General election deposits: Where do they go and how much are they costing parties in Kent?

PUBLISHED: 11:46 16 May 2017 | UPDATED: 11:46 16 May 2017

Picture: Rui Vieira/PA

Picture: Rui Vieira/PA

PA Wire/Press Association Images

Failing to win a certain number of votes can lead to huge financial costs for political parties

Green Party chiefs in Kent insist not appearing on the ballot paper in the general election is “a far bigger risk” than the prospect of losing thousands of pounds in a failed attempt to win power.

As political parties last week confirmed the candidates they want to field in next month’s general election, each will have had to pay a £500 deposit for the privilege of standing.

Candidates who win more than five per cent of the total number of votes in that constituency will have their cash returned, as is usually the case for political heavyweights such as the Conservatives and the Labour Party.

The smaller parties, however, face the prospect of racking up substantial financial costs if they fail to generate sufficient support when voters take to the polls.

Parliament says the policy, along with the requirement to provide signatures of 10 registered electors from the constituency, known as subscribers, is employed “in order to encourage only serious candidates to stand”.

However, polling watchdog, the Electoral Commission, has called for the deposit system to be scrapped in recent years, describing it as “unreasonable”.

The destination of those forfeited deposits, which across the county tallies up to make tens of thousands of pounds, and millions nationwide, is not widely known, however.

Returning officers running elections at Kent councils send the cash to the Treasury and its Consolidated Fund which is, essentially, a large bank account used for government spending.

Payments from this account must be authorised in advance by the House of Commons and the government presents its ‘requests’ to use this money in the form of Consolidated Fund Bills.

Countywide, in the last two elections, more than £50,000 has been sent to the Treasury through forfeited deposits in the 17 Kent seats, with £29,000 racked up in 2010 and a further £23,500 five years later.

The Greens’ bill came to some £7,000 in 2015 after failing to scratch the surface in 14 constituencies despite fielding a candidate in each area.

And with the polls predicting an overwhelming Conservative majority this time around, particularly in a county as traditionally blue as Kent, those figures may grow even more after the electorate have their say on June 8.

“Yes, we lost quite a few deposits last time but we have to continue,” the party’s Kent chair, Stuart Jeffery told KoS.

“People want to be able to vote for us and not being able to do that is a much bigger risk than losing £500.

“It’s going to be blue across the board, and no, we’re not going to win any seats, but there’s something about the number of votes you get and the message it sends to Westminster.

“It strengthens the case for proportional representation and bolsters our standing as a party.”

Mr Jeffery also points out that the party makes back the majority, if not all, of the cash it loses in forfeited deposits - a staggering £221,000 nationwide 24 months ago - through Short Money.

This is government funding made available to all opposition parties in the House of Commons that secured either two seats or one seat and more than 150,000 votes at the previous general election.

The Greens won more than 1.1 million votes last time out and when parliament dissolved earlier this month, the party had one MP, Caroline Lucas in nearby Brighton Pavilion in Sussex.

Chiefs have successfully orchestrated a cross-party alliance in recent days by convincing the Liberal Democrats not to stand against the party leader in three weeks’ time.

Mr Jeffery has tried to drum up support for a similar deal in Kent with Labour as well as the Lib Dems, but these hopes have been emphatically dashed by the red and yellow parties, who are also contesting all 17 seats in the county.

Responding to the commission’s suggestion that a shake-up is needed, Mr Jeffery said: “The entire electoral system is fundamentally flawed.

“Perhaps you could increase the number of subscribers to 20 or 30 so you can demonstrate some backing.

“The idea of keeping people from standing because of an archaic rule is fundamentally undemocratic.”

Ukip may also be in for a sizeable loss if this month’s county council elections are anything to go by, where the party had its representation at County Hall completely wiped out, just four years after winning an impressive 17 seats, and becoming the main opposition to the Conservatives.

In 2010, purple votes were few and far between and some 13 candidates saw their £500 fees disappear.

Interestingly however, in a quite remarkable turnaround in 2015, all Ukip candidates retained their deposits after a soar in interest, with the party winning at least five per cent of votes in every constituency it contested.

But with many believing the party is now on a downward trajectory, it may revert back to 2010 levels as it continues to grapple with its apparent identity crisis.

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