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Can money buy you more votes?

March 29th, 2005

    Has your Tory candidate passed the Ashcroft test?

Is your Tory PPC one of the lucky ones who are on the “Bearwood List” – a special group of candidates who are said to have been hand-picked by the former Conservative party treasurer and Belize-based multimillionaire, Lord Ashcroft, to receive extra attention and money to fight this election

The chosen ones are said to be in seats the Tories must hold or win and their campaigns have benefited by donations reported to be as large as £21,000. These are individual donations to the constituencies themselves and have by-passed the party’s central organisation.

Visiting the town of Bedford, where I’m moving back to in a fortnight’s time, and you can’t but notice that a different form of political campaign is taking place. As well as the standard “Are you thinking what we’re thinking” Tory bill-boards there are huge poster sites dedicated to bespoke ads on behalf of the local candidate. A flashy new campaign headquarters has just been opened and thousands of households have been sent a specially produced CD-Rom. This features a series of mini-films of the man himself and promoting what’s presented as a warm, approachable but highly effective individual who is strongly rooted in the local community.

    The Tories are playing to win here, there’s big money going into this local campaign and it has certainly got people talking about the candidate.

What is surprising is that Bedford, where I stood for the Lib Dems in 1992, is on the list at all. It is down as the Labour seat number 111 in terms of marginality and if seats like this starting changing hands then we are firmly in hung parliament territory.

Surely the money could have been better spent in a constituency where a win was more achievable?

One wonders, too, how Tory activists and PPCs in seats not chosen by Lord Ashcroft feel about being left out. This sort of thing can be very divisive.

Whether the extra resource will produce more gains we will have to wait and see – but it might be something spread-betters need to factor in. If Ashcroft’s lucky candidates enjoy disproportionate successes then it will certainly affect the Commons seat markets.

Mike Smithson






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