Exclusive: Tories used financial muscle to win key seats in Yorkshire

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THE financial muscle which helped Tory candidates win key Yorkshire seats at the General Election can be revealed today after they splashed out £300,000 on campaigns in 11 crucial marginal seats which helped propel David Cameron into Number 10.

Tory candidates spent £65,000 more than their nearest rivals in those key seats in the months leading up to polling day as target voters were bombarded with leaflets, posters and phone calls.

Analysis of official election spending data by the Yorkshire Post has revealed that Alec Shelbrooke – who ousted Labour in Elmet and Rothwell, a vital battleground – was the region’s biggest spender, splashing out £39,829.08 on his campaign which helped him win the seat with a majority of 4,521.

Another 10 seats in the region also fell to the Tories, who had built up an impressive war chest since William Hague was put in charge of fundraising for the party in the North, although they were the biggest spender in only five of the seats.

The figures reveal how the Liberal Democrats targeted a small number of key seats, outspending their rivals in the three constituencies they won – Bradford East, Leeds North West and Nick Clegg’s Sheffield Hallam – and another four target seats which they failed to win.

Labour candidates splashed out in a desperate – and ultimately unsuccessful – attempt to cling onto three crucial marginal seats in West Yorkshire, including controversial former Minister Shahid Malik who outspent the Tories in Dewsbury.

Across all the region’s seats, the Tories spent £751,298.57, Labour spent £577,718.44 and the Lib Dems spent £392,944.16. Those sums do not include the millions spent by the parties on national campaigning, including billboards, television broadcasts and phone and text messages.

The Electoral Commission has found that the amount spent by candidates soared in 2010 compared to the previous general election, with each contender spending an average £6,259 compared to £3,988 in 2005.

Mr Shelbrooke pointed out that none of the money came from taxpayers. He added; “People always complain that some parties have more to spend than others, and that’s the electoral cycle. In 1997 we couldn’t raise significant funds to fight an election – nor in 2001 – and Labour could. Now it’s switched around.”

The other five marginal seats where the Tories won after outspending rivals were Brigg and Goole, Calder Valley, Cleethorpes, Harrogate and Knaresborough, and Selby and Ainsty.

Jamie Hanley, who spent £13,000 more than Tory Stuart Andrew in Pudsey but failed to hold the seat for Labour, said: “We just raised as much money as we thought we could spend and then spent it in the best way to try to get our message to as many people as possible.

“I think we probably held the Conservative majority to a reasonably low figure which keeps us very much in the race whenever the next election might be.”

In 2009 the Tories pumped tens of thousands of pounds into key target seats in the region, with battleground constituencies benefiting from up to £35,000 in grants from party headquarters over the previous two years.

Labour constituencies also benefited from significant trade union funding – pocketing nearly £100,000 over two years – while Liberal Democrat seats have received significant sums from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust.

Other funding will have been raised during the campaign. In Morley and Outwood, Conservative activists ran a “Balls out for a Tenner” campaign encouraging people to donate to their bid to oust senior Labour politician Ed Balls.

National campaign spending by parties fell by £10m last year compared to 2005. The Conservatives spent £16.6m, down from £17.8m in 2005, but Labour’s spending halved from £17.9m in 2005 to £8m.

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