History

How political leaflets used to look: when there were two Edward Heaths on the ballot paper

Prior to the 1970 general election, only candidate names appeared on the ballot paper. Harold Wilson’s Labour government changed the law* to allow a party name to be included alongside that of the candidate, sensibly so given that knowing which party a candidate belongs to is in practice a key piece of information for most voters even if the democratic theory was about choosing individuals purely on their own merits.

However, there was nothing to stop unofficial candidates trying to pass themselves off with plausible-looking party names. One even went further, changing their name by deed poll to that of the Conservative Party leader, Edward (Ted) Heath and standing in his Bexley constituency against him. The threat of the fake name-fake party combo resulted in Ted Heath’s literature heavily featuring warning messages:

Ted Heath - Bexley - 1970 Ted Heath - Bexley - 1970 (3) Ted Heath - Bexley - 1970 (4)Ted Heath - Bexley - 1970 (5) Ted Heath - Bexley - 1970 (6) Ted Heath - Bexley - 1970 (7) Ted Heath - Bexley - 1970 (2)

In the end, the fake Heath won only 1.8% of the vote (938 votes), leaving the real one comfortably elected with a majority of over 8,000 and indeed becoming Prime Minister.

Several other alarms involving similar attempts to mislead the public (including one with a fake Roy Jenkins) passed by without causing serious damage, until a “Literal Democrat” (note the third letter) cheated Adrian Sanders and the Liberal Democrats out of a European Parliament seat in 1994. This triggered the introduction of the current rules protecting official party names from impostors.

As for Ted Heath, he went on to take Britain into Europe and become a highly controversial Prime Minister, as Martin Cockerell’s great biopic tells:

* The 1969 Representation of the People Act was also the one which ended the short period of time when prisoners were allowed the vote.

For more gems from past election leaflets, see my collectionΒ How leaflets used to look.

Thank you to the staff at the LSE Library for helping me locate these leaflets as part of my hunt for the first bar chart.

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