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Conservative £17.85 million
Labour £17.94 million
Liberal Democrats £4.32 million
Pressure groups have also on occasion intervened in election campaigns
through newspaper advertisements; business organisations, for instance, on
one side of the political divide and trade unions on the other.
In 1998 the majority of the Committee on Standards in Public Life concluded
that limits should be imposed on national campaign expenditure by political
parties and other campaigning individuals and organisations (Fifth Report, vol 1,
Cm 4057-I/1998, para 10.31). The Government in response brought forward
proposals for national expenditure limits which were enacted in the Political
Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. The Act imposes limits on regis-
tered political parties™ campaign expenditure for parliamentary general elections,
normally applicable to the period of 365 days ending with the date of the elec-
tion. The maximum amount a party may spend depends on the number of
constituencies it is contesting, an allowance of £30,000 being made for each con-
stituency contested. Accordingly a party contesting all the constituencies in the
United Kingdom in the 2005 general election was able to spend up to £19.38
million on the national campaign. The Act also sets limits on expenditure by third
parties intended to promote or oppose the election of a political party or its can-
didates. In 2005, twenty-six third parties were registered with the Electoral
Commission. The trade union UNISON and the Conservative Rural Action
Group together accounted for over 70 per cent of third party expenditure. (See
Electoral Commission, Election 2005: Campaign Spending (2006).) (Similar
controls are applied to expenditure by political parties and by third parties in
elections to the European Parliament and the devolved legislatures in Scotland,
Wales and Northern Ireland.) See further Marriott [2005] PL 764.

(iii) The media
The fairness of the electoral contest is put in question by partisanship in the
media of communication. Most newspapers display a political bias, sometimes
combined with an attempt at objectivity. There has been an unsurprising ten-
dency for a capitalist press which is concentrated in the hands of a few owners,
most of whom have other commercial interests, to uphold established view-
points and propagate a conservative political consensus. (See M Hollingsworth,
511 Parties, groups and the people


The Press and Political Dissent (1986).) For much of the twentieth century
the national press gave preponderant support to the Conservative Party. (For
the 1979, 1983, 1987 and 1992 general elections, see D Butler and D Kavanagh,
The British General Election of 1979 (1980), ch 12; The British General Election
of 1983 (1984), ch 9; The British General Election of 1987 (1988), ch 8; and The
British General Election of 1992 (1992), ch 9.) It has been argued that the tabloid
press in¬‚uenced voting behaviour in the 1992 election and ˜almost certainly
made the di¬erence between a Conservative victory and a hung Parliament™
(Thomas, ˜Labour, the tabloids, and the 1992 General Election™ (1998) 12
Contemporary British History 80. See also J Tunstall, Newspaper Power (1996).)
The balance was redressed in the 1997 election, ˜a landmark in the political
history of Britain™s press [and] the ¬rst campaign in which Labour secured the
support of most national daily newspapers™ (Butler and Kavanagh, The British
General Election of 1997 (1997), p 156). These authors commented that ˜it would
be naïve to regard the 1997 election as instituting a long-term “realignment” of
Britain™s newspapers™ (p 184). Nevertheless the shift was consolidated in the
2001 general election, with increased support (fourteen out of nineteen
national newspapers) for Labour, even if, as Butler and Kavanagh remarked,
˜without gusto™ (The British General Election of 2001 (2002), p 156). In the elec-
tion of 2005 the nine national newspapers supporting Labour ˜still commanded
more than half the total market by circulation and by historic standards the
party™s performance in the press remained strong™ (Scammell and Harrop in
D Kavanagh and D Butler, The British General Election of 2005 (2005), p 119).
But an increasingly de-aligned press has shown a diminished enthusiasm for
any of the parties, seeming to re¬‚ect a scepticism and lukewarmness among the
public at large. (See further Bartle, ˜The press, television, and the internet™ in
P Norris and C Wlezien (eds), Britain Votes 2005 (2005).)
It is debatable whether press comment and advocacy have a signi¬cant e¬ect
on voting behaviour, but it has been suggested that although the media ˜may not
persuade the public directly; nevertheless they a¬ect what people know,
and what they think is important™ (J Curran and J Seaton, Power without
Responsibility (1981), p 273. See further P Dunleavy and C Husbands, British
Democracy at the Crossroads (1985), chs 1 and 5; W Miller, Media and Voters
(1991); R Blackburn, The Electoral System in Britain (1995), pp 263“70;
P Norris, Electoral Change in Britain since 1945 (1997), pp 217“25.)
The independence and diversity of the press are essential if the public are to
be able to acquire the information needed for the exercise of political choice
in a mature democracy. The authors of the Minority Report of the Royal
Commission on the Press (Cmnd 6810/1977), convinced of a ˜manifest politi-
cal imbalance in Britain™s national press™, argued for governmental measures
which would achieve greater diversity in the press without prejudice to its
freedom. The majority, on the other hand, were not in favour of public
measures to correct political partisanship in the press, such as the establishment
of a public launch fund to help new newspapers. They expressed their ˜¬rm
512 British Government and the Constitution


