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 deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.