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Monday, 2 April, 2001, 20:44 GMT 21:44 UK
Election delay dents war chests
Some MPs may have few funds left
Political parties have already spent millions of pounds on their election campaigns and now must redraw their carefully laid plans.

The postponement of the expected May general election means the main parties have spent much of their war chests earlier than they would have liked.

The strategy has been thrown into the air by this postponement.

Barry Delaney
Advertising executive
Labour and the Conservatives are already running pre-election poster campaigns on billboards booked months ago.

Legal limits on how much parties may spend in the lead-up to the polls are to be extended.

But the parties are now expected to launch fresh efforts to refill their coffers.

Spending so far is reported to include:

  • 3m by the Labour Party, which has branded William Hague and Michael Portillo as Mr Boom and Mr Bust in posters.

  • 2m by the Conservatives, whose advertising has so far centred on taxation.

  • 2m already committed by the Liberal Democrats out of an election budget of 3m.

    All the main parties insist they will be ready for an election whenever it is called.

    More time

    The Lib Dems say the delay now gives them more time to raise extra funds.

    Labour poster
    Labour posters attack Portillo and Hague
    Conservative officials say that plans for tours and events can easily be changed and that provisional bookings can be cancelled.

    But advertising campaigns may be more difficult to alter.

    Advertising executive Barry Delaney says the delay will cause problems for both the Tories and Labour.

    May strategy

    "Both parties have been anticipating a 3 May election and have been doing some toe-in-the-water advertising since January, based on the strategy which leads inexorably into the election date.

    "Of course, that strategy has been thrown into the air by this postponement."

    If the election had been called for May, the main parties would have been able to spend 14.8m each under new laws which came into force in February.

    Conservative poster
    The Tories target taxation
    Now those limits, policed by the Electoral Commission, are set to extended by about another 1m.

    Former Tory election strategist Michael Dobbs argues the delay means parties will need to be more focused.

    "They have committed so much money which can only stretch so far," he said.

    'Cut out wastage'

    "They will have to be much, much better managers than they have ever done before - none of this sort of wastage of money on vast poster campaigns, which achieve very little, but focusing more and more on the core message and in the critical seats which really will resolve the election."

    Former Labour director of communications Joy Johnson says it will prove expensive for the parties.

    "They are just going to have to live with it," she said, arguing that the problem could be worse for individual MPs and candidates.

    "I suspect some of them have almost spent their limit."

    Spending limits

    Liberal Democrat Charles Kennedy
    Kennedy's battle bus off road for another month
    Spending limits for MPs come into force once they declare themselves as official candidates after an election has been called.

    Ms Johnson said the greater issue was that they might have spent much of their allocations.

    With 10 weeks to go before what is now almost certainly the election date, Ms Johnson said that campaigning momentum had been interrupted.

    Motivating party workers would be easier in campaign centres like Labour's Millbank Tower, whose staff existed only for the election, than in the regions, she said.

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    15 Mar 01 | UK Politics
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