belief . . . that the press should be left free to be partisan™, restrained only by the
law and a strengthened Press Council (since replaced by another self-regulatory
body, the Press Complaints Commission) (addendum to ch 10, para 11).
Although the ownership of media (newspapers and commercial broadcasting)
is subject to the restraints of general competition law, governments have recog-
nised the need for special limitations of media ownership to ensure that ˜a
signi¬cant number of di¬erent media voices™ can be heard. The Department of
Culture, Media and Sport, in a Consultation on Media Ownership Rules (2001),
para 1.7, set out the case for a plurality of media sources:

Plurality ensures that no individual or corporation has excessive power in an industry which
is central to the democratic process.
A plurality of owners should secure a plurality of sources of news and editorial opinion,
which is vital given the position that newspapers and current a¬airs occupy at the heart of
public debate. A healthy democracy depends on a culture of dissent and argument, which
would inevitably be diminished if there were only a limited number of providers of news.
At the limit, even though a single source might produce impartial, high-quality content,
they would be able to dictate exactly what constituted ˜news™ itself, and their inclusion or
omission of stories could slant the whole news agenda in a particular direction.
Plurality maintains our cultural vitality. Different media companies produce different
styles of programming and publishing, which each have a different look and feel to them.
A plurality of approaches adds to the breadth and richness of our cultural experience.

Latterly the Government has adopted a ˜deregulatory™ standpoint, favouring
a relaxation of speci¬c controls on media ownership, while insisting that rules
are to remain in place when necessary as ˜safeguards of democratic debate™. The
Government™s proposals were incorporated in the Communications Act 2003,
establishing a new regulatory body, the O¬ce of Communications (OFCOM),
which is invested with general competition powers (exercising a jurisdiction
concurrent with that of the O¬ce of Fair Trading). The Act makes changes to
the newspaper merger regime. The Secretary of State, advised by OFCOM, is
empowered to intervene, with a view to enforcement action, in newspaper
mergers on public interest grounds, including the need for a su¬cient plurality
of views in newspapers. Similarly, the Secretary of State may intervene in cross-
media mergers on public interest grounds, including the need for a su¬cient
plurality of persons with control of media enterprises. OFCOM is required to
review media ownership rules at least every three years and may recommend
further reforms to the Secretary of State.
Political broadcasts were ¬rst transmitted by the BBC in 1924 and ITV began
to do so in 1956. Subsequently the holders of licences to provide television and
radio services under the Broadcasting Act 1990 were required by the terms of
the licences to include party political broadcasts in the licensed service, in
accordance with rules made by the regulatory authorities. In a Review of
Party Political Broadcasting of 2003 the Electoral Commission said that
513 Parties, groups and the people


