party funding

Some votes are worth 22 times more than others, new research reveals

15th August 2013
15 Aug 2013
money in politics
party funding


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 Some votes are worth 22 times more than others, new research reveals

The political parties spend 22 times more on some people’s votes than on others, according to new research by the Electoral Reform Society.

The research shows that for the 2010 general election, parties spent just 14p per individual vote in Bootle, Merseyside, whereas they spent a whopping £3.07 per vote in Luton South, Bedfordshire. And the amount that parties spend is shown to have a direct impact on the likelihood that people turn out to vote.

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“Elections in Britain have become the ultimate postcode lottery. The amount of money which parties spend on attracting your vote depends almost entirely on where you live. The fact that voters in Bootle are valued 22 times less than those in Luton South shows that all votes are not created equal after all.”

“If you live in a marginal seat, then parties will spend money trying to attract your vote. But if you live in a safe seat – as so many people do – then you will be all but ignored. Our report shows that where parties tighten their belts, people will be much less likely to vote.”

“In other words, the massive inequality in how much people’s votes are valued is turning people away from politics. By targeting marginal seats, parties are contributing to the problem of voter disengagement, and they are making it harder for themselves to reverse declines in party membership.”

“There are two things driving this inequality. One is the dire state of the parties’ finances, and the other is our lop-sided electoral system. Parties have scant resources and naturally want to target their spending where it will make the most difference. Our outdated voting system means that the most logical way of spending money is to target a few marginal seats. And this leaves millions of voters in the lurch.”

“If we are going to redress the imbalance, both party funding and our electoral system need to be reformed. We need properly and sustainably funded political parties incentivised to campaign across the country, not just in a few fiercely contested seats. We need a party funding system that recognises the crucial role that parties play in mobilising voters. And we need an electoral system that values each voter equally no matter where they live.”

The Electoral Reform Society’s latest report, Penny for your Vote?, also reveals that in 195 seats (30% of the total), no money was spent by any candidate on public meetings. In five seats, no money was spent by any candidate on advertising, and 348 candidates (8.6% of the total) spent no money at all on their campaigns.

The top ten most valued seats, in descending order, are: Luton South, Aberconwy, Barking, Poplar and Limehouse, Northampton North, Hampstead and Kilburn, Buckingham, Norwich South, Brighton Pavilion, and Bethnal Green and Bow.

The bottom ten least valued seats are: Bootle, Ruislip Northwood and Pinner, South Leicestershire, Halton, Sheffield Heeley, Knowsley, Leeds East, Ashton-under-Lyne, Makerfield and Beckenham.

In the 50 most marginal seats, average spending per vote was 162% higher than in the 50 safest seats, demonstrating that the main driver of inequality in spending is an electoral system that makes much of the country a no-go area even for the biggest parties.

In one seat (Motherwell and Wishaw), no money at all was spent by two of the major parties, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Financially strained parties combined with an outdated electoral system have created a situation in which half the major party candidates in a constituency spend no money on campaigning.

The research provides solid evidence that money spent on campaigning is directly correlated with people turning out to vote. This builds on previous academic research which shows that contact between parties and people through leaflets, advertising, meetings and other activities encourages people to vote.

Voters in safe seats are less likely to have resources spent on attracting their vote, and are therefore less likely even to turn up at the polling booth. As voter disengagement becomes a more and more pressing problem, so does the inequality of party spending, and so does the voting system which incentivises parties to target their resources so ruthlessly.


The report, 'Penny for your Vote?', is based primarily on analysis of the Electoral Commission's data on campaign spending for the 2010 elections.

To download a copy of the report, click here.

British voters abandon British democracy

25th April 2012
25 Apr 2012
political engagement
voter behaviour
party funding


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British voters abandon British democracy

The 2012 Audit of Political Engagement shows downward trend in voter engagament.

In a week where politicians have been refuting the idea that the public should be allowed to elect our representatives in the House of Lords (despite the fact that a recent You Gov poll found 69% of the public support the reform) a new study showing a serious decline in people’s engagement with politics is perhaps unsurprising.

The 2012 Audit of Political Engagement found that less than half (48%) of people would be certain to vote in the event of an immediate general election, down a massive ten points from 2011. To make matters worse 16% of the public now say they are ‘absolutely certain not to vote’.

The study reports that ‘participants felt they had no means to give voice to their views, individually and, more importantly, collectively’ and that ‘the public simply do not think that if they, or people like themselves, were to get involved in politics they could have any impact on the way the country is run’.

The findings suggest that not only are people less inclined to vote but that they no longer believe they can change things by getting involved.

