Electoral Commission blow for the anti-Ashcroft plan

Electoral Commission blow for the anti-Ashcroft plan


    Will this mean that the Tories will win even more marginals?

While the political world has been focussed on Labour’s by-election defeat in Glasgow and the possibility of a challenge to Brown’s leadership there’s another development this morning that has the potential to have an even bigger impact on the outcome of the next general election.

For the body that oversees elections – the Electoral Commission – is, according to the main lead on Guardian On-line overnight, suggesting that the Jack Straw plan designed to curb Conservative party spending in marginal seats in the run-up to an election could be stymied.

Under present arrangements spending limits in each seat only come into play once the election is called and many nervous Labour MPs in marginals have been worried about the so-called “Ashcroft money”. This is extra cash that is ploughed into key constituencies in the months and years beforehand and is said to have had a key impact at the last election. Labour has fears that the massive inferiority on fundraising compared with the Tories could see it at a disadvantage in seats it are defending.

Even though there is not the normal cross-party agreement for such a measure Jack Straw has announced that a law will be introduced. But now, according to the Guardian, “the commission’s chief executive, Peter Wardle, has written to the parties saying it has ‘strong reservations’ about proposals.”

While this body cannot stop a law being passed any new legislation only comes into force once it has issued its guidance on how it should operate.

What Straw has now been told is that “The commission’s view is that it would not be able to issue finalised guidance in this area until the relevant primary legislation had received royal assent and the commission had carefully considered the wider context in which guidance would operate, and consulted widely on the content of the guidance.”

With just 20 months left to a May 2010 general election the commission’s approach could delay a spending clamp-down for so long that it has very little effect.

YouGov poll. There is a YouGov poll in the Telegraph this morning which does not live up to the “unmissable reading” that the paper’s blog was teasing us with last night. The paper’s online story omits many of the key details and it is hard for me at this stage to do it justice.

Mike Smithson

Comments are closed.