The General Election may feel a long time ago however the paperwork on expenses has only just been made available for public inspection, so we have had our customary look yet a rule change means we have less detail to examine.
The submitted spending return forms are in this template (PDF) and record the details of campaign spending on items or services used during the period known as the ‘short campaign’. This starts when a person becomes an official candidate and ended on polling day itself.
In 2015 we delved into the reams of paperwork and invoices, with print outs from Facebook advertising detailing which specific posts were boosted for how many clicks, how much cash MOJO (also known as NWN) made from the election advertising, and who had been lending their trailers to which candidates. This gave a level of detail where we could say who spent £6 on a t-shirt and who the supplier was, or which candidate bought A-Z maps or Welsh skimmed milk.
In 2017 the picture is very different, there were no invoices just a dry sanitised form with entries such as “£300 – as per invoice”, with said invoice absent.
We enquired if we were able to inspect invoices, but were told that was not possible as the documents are held locally for a couple of years before shredding, only to be passed to the Electoral Commission if there is an issue. The audience form indicates ‘service’ ‘as per invoice’ could be invalid, noting an entry should contain “Details of the item or service used, which should include the name and address of the supplier where this not on an invoice submitted with the return.”
As usual there was UK wide spending by various parties that appeared on a local level in Wrexham and Clwyd South. The Electoral Commission guidance advises candidates to think of it as ‘party and candidate’ spending rather than ‘local and national’. Such definitions are subject to interpretation, but generally letters from party leaders explaining policy are seen as national despite possibly benefiting a local candidate, but jackets with party emblems on worn by canvassers locally are seen as a local spend.
If a party leader, senior party member or similar are transported around the UK and give general speeches or the like that can be treated as ‘national’ spend rather than local. The Electoral Commission guidance points that ‘knocking on doors or canvassing for the candidate’ could mean all or part of that trip should be included on a local candidate return.
No information we saw on any election expense form for Wrexham or Clwyd South referred to specific trips or visits by such individuals.
The forms include ‘notional’ spending, which is the calculated or estimated difference in value between the commercial rate for an item or service and the price paid. Often supporters will provide a candidate with something at a discounted rate, but the real value still needs to be recorded on the forms.
Due to the lack of invoices we can’t give the blow by blow run down as we did in 2015, but we have noted some detail below from what we have read on the forms for 2017. There could well be further detail on invoices or the like, however the below is based on the information provided to us when requested:
The winning candidate Labour’s Ian Lucas declared spending of £10,169 to get elected – notably donating £1,000 personally to his own campaign. Mr Lucas attributed £100 value to using House of Commons IT equipment, along with £500 for what we think was the Unite Union office on King Street for ‘Campaign HQ Hire’.
Mr Lucas had a number of smaller donations under the £50 declaration limit, totally £125. The funding for the campaign came via personal donations, union support (£4000) and a new ‘More United’ cross party crowdfunder (£2000)
Mr Lucas told us: “Funding was from a combination of sources, people were very generous both large and small individual donations. I am obviously very grateful to individuals who kindly donated to the campaign to support me. I am also very grateful to collective organisations be it trades unions who were very generous, or More United which is a crowdfunding source.”
The individuals included ‘S Whiles’ who donated £1,000 and Kevin Smith who donated £5,000.
Speaking of a ‘highly competitive’ election, he added: “Due to the supporters I have I was able to fight a well funded campaign, I was quite touched by the support I had, not just from donors giving money but volunteers who gave a huge amount of time and organisational effort.”
We related our frustration at the lack of invoices for inspection for any of the Wrexham or Clwyd South candidates this year to the now MP who described the situation as ‘clearly odd’, and he pointed out that if anyone wished to check anything they would have to see the invoices.
Mr Lucas’ return also listed he had reused £150 of signage and wooden stakes with an attributed value of £150.
