LABOUR candidates failed to hold on to three key West Yorkshire battlegrounds despite out-spending their Tory rivals.
Junior Justice Minister Shahid Malik spent nearly £8,000 more than Tory Simon Reevell in Dewsbury as he desperately fought to keep the marginal seat in a bitter campaign, but ended up losing by 1,526 votes.
Jane Thomas also failed to hold on to Keighley for the party after veteran MP Ann Cryer’s decision to stand down despite spending nearly £4,000 more than her Tory rival Kris Hopkins, who benefited from a local profile having been leader of Bradford Council.
Labour’s biggest spender was Jamie Hanley, who lost out in Pudsey despite spending £38,075 – £13,000 more than Stuart Andrew, the Tory candidate who won with a majority of 1,659.
“I think the big challenge we faced was that I was selected as the candidate quite late in the day,” said Mr Hanley. “Stuart had been the candidate for about two and a half years before the election and had a significant local profile.
“When I was selected as the candidate, which was towards Christmas of 2009, the challenge was to set up a meaningful presence and raise my profile, which required considerable effort.
“I think in the run-up to the election the Conservative party were very much targeting Pudsey – it was one of their key target seats – and as such they were spending considerable sums from their national campaign spend so we had lots and lots of Conservative billboards around the constituency. So I think actually, when you look at the presence overall, I think the Conservatives had as much if not more presence than we did.”
While candidates must declare how much they spend on their own campaign – funding material such as leaflets, advertising, posters and phone canvassing – this does not include resources which are part of a party’s national campaign, such as billboard adverts which went up nationwide. Marginal candidates on all sides also benefited from profile-raising visits by senior party figures.
In total, Labour candidates spent £577,718.44 fighting seats in the region, helped by tens of thousands of pounds in donations from trade unions.
Mr Hanley was the only Labour candidate to spend more than £30,000, followed by Paul Blomfield whose campaign fighting off a Liberal Democrat challenge in Sheffield Central cost £28,534.
The party’s next biggest spender was Ed Balls in Morley and Outwood. Now the Shadow Chancellor, the fact that he spent £26,659 is a sign of how seriously he was taking the challenge from Tory candidate Antony Calvert, with even David Cameron having eyed up the seat for a possible “Portillo moment” on a par with former Tory Defence Secretary Michael Portillo’s humbling in 1997.
The cheapest Labour campaign was in Sheffield Hallam, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg’s seat, where Jack Scott spent £1,135, while the fact that they spent just £1,503 in Selby and Ainsty – compared to the Tories’ £31,441 – is a sign of how much they had given up hope in their most marginal seat.
Labour candidates outspent their rivals in 25 seats, compared to the Tories spending most in 21 and the Lib Dems in seven.