The report authors conclude ‘A year on, this indifference now seems to have hardened into something more serious: the trends in interest and knowledge are downward, dramatically so in some instances, suggesting a public that is turning away from national politics.’

This is a damning indictment of British politics and a stark warning to our politicians that things cannot continue as they are.

Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society commented:

‘British democracy is at a crisis point. Voters are increasingly fed up with watching politicians looking out for their own interests while ignoring ours.

‘The most recent in a long line of party funding scandals made it clear once again that it is big business and rich donors - not voters - who’s opinions count and while watching politicians try and wiggle out of allowing us to elect our representatives in the House of Lords you could be forgiven for thinking that British voters are an encumbrance rather than a central part of British democracy.

‘Many politicians have no problem with the status quo but voters clearly feel differently. We simply cannot afford to shrug our shoulders and watch while the very legitimacy of British democracy is under threat. Democracy is hard work and it is never job done. The writing’s on the wall: It’s time for change.‘


For more information or to arrange an interview contact the media office on 020 7202 8601

Download 2012 Audit of Political Engagement report

Notes to Editors

1. The Electoral Reform Society is an independent campaigning organisation working to champion the rights of voters and improve UK democracy.
2. To find out more visit

Let's keep all the options on the table on party funding

16th April 2012
16 Apr 2012
party funding


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The Electoral Reform Society has responded to Ed Miliband’s proposals on party funding and reactions from the Conservative Party.
The Labour leader has advocated a £5,000 cap on donations – but pressed to keep the ‘opt out’ system under which fees from union members are automatically directed to the party. The Conservatives are pressing for a higher cap of £50,000 on individual gifts.
The Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, Sir Christopher Kelly, had recommended a cap of £10,000.
Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society said:
If we’re going to have a serious conversation on party funding, we need to keep all the options on the table. We won’t find a solution by kicking any ideas into the long grass.
“It’s easy enough to say policies aren’t for sale: voters expect nothing less. The difficult bit is achieving a genuinely level playing field at election time. And if that’s going to be achieved we need to consider the merits of spending and donations caps and public funding.
“If politicians are serious about taking the big money out of politics they need to put personal prejudices and partisan interests aside and get on with it.”

50p - A small price to pay for cleaning up politics?

26th March 2012
26 Mar 2012
state funding
pasty tax
party spending
donation caps
party funding


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Following the ‘cash for access’ scandal the Electoral Reform Society has called on all parties to have a “grown-up” debate on the future of party funding – a discussion that must include the public funding option.
In November the Committee on Standards on Public Life’s proposed a modest “pence per voter” model for supporting UK parties - a tiny fraction of what European parties currently receive in state aid. [1]
The 50p figure is approximately what the government now expects the public to pay through its now infamous ‘pasty tax’.
Katie Ghose, the Electoral Reform Society's Chief Executive said.
The last 24 hours have shown why we desperately need a level playing field on party funding. But as long as politicians shy away from even putting public funding into the mix there is little chance of it being achieved.

"Yes, theseallegations can’t be swept under the carpet, but that’s precisely what the parties are doing with the state funding debate. 50p seems a small price to pay to clean up politics, and no more than the government now expects us to stump-up on top of a Cornish pasty.

"The public should not have to pick up the tab for the parties’ excesses. Any solution to the funding crisis needs to end the arms race that sees them pour millions into a handful of marginal seats. Local spending limits would remind parties of their vital public function – and that’s good news for local voters, local parties and the health of our democracy.

"Chasing the big money out of politics means difficult choices. We urgently need a grown-up debate on donation caps, public funding and spending limits. Taking any option off the table now would be nothing short of negligent.”

The Society has also confronted some of the myths surrounding the ‘Obama Model’ of party funding – pointing to independent research that shows the US president raised more in large donations than any candidate in American political history. [2]. Katie Ghose added:
Let’s not pretend the internet offers us a silver bullet. Those who claim UK parties just need to ‘Do an Obama’ with small online donations are being staggeringly naive. The US president made remarkable headway with small donors, but the evidence shows this in no way diminished the impact of big money.”
[1] The Committee on Standards in Public Life published its Thirteenth Report, Political Party Finance - Ending the big donor culture in November 2011. The report can be downloaded  The median state subsidy in Council of Europe member states at £3.25 per person per year. The UK’s current indirect state contributions already equal 35p per person, per year.
[2] See research from the Campaign Finance Institute, a non-partisan institute in 2008, which showed that Obama raised 80% more from large donors than small, outstripping all rivals and predecessors