Election expenses: UUP binge, SDLP go on crash diet, whilst UKIP spend the day at the races

UTV has some interesting figures from the Electoral Commission, which is worth digging through. Most noteable is the major cut back in spend by the SDLP. From the UTV report:

£38,000 on their 14 seats, despite also losing two from the previous election, in which the party spent more than £200,000 – the biggest campaign spend in the 2007 poll, where each seat cost almost £13,000.

I hate to say it, but it showed. Although many of the problems the party faced are to do with organisation, rather than money. But it also prompts the question is why was there such a drastic cut?


Sinn Fein, £51,851
DUP, £84,000
UUP, £96,000 (£21k more than 2007)
Alliance, £29,000
Green Party, £5,800
TUV, £6,413

I’d be slightly more generous towards the UUP. They spent a lot, and probably did not get all the bang they needed for their hard earned buck. But they were standing in something of a hole this time out (their Council results actually show important signs of residual health). In the event, 16 is not as bad as many predicted, nor as bad as it could have been.

It’s worth too noting that the UKIP spent a whopping £18,176 on Henry Reilly, their popular local candidate in South Down who did well in his home patch of Kilkeel but was left flat when it came to transfers from other parts of the constituency.

Updated with some graphs

Chart of NI party spend per seat won in May 2011 Assembly elections:

Graph of NI party spend per seat won in May 2011 Assembly elections

Chart showing spend apportioned to the number of seats each party won and not won (as well as the absolute number of seats won and not won):

Chart showing spend apportioned to the number of seats each party won and lost (as well as the absolute number of seats won and not won)

  • keano10

    My goodness did’nt The Shinners do very well on such a small budget?

    29 seats and almost 27% of the total votes cast.

    Must be all down to that excellent constituency work day in and day out, year after year…

    No doubt Lambh Dearg, Heinz etc.. will fill us all in with the ‘real’ reasons though… 🙂

  • Mick Fealty

    Don’t encourage them then, or you’ll find yourself following (or even preceding) them off the site!

    Didn’t pick up on SF and DUP because the patterns are by now pretty established. They don’t have major resource issues, and they have the benefit of incumbency.

    Alliance did pretty well too, but then they were fighting on a smaller number of fronts. Both SDLP and UUP have a wide spread of constituencies requiring different kinds of ground war campaigns.

  • Certainly in previous elections I have believed that “Expenses” should be filed under “Fiction”.
    The simple fact about the SDLP is that they are broke.
    Heavily in debt, paying off people and are finding donations hard to come by.
    Its a vicious circle. And in part due to previous overspending.
    The Leader is uninspiring and the Party has lost seats and the donors are unenthused. Success has many fathers. Failure is an Orphan and nobody wants to be associated with Failure.
    The lack of funding will actually be an issue in the Leadership Election. Indeed its already a major issue.

    And a lot of previous donors and potential donors are not opening their cheque books just yet.
    The candidate who can convince the delegates that he/she can make the Party solvent again will get a lot of votes.

    Its no exaggeration to say that Finance is a bigger crisis for SDLP than losing two Assembly seats.

  • Mark McGregor

    Strange to see over 15% of SDLP of expenditure being to party member Fearghal McKinney. Don’t these people do mates rates?

  • Stewart Finn

    Any information on candidate expenditure returns as opposed to party returns? I assume the PUP spend will be accounted for there as they spent way way more than £310 in East Belfast, they had around 4/5 billboards as well as leaflets and posters etc

  • Mick Fealty

    Hadn’t seen those invoices Mark. Looks like a decent deal compared to SF’s £9k. DUP spent much more.

    Also, people should also take note that SF’s staff group is larger than other parties because of their practice of donations to bring the public reps down to what’s said to be the average industrial wage.

  • Mick Fealty

    I was wondering about that Stewart.

  • Drumlins Rock

    On the whole the election costs for all parties are quite low, and if Mike Nesbitt’s proposal to ban posters goes through they will reduce further. I always find the Sinn Fein figure suspiciously low, but maybe they just know how to get more for their money.

