Electoral Commission data shows party allocated £2.1m to Facebook advertising alone
Theresa May lost her majority in the 2017 election despite outspending Labour by more than £7m. Photograph: WPA Pool/Getty Images
The Conservatives spent more than £18.5m while losing their majority at last year’s general election, against £11m of spending by Labour and £6.8m by the Liberal Democrats, newly released figures have shown.
The Electoral Commission data, which covers the 12 months prior to the election on 8 June, showed the increasing role of social media in campaigning, with the Conservatives spending about £2.1m on Facebook advertising alone.
In contrast, Labour – whose message is seen as being shared more widely and favourably on social media – spent slightly over £500,000 on Facebook advertising.
The biggest single element of the Conservative spend was £4m, which went to Crosby Textor, the market research firm run by the Tories’ regular election guru Sir Lynton Crosby, whose reputation took something of a battering after Theresa May lost her majority.
The Conservatives spent more than £500,000 with the political consulting group set up by Jim Messina, Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign manager, who also worked for the party under David Cameron at the 2015 election.
In addition to consultants, the Tories spent £262,799 of party funds on helicopters and private jets during campaigning, including £31,688 for a flight from Southampton to Norwich for Theresa May, her husband, Conservative party staff and journalists. The party spent almost £13,000 at one sandwich shop in Westminster.
The biggest single Labour spend was £624,000 on direct mail leaflets, dwarfing the £2,290 the party spent on balloons.
For the Lib Dems, the biggest one-off expense was £244,000 on Facebook advertising. Due to a Lib Dem policy of refunding staff who had to postpone holidays, the party paid out £2,795 to Disney to cancel a Caribbean cruise.
Among other parties, the SNP spent £1.6m on the election, the Green party £299,000 and the Women’s Equality party (WEP) £285,000.The Conservatives paid £4m to a market research firm run by their election guru Sir Lynton Crosby. Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images
The financial decline of Ukip was shown by the fact that it was outspent by the WEP, with a total 2017 election outlay of £273,000 – down from £2.8m in 2015.
The Electoral Commission figures include total spending by political parties and non-party campaigners who spent more than £250,000 at the election, with data for those spending less than this released late last year.
Taken together, there was a total spend at the 2017 election of £41.6m by a combination of 75 parties and 18 non-party campaigners. For the 2015 election, the spend was £39m by 57 parties and 23 non-party campaigners.
The Electoral Commission said it had opened a series of investigations into some of the spending records provided by parties. The Conservatives, Labour and the Greens are being investigated for submitting spending returns that were missing invoices and over potentially inaccurate statements of payments.
The Conservatives and Lib Dems face investigation for claims for payments or payments made after post-election deadlines, while the WEP is being investigated for submitting a spending return inconsistent with its reported donations.
Bob Posner, the head of political finance at the Electoral Commission, said: “It is vital that voters are given an opportunity to see accurate and full reportable data on what parties and campaigners spent money on in order to influence them at last year’s general election.
“We are investigating possible breaches of the rules. However, our ongoing discussions with the major parties indicate to us that they may wish to consider the robustness of their internal governance and level of resourcing to ensure they can deliver what the law requires.”