LINK guest blogger Scott Bartle raises some pertinent questions about the role of money in national elections.
First things first, if spending money wasn’t felt to affect the result of an election it wouldn’t be done. We know how much politicians like money as evidenced by their expenses claims. Generally when we consider excessive election spending we look over to the United States where an exorbitant amount is spent per election cycle reaching over $6Billion in 2012. Yet in the UK we are beginning to be faced with similar questions. As an example, I’ll provide the expenses information from across the three constituencies of Brent.
· Hampstead & Kilburn:
Tulip Siddiq was elected with a total spend of £42,752.16
· Brent Central:
Dawn Butler was duly elected MP with a total spend of £18,823.74
· Brent North:
Barry Gardiner spent £25,973.24 to be elected in his ‘safe seat’.
To put this into context we as the Green Party struggled raising the £500 for deposits to stand for election in the first place. It was thanks to national and local Crowdfunder campaigns that we were able to put up an almost full slate.
Once you’re over that hurdle the bare minimum that voters expect from candidates and what you hope to provide is information as to why you’re standing. The government provides a ‘free-post’ scheme however you still have to pay for the printing of the leaflets which whilst almost prohibitive for us can certainly be out of reach for independent candidates. Indeed, the independent candidate standing for Brent North, Elcena Jeffers MBE spent absolutely nothing. Brent Green’s total spend for Brent North was £795.95 with the majority of that (£600) on the ‘free’ - post. Meanwhile Barry Gardiner spent £10,457.64 on leaflets, £90 for some people to do the ‘folding’ for him, as well as £4950.77 on staff, £3352.76 on an office and utilities, £150 on rosettes, £145 on stickers, £119.40 on Balloons, £343,95 on Helium gas all within what was described as a ‘safe-seat’. It can feel difficult to complete when even Labour, as a party that purports to represent the ‘working class’ spends the equivalent of 4 newly qualified nurses salaries on 3 constituencies alone.
Does the public wish to elect people to parliament based upon policy or plentiful purses? As with any fairground, (well Barry bought the balloons) it appears those who have the money to throw the most balls at the coconuts always get the prize. This presents a particularly unfair environment for Independents who receive very limited media space and as such he public might never know nor have the opportunity to decide if their policies were what they were looking for.
A complaint with our political system is that elected politicians are not representative of the communities they wish to serve. Yet, if it’s difficult for those who might be, to achieve the parity to even be heard, economic inequality will forever translate into political inequality.
Whilst arguments for electoral reform are focused upon proportional representation, it would be a mistake to forget about the finances. Even a separate room in polling stations with poster presentations of politicians’ policy could contribute towards making a difference. In 2011 Sir Christopher Kelly calculated that it would cost £23million per year to fund a state funded political system (that’s 50p per person for reductionists out there). When as a country we spend more per year on the upkeep of a Monarchy as opposed to ensuring a level playing field for a fair and transparent democratic process we know the system is broken. We will forever be disappointed that our parliament is not representative of people by Gender, Age, Ability, Ethnicity, Education, Socio-economic status or sexuality.
Scott Bartle is a member of Brent Green Party and this year stood as a candidate in the constituency of Brent North.