4 Observations from the General Election Spending Data

The Electoral Commission has just published the spending of the main political parties for the 2015 general election last May. I had a brief look at it earlier today, but I thought I’d go back to it and pick out a few interesting tidbits.

1. Conservatives dominate social media

social media spending

This pie chart tells the story. The Conservatives trounced their competitors in spending on social media and Google ads in May.

Labour were a distant fifth, behind the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party.

Ed Miliband’s former party spent much more on social media marketing companies, such as £155,611.20 on Experian Ltd and £74,400.00 on Alchemy Social, which also features on Experian’s website.

2. Travelling in style

The Tories spent a hefty £119,634.48 with Sovereign Business Jets. Based in Biggin Hill, Kent, they offer private jets and helicopters to charter. David Cameron’s party also spent another £14,688 with Eastern Atlantic Helicopters Limited.

They weren’t the only ones to take to the skies. The Scottish National Party spent £35,450 with PDG Helicopters, while UKIP spent £16,055 with Jota Aviation.

There was no sign of air travel in the Green Party’s records. The pro-environment party’s largest transport expenditure was £13,000 with The Big Red Bus.

3. Starting early

2014 campaign spend

Not only did the Conservatives outspend their rivals overall, they also started much earlier. This chart looks at the dates that expenses were marked ‘paid’. By the turn of last year, the Conservatives had already spent almost a fifth of their final total. Labour had spent just 1.8%.

Getting off to an early start wasn’t essential for success. The SNP spent all their money in 2015 and virtually swept the board in Scotland.

4. Value for money

Cost per seat, 2015 general election

Cost per seat, 2015 general election

The first-past-the-post electoral system rewards parties that have concentrated support in certain areas and makes life difficult for parties whose support is spread out around Britain.

UKIP, the Greens and the Lib Dems found this out to their cost. They spent £7.5m between them for a grand total of just ten seats.

The system is much kinder to the parties that compete in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Their support is concentrated in these areas. This means more chance of winning seats, as well as huge savings on transport costs as candidates don’t need to zip from one corner of Britain to the other. The SNP’s ‘Sturgeon-copter‘ may have looked presidential, but her party could afford to splash out – the SNP spent less than a tenth of Labour on transport.

Concluding thoughts

There is much to ponder in this data for Labour strategists trying to work out why they lost in May. The Conservatives spent heavily on Facebook and started burning through their war chest much earlier. According to BuzzFeed, the Tory focus on Facebook was deliberate – Twitter was thought to be the domain of journalists and political activists rather than undecided voters.

Coincidentally, the Beckett report into Labour’s election defeat was also published this week. Here is what Dame Margaret had to say about social media:

We should develop and promote the possibilities of social mediafor communicating with the public at large, while recognising the risk it carriesof self-reinforcing messages and assumptions.

Lastly, there was no data for the Ed Stone. The widely-ridiculed stone pledge was missing from the Electoral Commission data – an ‘administrative error’, Labour said.

The party is seeking to ‘rectify this error as soon as possible’ – no doubt political hacks will be keen to learn exactly when they do.

Here is a copy of the spreadsheet I used. You’re welcome to download it and run your own analysis.