Conservative candidate Andrew Atkinson declared total election spending of £11,849 covered by donations from the local Conservative association and national party, plus a £5000 donation from “Brexit Express” with an address in St Vincent House in London. Brexit Express is an entity that no longer exists, but appears to be a venture from Jeremy Hosking, a multimillionaire asset manager who offered 138 Conservative candidates £5000 each to ensure ‘an army’ of pro-brexit MP’s were elected. The sum had to be applied for by candidates. The Guardian quotes Mr Hosking unironically explaining his vast election spending as “He said that he was prepared to spend heavily in order to secure ‘the sovereign future of this independent-minded democracy’.”
We asked Mr Atkinson who Jeremy Hosking was, with the initial reply of “I have no idea, why?”. We explained we thought he was the man behind Brexit Express and outlined the views behind the Brexit Express project. Mr Atkinson said “He is someone who kindly donated to my campaign and I am very grateful.” We then reminded him that the donations appear to be application based, “I applied for the money and someone kindly donated the money.” We asked Mr Atkinson if he had won would he have been part of a ‘brexit army’, “I would not have been part of anyones ‘army’. If someone wants to donate money to my campaign because they are content with my political views then that is great. No money donated would have any bearing or influence on any decisions I would have made as the MP.”
Mr Atkinson spent £1,348 on unspecified ‘various’ payments, with ‘digital and social media’ noted at £3,213.53. Digital appeared to be the bigger spend with perhaps more traditional ‘mail services’ at £2231.44. Mr Atkinson’s photoshoots with a Routemaster bus was declared at a notional value of £300.
Plaid Cymru’s Carrie Harper had a very short form with £1,530.95 which was fully funded from a donation from the local party group. The spend was listed for leaflets, postcards and Facebook adverts (£66.95).
We outlined the issues regarding not being able to see invoices to her, and Carrie Harper told us: “”The lack of information surrounding election expenses is a serious worry because it means political parties can effectively buy elections if they’re not stringently regulated. Both Labour and Tories spent huge amounts of money and receive donations from either trade unions or large multinationals. By contrast, every penny of Plaid Cymru’s spending in Wrexham was raised by our members and supporters in the constituency.”
“Some of the figures need scrutinising more carefully and it’s disappointing that the actual bills weren’t available to examine. Many pieces of literature were sent out by the central parties – in particular those letters from Theresa May – and haven’t been put on expenses. I don’t accept that it’s a ‘national’ spend when the letters refer to Wrexham.”
“There’s a real danger that the party with the deepest pockets will win elections and funding from outside Wales will determine who succeeds here in Wrexham. That can’t be right.”
A yet shorter form was from Carole O’Toole, the Liberal Democrat candidate. The total spend was noted at £871.80 with the expenditure being almost totally on leaflets. £40 of personal expenses was also noted, £20 on travel and £20 on phone usage. The full cost of the campaign was met by a donation from the local party. We did ask Carole for comment ahead of this article and will add in any reply that is forthcoming.
Conducting a very unscientific £ to vote polled conversion for Wrexham we make it Lucas 59p per vote, Atkinson 77p per vote, Harper 87p per vote and O’Toole £1 a vote.
We also looked at the Clwyd South set of returns for all candidates, which were also entirely vanilla without the backup of invoice documentation.
Winning candidate Susan Elan Jones for Labour had the highest overall declared spend out of both constituencies we looked at with £12,437.45 funded via a donation from the local party.
The Conservatives and Labour were the biggest spenders by a large margin both into five figures, with Plaid Cymru, Liberal Democrats and UKIP’s candidates not reaching that total combined.
The only possible issue we spotted in all the forms we examined was Conservative candidate Simon Baynes’ form listing total spend of £10,165.45 in section 3b of the form however did not have matching 3a entry that was £1,396.04 . The form does note ‘Total spending for 3a should equal the total spending for 3b’. The spending for the £10,165 was listed in the documentation however we could not spot detail for the £1,396 notional spending.
In one quirk UKIP’s Jeanette Bassford-Barton noted her deposit of £500 on the expenses document in a possible attempt at belt and braces approach – although it was not required to be declared.
Of course the opportunity to inspect the documents will be known to all readers due to the highly read statutory notice telling everyone buried in the back of newspaper. However it appears we are the only ones to have taken a look so far.
If you have four hours to kill you can rewatch the count below…