  • Mark McGregor


    The others seem to have used external agencies. McKinney is vice-chair of the SDLP and was/is on the books as a communications consultant. It looks a little odd that such a committed member is charging for his skillset when already getting a few shillings from the party.

  • Drumlins Rock

    Can we be blunt and say these figures are a bit of a joke in reality?

    Take the “overheads and general administration” column for example, with 3 big parties recording 500 quid or less, the SDLP with 3K and the UUP with nearly 20K, surely you can’t organise a childrens party without more than £109 in overheads? never mind zero transport costs and no events costs.

  • Candidate returns will be published by EONI in October. I’ll add a quick graph of seats won/contested/amount spent per seat won to the main post in a minute.

  • leftofcentre

    RE: McKinney

    I had a look at that and he has done recording video and editing. This cost could be to pay for a camera man and someone to edit the video. It is common with creative invoices that these costs are bundled into to invoices then he pays the other people involved directly.

  • You left out the £95 total expenditure for Procapitalism – apparently a party without any capital.

  • Mick Fealty

    Left of centre probably has the right of it Mark. The total is a serious discount on the others. As lofc points out most of it will have gone into paying suppliers.

    We can’t really get a proper picture until the ECNI chime in, but the bills I’ve seen for SF’s posters look pretty sparse.

  • Gerry Coyle

    Did Sinn Féin really pay £350 quid to a company in Maghera to translate a cupla focal for their manifesto? With so many eloquent exponents of the ould Gaelige in their ranks seems a waste.

    And I think the UUP Pr man gave a wee bit too much info with his claims writing press releases on double-jobbing and a letter for Rodney McCune responding to something from Sammy Wilson. Also interesting that Alex Kane wrote their manifesto and then goes on TV as a pundit.

  • Mick Fealty

    You have to remember that there is no legal way of knowing whether these are everything each party was invoiced for. Although I’d guess from the SDLP’s obvious austerity and the UUP’s obvious candour there is some relation to the truth here.

    I’ve heard there’s some arrangement in the DUP whereby candidates fund some of their own core expenses out of their own pocket, but that may or may not become obvious when we get the candidate totals.

  • vanhelsing


    I wouldn’t take issue that the Shinners work hard on the ground – I’d be a fool to deny it. There are other reasons for their enormous bank roll, the industrial wage practice for example which allows expansion of their staff group as mick has already pointed out.

    As far as I’m aware Mick is right regarding the DUP where candidates are required to pay something towards overall election expenses.

    Being incumbant gives parties a big advantage as they have more to play with.

    No break through for Henry Reilly despite the spend – from what I remember he did do well though.

  • aquifer

    Party funding on the basis of votes cast is fairer than having incumbents back-subsidise each election, some with donations from developers and contractors etc.

  • Kevin McIlhennon

    As the election agent for Martin McAuley’s Westminster campaign in 2010, I can safely say that the PUP have used some VERY clever (read dodgy) accounting. For us to run such a modest campaign – 113 election posters, no large billboards and 2,500 leaflets – cost us over £2,000. So if the PUP can afford to run a considerably larger campaign with 7 or 8 times more posters and god knows how many more leaflets for just £300 then every political party should employ the election agents behind their campaigns. I’ll personally be looking over their expenses returns very carefully when I get the chance. I smell something dodgy going on.

  • Drumlins Rock

    btw. the total spend for all parties works out at about 25p per voter, certainly cant say the votes were bought at that price…

  • Fair Deal

    “In the event, 16 is not as bad as many predicted, nor as bad as it could have been.”

    How many elections now is it that this has been the line trotted out to explain the UUP performance?

  • Mark,

    Don’t these people do mates rates?

    It looks a little odd that such a committed member is charging for his skillset when already getting a few shillings from the party.

    My understanding is that it would actually be illegal, or at least highly questionable, for McKinney to charge less than the market rate for his services to the party; if he did, it would be accounted as a benefit in kind and would have to be declared anyway.

    This was one of the many mistakes made by the SDLP in the 1992 West Belfast election, which resulted in a notorious subsequent court case, so presumably they are trying not to do it again. Let us be charitable and presume that McKinney has donated some of his fees received back to the party.