage. Wealthy individuals, unions etc all influence the outcome of elections.

    Consider had there been an immediate snap election following the hung parliament. Labour would have really struggled financially. This sort of system cannot be good.

    State funding allows fairness, accountability and limits sectional interests.

  2. Expenses had little or nothing to do with it. The quality of the local Conservative candidate attracted a very large number of activists who delivered leaflets, pounded doors and raised funds locally.

  3. […] summary of the campaign has been written here by Conor Campbell who worked on the Labour campaign team. In case Labour decide that they would prefer to close the […]

  4. Conor you say that someone asked ‘why is the conservatives leaflets delivered by the postman.’

    The question that should be posed is why did Labour lose the
    support of so many postal workers.

    The answer might have something to do with what Labour did to
    the Post Office while in power.

    Closure of the Reading sorting office and numerous sub offices
    might have something to do with it.

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