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General Election: Campaign spending and targeting explained


The run-up to next month's General Election continues to be busy for Professor Justin Fisher, Brunel University London's Head of the Department of Politics, History and the Law School, who has given expert comment and analysis widely on TV, radio and online this week.

Saturday 6 May: LBC radio and BBC Radio 4

Professor Fisher was interviewed live on LBC early in the morning, where he was asked to analyse how Theresa May will benefit from the comments recently been made by President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker and his aide Martin Selmayr: that Brexit will 'never be a success'.

Referring to May's response  – that she'll be a 'bloody difficult woman' during negotiations – Professor Fisher said that "Theresa May didn't really need to make those remarks, and it smacked a little of desperation. For someone who is normally so polished and reserved, that struck me as a rather unnecessary outburst."

Later that morning, BBC Radio 4 aired an interview in which Nick Robinson discussed campaign spending with Professor Fisher – and in particular what comes under local spending, rather than national.

In the case of the election for the West Midlands metro mayor, Andy Street, who won for the Conservatives, admitted that he spent a lot more than his opponent: almost a million pounds. How could this be, given the much lower limit for local spending?

"Most of the spending was done before the election campaign started, and therefore isn't capture by spending limits," Professor Fisher explained. "So if he wants to spend that money, he's perfectly entitled to do so."

Tuesday 9 May: BBC News online, BBC local radio and Sky News

BBC News online ran an article by Professor Fisher in which he explained how much the parties know about individual voters. The article was read by 250,000 people.

Professor Fisher was interviewed for BBC local radio in a busy street. In an age of smartphones and social media, why do parties still bother with old-fashioned leaflets?

"Partly because people read them. We've got a lot of evidence to suggest that people recall reading a leaflet much more than they recall seeing a Facebook post or tweet," he noted.

The interview has been aired 18 times so far on BBC local and regional radio news bulletins nationwide.

Professor Fisher finished the day with a live appearance in the Sky News studio for The Campaign with Sophy Ridge. He provided insight into how the differences between national and local campaign spending came about.

"It was billboard advertising that kicked off this blurring between the two – and that goes back to 1950," said Professor Fisher. "Indeed, there was a court case in 951 after an advertisement was taken out in The Times.

"Blurring the boundaries is likely to happen because we have moved from a system that was established in the nineteenth century about constituencies, to the system we have now where we have both constituencies and a national campaign."

Commenting on the potential investigation into mis-spending on Conservative battlebuses in the 2015 General Election, Professor Fisher said that, more than how the spending was allocated, the misreporting of spending is the problem.

Thursday 11 May: BBC Ulster radio

Professor Fisher's busy week was rounded off by this radio interview, in which he was asked about the door-to-door method of political canvassing and its cost-effectiveness nowadays.

He acknowledged that it is a highly useful way for parties to focus their attention away from those who are already committed supporters – not just at election time, but throughout the political cycle. But the microtargeting is less likely to happen for this General Election, given the very short timescales.

Professor Fisher, who is also the Director of the Magna Carta Institute, can be followed on Twitter: @justin_t_fisher

Reported by:

Joe Buchanunn, Media Relations