party political broadcasts (PPBs) o¬ered political parties ˜their only opportu-
nity to present an unmediated broadcast message directly to the electorate™ and
emphasised their e¬ectiveness as direct campaigning tools available to the
parties. New arrangements for PPBs were made by the Communications Act
2003. OFCOM must include in the licences for commercial public service
broadcasters (channels three, four and ¬ve and national radio services) require-
ments to broadcast PPBs in accordance with rules made by OFCOM having
regard to the views of the Electoral Commission. The BBC and (in Wales) Sianel
Pedwar Cymru determine their own policies for the allocation of PPBs but must
have regard to any views expressed by the Electoral Commission. Consistency
in allocation of PPBs is sought through a Broadcasters™ Liaison Group which
aims to reach consensus on allocation policy, taking into account the views of
political parties. Allocations for a forthcoming general election are made to
parties (registered with the Electoral Commission) on the basis of the number
of candidates being ¬elded and previous electoral support.
Extensive radio and television coverage of general elections occurs in news
programmes, reports from party press conferences, interviews of party leaders,
etc. Broadcast programmes relating to the election are exempt from the pro-
hibition of unauthorised expenditure imposed by section 75(1) of the
Representation of the People Act 1983 (see above). But section 93(1) formerly
provided that a candidate might not take part in a broadcast about his con-
stituency for the purpose of promoting his election unless every other candi-
date in the constituency consented. This meant that a candidate could (in e¬ect)
veto any broadcast in which another candidate in his or her constituency was to
take part. This provision was repealed by the Political Parties, Elections and
Referendums Act 2000, section 144: instead it is provided that each broadcast-
ing authority is to adopt a code of practice with respect to the participation of
candidates in broadcast items about a constituency. In drawing up the code, a
broadcasting authority must have regard to any views expressed by the Electoral
Commission.
Section 320 of the Communications Act 2003 requires the providers of tele-
vision and radio services (other than the BBC, see below) to preserve ˜due
impartiality™ in matters of political or industrial controversy or relating to
current public policy. OFCOM is required by section 319 of the Act to draw up
and keep under review a broadcasting code which is to include provision for
ensuring, inter alia, compliance with the impartiality requirements of section
320 and that news is reported with due accuracy. OFCOM investigates breaches
of the code and in serious cases may impose sanctions on the broadcaster. The
BBC is not subject to a statutory duty of impartiality, but the Framework
Agreement between the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and the
BBC (Cm 6872/2006) imposes an obligation on the BBC to ˜do all it can to
ensure that controversial subjects are treated with due accuracy and impartial-
ity™ in the output of news or in dealing with matters of public policy or of polit-
ical or industrial controversy. (For this purpose ˜a series of programmes may be
514 British Government and the Constitution


considered as a whole™.) The BBC Trust (the sovereign body in the BBC) must
draw up and keep under review a code of guidance as to the rules to be observed
by the BBC in performance of this obligation, and must do all it can to ensure
that the code is complied with.
The duty of impartiality is important for it would be rash to deny the possi-
bility of an in¬‚uence of television, in particular, on political attitudes and the
outcome of elections. The formal requirement of impartiality leaves a great deal
to the judgement of the broadcasting authorities; the independence of these
bodies, in particular their immunity from covert governmental pressure, is
something that calls for constant vigilance.
The courts will not intervene in the exercise of judgement by the broadcast-
ing authorities, unless their decision is so unreasonable as to be perverse, or they
have acted in breach of their legal obligations (including obligations arising
from section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998): see Attorney General (ex rel
McWhirter) v Independent Broadcasting Authority [1973] QB 629; Wilson
v Independent Broadcasting Authority 1979 SC 351; Wilson v Independent Broad-
casting Authority (No 2) 1988 SLT 276; R v BBC and ITC, ex p Referendum Party
[1997] COD 459; R (Prolife Alliance) v BBC [2003] UKHL 23, [2004] 1 AC 185.
(See further Seymour-Ure, ˜The media in postwar British politics™ (1994) 47
Parliamentary A¬airs 530.)
A modest but useful reform of electoral law was brought about by the
Registration of Political Parties Act 1998 in protecting parties registered under
the Act from misuse of their names by persons seeking to mislead the electorate.
In Sanders v Chichester [1995] 03 LS Gaz R 37 an Election Court of the Queen™s
Bench Division had held that a candidate in the 1994 European parliamentary
election was not prohibited from describing himself as a ˜Literal Democrat™. (On
other occasions candidates had declared themselves to be standing for the
˜Conservatory Party™ or the ˜New Labour Party™.) A revised scheme of registration
was introduced by Part II of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums
Act 2000, obliging every party that wishes to put up candidates at an election to
be registered with the Electoral Commission. A party is not permitted to register
under a name which is the same as that of a registered party or is likely to lead
voters to confuse it with a registered party. Further provision to prevent the
registration of party names designed to mislead voters is made by the Electoral
Administration Act 2006. (Registration is also the basis for the restrictions on
campaign expenditure by political parties (above) and for controls on account-
ing systems and funding of parties (see below).)


