Theme: Parties & Elections | Content Type: Blog

The Surprising Cost of Becoming a Parliamentary Candidate

Rosie Campbell, Jennifer Hudson and Wolfgang Rüdig


Anna Sullivan

| 7 mins read

Who represents us, how they got there, and their attitudes and beliefs are the underpinnings of our political system. 

In our surveys of all parliamentary candidates who stood in the 2015 and 2017 British general elections we attempt to answer these questions and to set them in international and temporal context. The Representative Audit of Britain continues a times-series of data collected on parliamentary candidates in Britain since 1992, as well as linking to cross-national data by including items from the comparative candidate study (CCS). 

The 2015 and 2017 elections were very different beasts. The 2015 election fell as expected per the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act so the parties had time to plan their selection processes and follow their usual procedures. In contrast, the 2017 general election was announced by the prime minister Theresa May with just over seven weeks until polling day. 

Hence in 2017 the parties were given precious little time to select candidates and to get campaigning. The Conservatives and Labour parties adapted their rules considerably to meet the challenge. 

Conservative selections

The Conservative Party set special rules shortcutting the usual selection procedure. New candidates were screened through emergency parliamentary assessment boards over a five-day period; comprising of a 45-minute interview with a senior party officer, with a pass or fail decision made on the day. 

Incumbent Conservative MPs wishing to stand again had to secure a majority of their local association’s executive council or a majority of the local association’s members. Associations were usually offered a choice of three candidates at a general meeting of the local party. 

In seats that were neither retirements nor targets, a candidate was selected by the chairman of the party and the chairman of the National Conservative Convention, after consultation with officers from the local party. 

Labour selections

The Labour Party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) officers agreed that any sitting MP would automatically be endorsed by the NEC and other selections would be made using the ‘exceptional selections procedure’. 

The selections were undertaken in two tranches, the first for retirement seats and the second for seats not held by Labour. Candidates submitted an application form and CV. Longlisted candidates for retirement seats were interviewed by three NEC members. For non-held seats candidates were required to write to declare the seats they were applying to. Interviews were not conducted and no local selection hustings were held. 

For each English European Parliament region (Wales and Scotland ran their own processes) the party formed a panel consisting of two NEC members and a member of the regional board. A meeting or conference call was conducted for each regional panel. Candidates who stood in 2015 were considered first and the process was the same for all non-held seats

The extent of the difference between 2015 and 2017 described above is clearly evident in the responses to our survey question about selection process presented in table one. Thus, we have an interesting point of comparison between 2015 and 2017 to exploit in our research.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="640"] Table 1. Candidate selection procedures in 2015 and 2017 (%)  Question: ‘In order to select the candidates to represent the party in the 2015/2017 general election, did your constituency carry out a postal or online ballot of members/hold a meeting of party members to vote on nominations?’ N = 1356 (2015) and 1035 (2017)[/caption]

The cost of seeking selection

One key area that our survey has highlighted is the cost of seeking selection. Campaign expenses are regulated and regularly discussed in the media but the issue of the costs of getting selected in the first place has been given much less attention.

A small number of respondents to the 2015 survey reported over £50,000 in selection expenses which seemed unrealistically high, but in our interviews with candidates it became clear that this was a reasonable figure for highly desirable seats once forgone earnings, travel costs and rentals were included.

Drawing on data for the 2015 general election (the 2017 data is still being collated), Table 2 shows that the costs of standing are not insignificant with an average spend across all candidates who had selection expenses of £1,966. Average costs for candidates who had selection expenses range from £970 for Plaid Cymru candidates, to £3,903 for Conservative candidates, but there is significant variation in selection expenses for candidates in the same parties. More generally, with the exception of UKIP, a majority of candidates think the costs of entering politics is too high (Table 3).

Our research into selection costs highlights the financial barriers to participation in politics that, in our view, have been given too little public scrutiny and are likely to limit the opportunities for a diverse range of citizens to be selected to stand in many winnable seats.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="640"] Table 2. Selection expenses of candidates in 2015 general election (excluding candidates who reported no selection expenses) Question: ‘How much have you spent (approximately) on selection expenses for the 2015 general election?’ N = 772 (2015)[/caption][caption id="" align="alignnone" width="640"] Table 3. (Monetary) costs of entering politics in Britain (%) Question: ‘Do you think the (monetary) cost of entering politics is too high, about right, or too low? N = 1554 (2015) and 1148 (2017)[/caption]

Our survey includes items matched with the Comparative Candidate Survey, The British Election Study, The Party Members Survey and the Party Agent Survey and the data will be available from the UK data archive in 2019. For more information about other topics covered in our survey (including the harassment of election candidates and candidate’ backgrounds) and our publications please see our report.

  • Rosie Campbell

    Rosie Campbell

    Rosie Campbell is Professor of Politics and Director of the Global Institute for Women's Leadership at King's College London.

    Articles by Rosie Campbell
  • Jennifer Hudson

    Jennifer Hudson

    Jennifer Hudson is Professor of Political Behaviour at University College London.

    Articles by Jennifer Hudson
  • Wolfgang Rüdig

    Wolfgang Rüdig

    Wolfgang Rüdig is Reader in Politics at the School of Government and Public Policy, University of Strathclyde.

    Articles by Wolfgang Rüdig
Volume 94, Issue 4

Latest Journal Issue

Volume 94, Issue 4

Includes a collection on Scottish Politics After Sturgeon, edited by Ben Jackson and Anna Killick. This features articles such as 'Independence is not Going Away: The Importance of Education and Birth Cohorts' by Lindsay Paterson; 'Diary of an SNP First Minister: A Chronopolitics of Proximity and Priorities' by Hannah Graham; and 'Politics, the Constitution and the Independence Movement in Scotland since Devolution' by Malcolm Petrie. There are a wide range of other articles including 'Unlocking the Pensions Debate: The Origins and Future of the ‘Triple Lock’ by Jonathan Portes and 'The Politics of England: National Identities and Political Englishness' by John Denham and Lawrence Mckay. Finally, there is a selection of book reviews such as Branko Milanovic's review of Equality: The History of an Elusive Idea by Darrin M. McMahon, and Alexandre Leskanich's review of Cannibal Capitalism by Nancy Fraser.

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