I’ve no idea how many of the Conservative gains at the last general election were as a direct result of the so-called “Ashcroft money”. But I do know that no party should be allowed to buy themselves a majority by funnelling vast quantities of cash into marginal seats.
Predictably, of course, the Tories disagree, as can be seen from their hysterical reaction to Jack Straw’s announcement last week of a curb on local spending by parties between elections.
The key to enforcing this lies with local party activists. I’ve often been privy to discussions among Labour activists who were convinced that our opponents had broken some electoral law or other, and each time the conversation would end with everyone expecting someone else to take the complaint forward to an official level. Nothing ever happened. This time, especially if we’re to reintroduce the so-called “trigger” (at which point a candidate’s general election spending is deemed to have begun – theoretically months or even years before the national campaign proper is launched), local parties will have to be vigilant to make sure the new rules aren’t flouted.