(c) The electoral system
The electoral system in use a¬ects both the ˜value™ of a vote in terms of its
e¬cacy to secure the election of a preferred representative to Parliament, and
also the likelihood that the government elected into power will re¬‚ect the inter-
ests or policy preferences of the electorate. The system adopted in the United
515 Parties, groups and the people


Kingdom for elections to the House of Commons is that known variously as the
˜¬rst past the post™ (FPTP), ˜plurality™, or ˜relative majority™ system. Some other
Commonwealth countries (eg Canada and India) and the United States also
make use of this system, but in most democratic countries, in Europe and else-
where, di¬erent systems are preferred.
In the FPTP system, voting takes place in single-member constituencies and
the candidate with most votes is elected. It is not the object of this system to
produce an elected House which will be a ˜mirror of the nation™ in the sense that
it accurately represents the di¬erent parties, interests or viewpoints in society.
For many years the system has supported the alternation in government of two
main parties, usually assuring to one or other of them an absolute majority in
the House of Commons. The tendency of FPTP to disfavour small parties
(unless their support is regionally concentrated) and to give a disproportionate
bene¬t in seats won to the party with the largest share of the popular vote, has
worked in favour of single-party government. Parties have been able to come
forward with policies for government, not for bargaining, and general elections
have acquired virtually the character of referendums in which the people have
decided which party should form the government. Richard Rose wrote in 1974
(The Problem of Party Government, p 115):

The argument for the existing procedure is simply stated: the British electoral system is
intended to manufacture majority government. It does this by giving disproportionately more
seats to the most successful party. The element of distortion in the ratio of votes to seats is
usually considered a small price to pay for the greater advantage of fixing responsibility for
government upon a single party with a majority in the House of Commons. A purely pro-
portional allocation of seats in accordance with votes would result in neither the Conservative
nor Labour party gaining a majority in the Commons. The weakest rather than the strongest
of the three parties, the Liberals, could decide who governs.

For much of the twentieth century FPTP worked reasonably well, at least in
the period from 1931 to 1970 when an overwhelming majority of voters gave
their support to the two main parties. In the ten general elections held in that
period the two major parties together won an average of 90.74 per cent of the
vote (their joint share never falling below 85 per cent). In all but one of those
elections the party that formed the government “ including the National
Governments of 1931 and 1935 dominated by the Conservatives “ had won
more votes than any other party: the exception was the 1951 election, won by
the Conservatives although Labour had a 0.8 per cent larger share of the total
vote. Every government in that period had an absolute majority of seats in the
House of Commons. Thus the system was manufacturing majority govern-
ment, and since the great majority of those voting (the turnout of voters then
averaging 76.71 per cent) gave their votes to one or other of the two main
parties, it seems a reasonable inference that those parties stood for a range of
viewpoints that were widely held in the community.

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