The Electoral Commission has confirmed that the law was broken by the Conservative Party in the 2015 general election (Conservatives fined record £70,000 for campaign spending failures, 16 March). Permitted expenses were exceeded in a significant number of marginal constituencies. Who broke the law, the Tory party centrally or the local constituency candidates and agents, is yet to be determined. We have already heard from some candidates and agents that a visit from the dreaded “battle bus” was imposed on them. However, whether or not those candidates and agents are criminally liable, the results in those constituencies in which expense limits were exceeded are unsound, and the MPs “elected” must be removed immediately and byelections called. Unless there is evidence of local complicity, there would be no reason to block the sitting member from being a candidate in a byelection.
• The last Labour government legislated to try and prevent scandals over political donations by requiring transparency concerning them. It also aimed to provide for a level playing field in elections by imposing a cap on national expenditure while preserving existing rules covering constituency spending. The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act of 2000 has been shown by recent events to be unfit for purpose. Too much power remains with a handful of major donors. The potential ambiguity between national spending and constituency spending rules has further undermined the principle passed into law in Gladstone’s time that thousands of votes should be more important in winning seats than thousands of pounds. The Committee on Standards in Public Life produced an excellent report in 2011 which would have largely addressed the problems. Lord Tyler introduced a private members bill last week updating their proposals and providing a basis for reform. All those committed to improving the health of our democracy should now agree that we cannot continue allowing elections and referendums to take place under present rules.
Liberal Democrat, House of Lords
• The present mess suggests there should at the very least be an inquiry into the national funding of general election campaigns. It would be much easier to keep politics clean if all expenditure was restricted to funding local campaigns within agreed limits. It is also questionable whether current local spending limits are too high. Certainly here in Sutton Coldfield opposition parties can never hope to spend up to the maximum, whereas our Tory opponents could certainly afford to spend many times over the limit. We have the members and no money while they have the money but no members.
Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands
• This is the very same Conservative party that quietly withdrew central funding for electoral leaflets in the last police and crime commissioner elections in England and Wales. At the same time they increased the candidates’ deposit from £500 to £5,000. My own force area consists of three large counties. I don’t know of any private individual/candidate who could afford to fund a leaflet drop to every household in an area that size. The net effect of these two acts was to severely disadvantage independent candidates, hence the small number that were successful at the last election.
Weston Rhyn, Shropshire
• As in the US, it is increasingly true that the winner of an election is usually the one with the most money to throw at securing it. If the poor can be priced out of the arena so much to the benefit of the privileged middle-class champagne socialist. Such blatant incentives to corruption only serve to prove that government in the UK is by the rich, for the rich and of the rich.
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