Labour cuts the posters, not the messages

Chicken donors

Labour may have been enjoying a boost in poll ratings lately, but the Conservatives still have a huge financial advantage. The latest figures from the Electoral Commission show that the Tories received donations of nearly £10.5m in the last three months of 2009, dwarfing the £4.9m given to Labour.

Tory donors gave more than £27m last year, the largest total received by any party since 2001 (see graph). The fundraising lead once enjoyed by Labour has been eroded as big donors such as Christopher Ondaatje - who bankrolled the party under Blair - have been lost.

The Tories do not depend on Michael Ashcroft - who last year gave about £330,000 through his firm Bearwood Corporate Services - as heavily as they did. But the Tory peer, who has given the party £6.8m since 2001, retains a controlling influence over its marginals strategy. He and other donors may start to question how their funds are used. That airbrushed Cameron poster and macabre tombstone ad were not examples of money well spent.

While Cameron plans to spend the legal maximum of £18m on the election, Labour, fearful of bankruptcy, will run a lean, £4m campaign, eschewing ordinary advertising in favour of modern techniques such as "crowdsourcing". Things may change in coming weeks, but so far fears the Tories might "buy the election" seem overstated.

Duty free

The Conservatives are fond of claiming that more people than ever are caught in the inheritance-tax net, but do the figures bear them out? The "death tax" (a phrase borrowed from the US right) - or "death duties", as the inheritance tax's predecessor was known - was introduced in 1894. The earliest available records date from 1939, by which time about 30 per cent of estates were paying the tax.

Now, a mere 3 per cent of households pay inheritance tax and the Tories' plan to raise the threshold to £1m for individuals and £2m for couples would make this fall to just 0.75 per cent, or 3,000 estates. The days when David Cameron asserted that "the right test for our policies is how they help the most disadvantaged in society, not the rich" seem very far away.

Romford rumbles

Has the "Nasty Party" really changed? A new Conservative leaflet crudely declares that the "floodgates" have been opened to immigration and promises to deliver a "massive" 75 per cent cut in new arrivals. It suggests that this could be achieved in part by imposing transnational controls on the rights of would-be British residents from the new EU member states to work in the UK, something currently illegal under EU law.

The Tory shadow home affairs minister, Andrew Rosindell, in whose Romford constituency the leaflet was circulated, insists that he did not promote or approve it. But given that he was out campaigning on the day the leaflet was delivered, his denial appears far from convincing.

Brighton/West-off

The Greens may be on course to win in Brighton Pavilion and claim their first Westminster seat but they're having less luck elsewhere in the country. The party's candidate in Weston-super-Mare, Richard Lawson, has decided to withdraw from the contest - because he wants the Liberal Democrats to win. Weston-super-Mare, a marginal seat, is held by the Tories with a majority of 2,079, and Lawson feared that his candidature would drain votes from the Lib Dems, who need a swing of just 2.2 per cent to regain it. He's probably right, but what took him so long to decide?