Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Lib Dem spending collapse in race for Borders votes


For a generation prior to 2015 the Liberal Democrats dominated the Borders political scene with distinguished MPs David Steel, Archy Kirkwood and Michael Moore representing the area from the 1960s onward.

But in the wake of Nick Clegg's disastrous decision to prop up David Cameron following the 2010 General Election many a Lib Dem MP, including Mr Moore, paid a heavy price for that collaboration.

Thousands of Borders electors who had voted consistently for Moore and his predecessors to keep the Tories out deserted the Lib Dems in droves in 2015 leaving the party's highly respected candidate trailing both SNP and Conservative representatives by 10,000 votes.

Theresa May's completely daft decision to hold a snap election earlier this year at least afforded the Borders Lib Dems the chance to stage a recovery. But far from halting the slide in their share of the vote in Westminster's Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk constituency, the activists must have been near to tears when the June 2017 result was declared.

Mr Moore's reasonably respectable third place of 2015 with 10,294 votes (19%) was replaced by a rock bottom finish - a mere 2,482 votes (4.7%) for candidate Caroline Burgess. And Calum Kerr's briefest of tenures for the SNP was ended by a Tory tidal wave which swept John Lamont into Westminster at the fourth attempt.

Details of the money spent by the candidates at the General Election, and at the Holyrood by-election for the Ettrick Roxburghshire and Berwickshire seat on the same day have been obtained by Not Just Sheep & Rugby.

The figures show how the Lib Dems spent virtually nothing on Ms Burgess's campaign although a more ambitious effort appears to have been made on the spending front in support of by-election candidate Catriona Bhatia, the daughter of David Steel..

The so-called short campaign of 2017 set a spending limit of £15,287 for each of the Westminster contestants. But while Michael Moore's campaign in 2015 required £14,014, Caroline Burgess had a paltry £1,932 to spend, including donations of £1,862. It appears the Lib Dems had given up the ghost long before polling day.

So how much money did others have at their disposal? The big difference in 2017 was the absence of a long campaign which the parties used from December 2014 until candidates were adopted for the 2015 fight.

That long campaign of 2014/15 saw Mr Lamont's supporters throw £35,000 at the seat with a further £13,989 available for the short campaign. The comparable sums for Mr Moore were £33,908 and £14,014 while Mr Kerr's more modest expenditure resulted in just £4,751 being devoted to the long campaign plus £14,836 for the short campaign.

It is worth recording that Independent Jesse Rae did not spend a penny on either the long or the short haul...a record of some sort in the annals of election expenditure.

The Tories were the top spenders in 2017 with Mr Lamont using £14,286 to woo the voters - £8,828 for "unsolicited material to electors" (leaflets) and £3,000 for "accommodation and administration".

Mr Kerr's team spent £14,086 - £10,473 of it for leafleting. The SNP campaign collected £13,925 in donations compared to £14,286 by the Conservatives. Labour's Ian Davidson's total spending came to £2,246 with £1,986 for electoral literature.

Turning to the by-election the figures on spending were as follows:

Successful Tory candidate Rachael Hamilton £9,346, including £5,374 on unsolicited material and £2,397 for accommodation and administration; runner up Gail Hendry £12,097 including £9,547 on leaflets; Sally Prentice (Labour) £1,187 - all of it on leaflets; and Catriona Bhatia (Lib Dem) £6,414 with £5,863 devoted to unsolicited material for electors.

The by-election result - Hamilton 20,658; Hendry 11,320; Prentice 3,406; Bhatia 3,196.

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