Lack of funds stifle political parties’ capacity to engage with voters

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8 May 2014

A new book, published by Policy Press this week, is the first to look at funding for UK election campaigns across the country’s main political parties.

In Money and electoral politics: Local parties and funding in general elections, Ron Johnston and Charles Pattie explore financial differences across the UK’s three main parties in the four years leading up to the 2010 General Election.  

Using the latest research and previously unpublished material they examine how much local parties raise for election campaigns and find that the more money candidates spend then, the better their performance.  

Political parties are crucial to British democracy, providing the foundations for mobilising voters. Their constituency branches are key links between voters and Parliamentary candidates and their activities, especially around election campaigns, require two vital resources – people and money.

Analyses of their annual accounts, however, showed that many local parties were unable to raise all of the money that they were entitled to spend on such campaigns. This reveals an unhealthy picture of grassroots party organisation in which the capacity to engage effectively with many voters is concentrated in a relatively small number of constituencies and is likely to remain so.

One of the book’s authors, Professor Ron Johnston said: "Parliamentary candidates need money to promote themselves to their constituents, and our research shows that the more they can raise to spend on their campaigns, the better their performance.

"Candidates can spend up to £40,000 in the last four months before a general election, but very few local parties – even in the most marginal seats – can raise anything like that amount. The situation is getting worse and fewer candidates, even of the main parties, are campaigning as intensively as they might. Local democratic institutions are withering away in many places, leaving an over-centralised situation whose campaign attention is focused on a small number of target seats only.”

Speaking about the book, Colin Rallings, Professor of Politics at the University of Plymouth, said it raised “key practical and normative questions about how we do and should pay for democratic politics.” 

Money and electoral politics: Local parties and funding at general elections, by Ron Johnston and Charles Pattie is published by Policy Press, £21.99.

Ron Johnston is a Professor of Geography at the University of Bristol and Charles Pattie is a Professor of Geography at the University of Sheffield. They have worked together on aspects of British elections for some 25 years and have co-authored several books and many papers on the subject.

Policy Press is a leading social science publisher based at the University of Bristol, UK and is committed to publishing books that make a difference.

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