What is the purpose of this website?
The aim of this website is to collect all registers on political party finance publicly available in the UK, and to present them in a way that is accessible for the general public. The website is currently undergoing a period of development during which time new features will be added at regular intervals. A features log is available here.
Who is it for?
The public, if they’re interested.
In reality, I suspect most people couldn’t care less. But I am hoping that it will be of use and interest to journalists and academics specialising in politics. If you are one of these, please make yourself known to me (email address below) as I am especially interested to hear your feedback and ideas for how I can make this tool more useful for you.
Who is behind it?
A private individual, James Graham. Hello!
I used to work for an organisation called Unlock Democracy and before that its predecessor organisation the New Politics Network. Ten years ago, I worked on a project for NPN called “Cleanpolitix” which was the first attempt at taking the register of political donations published by the Electoral Commission and make them available in a more accessible format. This eventually evolved into “Party Watch”, a more ambitious version of the Cleanpolitix website, which I build and maintained until 2007. I’m using what I learned from those projects to guide me in the development of this website.
In the interests of transparency, I should declare that I am a former member of the Liberal Democrats, which I was a member of between 1995 and 2012. I am not currently a supporter of any political party.
This website is currently entirely self-financed. If funding is ever acquired, its sources will be published here.
Why are you publishing this website?
Partly, I have to admit, because I want to develop my programming skills and this is a fun and varied project with which I can do so.
I do however feel strongly that this data should be subject to greater public scrutiny than it currently is. A large part of the reasons behind that are technical and there have been very few attempts to do so. Aside from the aforementioned Cleanpolitix and Party Watch, both of which are no longer online, the only current website which currently utilises this data other than the Electoral Commission itself is Search the Money, which specialises in Conservative Party funding and is bankrolled by trade unions.
What are the technical challenges?
Thanks for asking. The biggest single technical challenge is the fact that although political parties, other organisations active in elections and “regulated donees” (politicians and partisan organisations) are all required to register, their funders are not. Political parties are not restricted in how they submit their donor lists and thus the same individual might be listed as “John Smith”, “Mr John Smith”, “na John Smith”, “John S Smith”, “Sir John Smith”, and so on. And that’s before you include misspellings of names and the wide variety of ways in which companies and other organisations are frequently included on the register. With over 45,000 records going back to 2001, there are now an awful lot of variant entries of individual donors that need to be merged.
Aside from that, there is a lot of data. As well as the donor register, there are registers on loans, election spending and accounts (the accounts themselves are currently only available in scanned PDF files, although electronic summaries are available). There are also registers of interests and even a few (sadly voluntary) lobbying registers.
The biggest challenge is how best to present this data in a way that is useful. This website will inevitably evolve over time and undergo a series of iterations to get it right.
Can I help?
The simplest thing you can do right now is register as a user on the site and help to merge records when you come across duplicate records of the same donor.
How do I contact you?