Party News: Party Names Swindle

Should party names appear on the ballot paper? This has been much discussed in recent years. There can be no objection in principle to it as it might clear up some confusion, but in practice problems would arise over registering parties and over who should use what name. A group of Labour MP’s, led by Denis Coe, recently brought in a private members Bill on this subject which was discussed in the House of Commons on 22 March. However, their remedy was worse than the disease. Had it not been talked out it would have discriminated against minor parties, and in particular against the Socialist Party of Great Britain.

The Bill provided for a register of political parties in which the Registrar of Friendly Societies shall “register any political party or association which applies for registration and has a paid-up membership in excess of 1,000 members”. Candidates of non-registered parties would, as all are today, in law be regarded as “non- party”. This would not have presented us with an unsurmountable problem, but another clause was more disturbing. It gave first choice of names to those parties with members in the House of Commons: they register their names first, other parties after a month. This would seem to have allowed the Labour Party to register its own name, and perhaps all variations on “Labour” and “Socialist”. If this was so, and the Labour Party took advantage of it, when after a month we came to register our name we would be refused. Further we would also be barred from using our name on any leaflets and posters we produced for any election in which we had candidates.

We can say then that, in its present form, this Bill would have penalised at least one bona fide political party. Our experience over broadcasting time suggests that this would not unduly worry the larger parties. Nevertheless we take this opportunity to make our views known.

Nobody can deny that we are a bona fide political party. We have been called “the Socialist Party” or “the Socialist Party of Great Britain” or “S.P.G.B.” since our foundation in 1904. We are not a breakaway group from the Labour Party. Indeed we were formed before them and have been in continuous and active political existence for over sixty-four years. We are a nationwide party and have had branches, at one time or another, in all the major urban and industrial areas of England, Scotland and Wales. Before 1914 we put up candidates in local elections in London and Burnley. Since 1945 we have stood for parliament eleven times and have contested local elections in Hackney, the old LCC, 14 in the GLC last year, many times in Glasgow and again this May in Haringey. We think this is proof enough of our genuiness.

At the end of July the government announced that they agreed that in principle party names should be shown on nomination and ballot papers.