Currently, Parliamentary candidates have a set limit on their spending once a general election has been called. This averages out at £11,000 (depending on the size of the constituency). This Bill would see the spending limited triggered as soon as a candidate starts campaigning.
Similar "trigger" rules existed before 2000, but were changed in light of the Fiona Jones case.
The new rules would come in on Royal Assent of the Bill next Spring, before statutory guidance has been issued. This could cause a great deal of confusion, and lead candidates to inadvertently break the law.
Moreover, campaigning by trade unions is unaffected, as is the Communications Allowance. The latter enables MPs to spend up to £40,000 communicating with their constituents. Although rules are in place that seek to prevent the phenomenon, there are strong feelings that some MPs use these missives as campaigning tools.
Francis Maude, now Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, has put out a press release in advance of the debate. He comments:
"The Labour Party is so desperate to cling onto power they are attempting to gerrymander the election, by rigging election rules in their favour.
These discredited new rules are manifestly unfair – Labour MPs will be able to spend tens of thousands of taxpayers’ money on official propaganda and the trade unions will pump in money to Labour seats, whilst everyone else will be effectively gagged. This is a bad law – being rushed in without guidance, in breach of the Government’s own code of practice.
For a governing party to attempt to fiddle the election has the hallmarks of a banana republic rather than the mother of Parliaments."
Tom Greeves, editor of ConservativeHome’s Parliament page, comments:
"This Bill smacks of Labour desperation to protect its Parliamentary advantage through less than admirable means. Campaign finance law is a fraught issue on both sides of the Atlantic. It would be considerably less fraught if spending was restricted by just two requirements. Parties should be open about the sources of their funding, and no-one should be in any way compelled to directly fund a political party – whether as a trade union member or a taxpayer. But imposing spending limits constitutes a restriction of free speech. That may not be unconstitutional in Britain – but it is wrong."