Kissing babies is a vital campaigning technique. Photo: Getty
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The 2015 election campaign officially begins: what does this mean?

The "long campaign" begins today.

Although anyone who's been watching British politics closely for the past six months would be forgiven for thinking it had already started, the general election campaign officially begins today. 

It is the beginning of what is called the "long campaign", which runs from today until Whitehall goes into "purdah" (when the government is restricted on its use of the civil service) and parliament dissolves for the official pre-election period on 30 March. That is when the "short campaign" begins. The election itself will be held on 7 May 2015.

As the long campaign begins, new rules apply:
 

 - Campaign spending in each constituency is strictly limited, and prospective parliamentary candidates have to keep a record of all their expenses to report to the Electoral Commission

 - The pre-candidacy spending limit is now £30,700 (this changes to £8,700 in the short campaign)

 - The spending limit per voter is 9p in county constituencies

 - The spending limit per voter is 6p per voter in borough constituencies

 - Candidates must now declare all donations of more than £50 they receive for spending on election campaigning

 

Limits on the expenditure of political parties began in May this year; those that stand candidates in all 650 constituencies are permitted a maximum spend of £19.5m – £30,000 per seat. This election campaign also marks the first time charities and other organisations that aren't political parties are restricted on what they spend on campaign spending.

The first time Britain has seen a fixed-term parliament of five years has meant the build-up to May 2015 has already felt like a particularly long campaign. The addition of a surprise number of by-elections has added to the feeling of a perpetual election campaign. Politicians and voters alike will most likely be relieved now the campaign begins in earnest – because it means we're closer to the end.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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As crime moves online, the police need the investment in technology to follow

Technology offers solutions, not just threats.

It’s perhaps inevitable that as the world becomes more digital, so does crime. This week Alison Saunders, director of public prosecutions, recognised that online crime is as serious as face-to-face crime. “Hate is hate,” Saunders wrote referring to internet abuse, and the police should protect people from it wherever they are. This will add demand to under-pressure police forces. And it is only the tip of the iceberg. 

Forty-seven per cent of crime involves an online element. Police recorded 30,000 instances of online stalking and harassment last year. People are 20 times more likely to be a victim of fraud than robbery, costing businesses an estimated £144bn a year. On a conservative estimate, 2,500 UK citizens use the anonymous dark web browser, Tor, for illegal purposes such as drug dealing, revenge porn and child sexual exploitation.

The police need new technology to meet demand, a Reform report published today finds. Some progress has been made in recent years. West Midlands Police uses an online portal for people to report incidents. Durham uses evidence-gathering software to collect social media information on suspects, and then instantly compile a report that can be shared with courts. Police have benefited from smartphones to share information, and body-worn cameras, which have reduced complaints against police by 93 per cent.

Yet, Theresa May’s 2016 remarks that police use “technology that lags woefully behind what they use as consumers” still stand. Officers interviewed for Reform’s research implored: “Give us the tools to do our job”.

Online evidence portals should be upgraded to accept CCTV footage. Apps should be developed to allow officers to learn about new digital threats, following the US army’s library of knowledge-sharing apps. Augmented-reality glasses are being used in the Netherlands to help officers identify evidence at digital crime scenes. Officers would save a trip back to the station if they could collect fingerprints on smartphones and statements on body-worn cameras.

New technology requires investment, but forces are reducing the resources put into IT as reserves have dried up. Durham plans to cut spend by 60 per cent between 2015-16 and 2019-20. The government should help fund equipment which can meet demand and return future productivity savings. If the Home Office invested the same as the Department of Health, another department pushing “transformative” technology, it would invest an extra £450m a year. This funding should come from administrative savings delivered through accelerating the Government’s automation agenda, which the think tank Reform has previously calculated would save Whitehall £2.6bn a year.

As crime moves online, police must follow. Saunders is right to point to the importance of meeting it. But technology offers solutions, not just threats. Installing the next generation of equipment will give police the tools to do their jobs, addressing online hate and more. 

Alexander Hitchcock is a senior researcher at reform