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We are six weeks away from the UK General Election, which means we are in purdah.
Unless it's absolutely critical, the folks in charge, national or local,
aren't allowed to announce any new policies,
sign any big new contracts, or do anything official
that could be seen as trying to use their power to unduly influence the election.
Not that most of them will: Parliament has just been dissolved,
so they can all go off and campaign. On that note...
The rules are complicated and depend on the size of the area you're campaigning in,
but from now until election day, each individual candidate can spend no more
than about £15,000 on all their campaigning. That's not just an advertising budget:
that's on everything. Every penny has to be counted, tracked and invoiced,
and if you go over, you can be disqualified even after the election.
And all the scams and tricks you're currently thinking of to get around that?
The law covers most of them with a catch-all clause saying you must make an "honest assessment".
The political parties also have a limit on their national campaigning budget,
which is about twenty million pounds over the whole country.
Sounds like a lot, but as a comparison: the last US election cost six billion dollars.
But keeping to that isn't as difficult as you might think, because...
The UK has never allowed political adverts on television.
The parties are given a small amount of free airtime on major channels,
but pretty much everyone switches off as soon as they hear the phrase
"Now, a Party Election Broadcast by..."
This year, though, the parties have realised that they can put attack ads on the internet instead,
and then use their limited budget to target those ads only at people
who live in marginal constituencies -- swing states, for the Americans out there.
If you live in one of those, you might even have seen one of those ads before this video.
So, okay, the parties can't advertise on TV,
but surely they've got the pundits on the news arguing for them, right?
TV news must be -- well, actually fair and balanced. By law.
Generally, the BBC gets an equal amount of complaints from all sides,
and then they reckon they've done their job about right.
Newspapers have no restriction like that, though,
and the tabloids have been quite happy to use that influence in the past.
I swear that's what it's called. Here's how the scam works:
go into a retirement home, and by confidence, collusion, or coercion,
get access to either the residents' postal votes,
or get nominated as their proxy voter, so you can vote on their behalf.
Amazingly, this has only been illegal since 2006.
How do you spoil a result? Well, postal votes are sometimes opened for verification
days before the polls have closed. There's no reason why not, it won't change the result
as long as they're still kept secret. And no-one does anything ridiculous like,
oh I don't know, tweet what they've seen. Well done there, actual member of Parliament.
She deleted it quickly, admitted it, and was given an official police caution.
And finally:
Everyone who's stuck posters up, or put some temporary sign up in their garden:
they have to make sure they're taken down within two weeks.
If it's anything like last time, we may not even have a government in there by then,
but at least those of us who live away from Westminster won't be constantly reminded of it.
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