How Much Does it Cost to Buy an Election?

The Electoral Commission today published the expenditure returns for the Assembly elections in May 2016. They make for interesting reading.

Topping the poll in terms of spend was the Ulster Unionist Party with a declared spend of £95,855. Not surprising perhaps that a party led by a former television presenter and PR person would spend on what we can assume is primarily publicity and posters.

The next highest spends came from the DUP and Sinn Féin with declared expenditure of £89,439 and £53,243 respectively. The SDLP was next on £51,736 followed by the Alliance Party on £37,554. The TUV spent £3,703 and the Green Party £3,283.

Not included in today’s publication is Justice Minister Claire Sugden who, as an independent, would only have to file if her expenditure was in excess of £10,000 and People Before Profit who hold two seats in the Assembly. We are told that three parties submitted returns late and two parties failed to sumbit. Once we know what enforcement action is taken, we’ll know which category PBP falls into.

What is most interesting in financial and PR terms is the principle of return on capital employed. The UUP with the highest spend had 16 MLAs elected. That equates to a spend of £5,990 per seat secured. Their partners in opposition the SDLP spent £4,311 per seat secured, although they were outdone by Alliance whose spend per seat was £4.694. Next was lone wolf Jim Allister of the TUV who secured their only seat at £3,703 expenditure.

For the Executive parties the DUP’s spend per seat was £2,354 and Sinn Féin’s was £1,901. The Green Party’s two MLA’s were elected with a per seat spend of £1,642.

Mike Nesbitt isn’t nearly three and a half times as good a party leader and MLA as Steven Agnew and we get two Greens for the price of one TUV – cheap at half the price!

So if expenditure doesn’t equate to seats, what does? In Assembly elections it is nothing but good old-fashioned constituency work. That’s why Clare Bailey secured the Green’s second seat and why Sinn Féin has an MLA and Minister in Mairtín Ó’Muilleoir in middle-class South Belfast. It’s why Claire Sugden held her seat following co-option during the previous Assembly term.

So who wants to tell Mike?

  • Sorry Patricia but WHAT??
    Granted this slugger, and every article almost always have some political SPIN on it, but your last paragraph is very funny. Are you suggesting that MLAs don’t get elected unless they work hard? or that electing them is a sign of hard work? Poor Alex Maskey slugged away in SB for years, MOM didn’t raise the SF vote by much, not sure its hard work, more a natural SF vote. We saying that McKinney didn’t work enough to get elected? Or that McDonnell works harder than anyone to be elected MP?

  • mickfealty

    We do need to be very sceptical about any party’s declared figure, the Commission has long flagged up that they have absolutely no way of auditing these figures.

    Bucket of salt required.

  • chrisjones2

    Agree totally but this is taken seriously elsewhere and at the moment I think we have 2 members due in the dock for false reruns and several more under investigation

    Why in NI is NOTHING ever enforced?

  • chrisjones2

    Is it reassuring that it seems cheaper to buy an election than a politician …or a politician’s friend?

  • BetsyGray

    That you John…😉😎

  • mac tire

    “Why in NI is NOTHING ever enforced?”

    Hold your fire, Chris. Let’s see how the Tories fare in the spending investigation they are under at the moment in relation to the last General Election.

  • Granni Trixie

    Whilst i would like to agree that ‘hard work is rewarded at the polls’ I’m afraid experience tells me otherwise. Yes, it is necessary to work your patch but that does not necessarily get you over the line – something newbies have to learn.

    Though the interplay of many factors impacts on election results,I think putting across a clear message is key…..something more difficult to achieve than may appear.

  • chrisjones2

    ..and Labour and the Limp Dems and the SNP ….whoops forgot that helicopter…silly me

  • Richard Cairns

    You have to bear in mind that is the party return, candidates file separate returns in addition.

    Party returns are generally for items which promote the party (PEBs, party advertising etc), while candidate returns reflect promotion of the individual candidate.

    For a realistic assessment of financial resources put in you need to add in the candidate spend. (Not certain if it is published or just available for inspection)

  • anon

    This is a pointless article with a terrible headline.