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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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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