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Party fundraising Tuesday, 13 October, 1998, 14:58 GMT 15:58 UK
Escalating election expenses
"Politics has got so expensive it takes a lot of money even to get beat with", or so thought American comedian Will Rogers.

But up until recent years political campaigns in the UK have been fairly cheap.

In 1950, a little over 200,000 was spent by the two main parties combined, but since the 1970s the cost of running national election campaigns, with all the trimmings of poster campaigns, newspaper adverts and media presentation has soared.

Spending on general elections doubled between 1992 and 1997 alone, taking the total to nearly 60m.

In real terms, the 1997 election expenditure was five times that which saw Mrs Thatcher win power in 1979.

Year Con Lab Lib All Real
1979 2.3 1.6 0.2 4 11.5
1983 3.8 2.3 1.9 8 15
1987 9.0 4.7 1.75 15.5 24
1992 11.2 10.6 1.8 24 27
1997 28.3 26.0 3.2 57 57
'Real' = spending in m in 1997 values

Source: Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, The Times, 14 April 1998.

Changing balance

In addition, nearly half of the 1997 money was the result of individual private donations.

As the trade unions' links with Labour slacken and fewer and fewer people donate money to political parties, the politicians are increasingly relying on donations from very wealthy individuals or business.

But receiving massive cash donations carries with it the fear that well-heeled individuals may attempt to buy political influence hence the Neill Committee's desire to ban large donations, cap funding and keep spending within reasonable limits.

Capping funds also carries with it the bonus of fairness, traditionally the Conservatives have been able to raise more funds than Labour, and so keeping the limit down may help to create a level playing field.

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