You've probably seen Channel 4's report on campaigning expenses, and Zac Goldsmith's rather bizarre attempt to ignore every rule of media training in addressing the allegations made against his campaign. In any case, once he did finally turn to the matter at hand, one of Mr Goldsmith's key arguments seems to be that the methods he used in his campaign – apportioning a percentage of costs for signs bearing his name and face to council elections, for example – are standard and have been used across the country. At the very end of the interview he even notes, of the Electoral Commission:
"Or they'll look at it and find something wrong. In which case, we'll need a repeat general election, because the rules that I adhered to are the same as the rules for other MPs".
This doesn't entirely make sense – as if he has adhered to the rules there'll be nothing for the commission to rule against – but the point's clear. Apparently every MP out there has been apportioning some costs off to local elections, leaving their short campaign expenses within the limits.
Only one way to find out, then.
As Mr Goldsmith claimed to have taken advice from Conservative Central Office, I figured it was worth checking the Short Campaign expenses of our local Conservative candidate, Jonathan Clamp. And, just to see if the other parties might be up doing the same sort of thing, I also checked the records for his opponent – Labour candidate, and now MP, Heidi Alexander.
The Short Campaign expenses limit in Lewisham East for the General Election 2010 was £7,150 plus 5p per elector. I took the electorate figure of 64,880 from the Lewisham council website, making this £10,394.40. Interestingly both candidates had worked to different figures, based on different numbers of voters, but not by much – we all believed the limit to be around £10,400 to £10,600. So, what did they spend?
In Mr Clamp's case, it's all rather simple. His expenses were neatly tallied up with receipts, and having spent around £400 on advertising and £7225 on direct mail his total was barely above £8,000. Should anyone wish to check I've created a PDF of his short campaign expenses here – note that I've redacted his home address from the one document where it appears. There are a few costs on the print receipts not included in the Short Campaign tally, but those were all accounted for in his Long Campaign expenses (examined, but not reproduced here). So far, so good.
It might be argued that, as a third candidate in what is largely a two-horse race between Labour and the Lib Dems, Mr Clamp had little incentive to really push his campaign as hard as possible. So, I checked Heidi Alexander's expenses also. Again, I've created a PDF of the short-run receipts, which you can download here. I've redacted Ms Alexander's home address, her website username and a few bank account details from some receipts, and skipped the inside pages of BT phone bills.
These are rather more tricky to check, with hand-written documents and more receipts. The summary page lists a total spend of just under £6,000 – even less than Mr Clamp – although looking at the Spending Breakdown you can see that many items are marked with an "amount paid" significantly greater than the "value of item" that was included in this total.
In some cases this disparity makes sense, as for example it appears that £200 of a £400 sum paid for balloon gas was a deposit, but it's not always as clear. Nonetheless, assuming the worst case scenario – that the entire Amount Paid should have been accounted for in every case – the total expended works out at £9190.03, which is still some way below the maximum.
And that's it – a lot of ink and a few badly photocopied receipts, but not much else. I look forward to seeing what the people checking other constituencies come up with, not to mention what the Electoral Commission decides with regard to Mr Goldsmith's signs.