The easiest way to set up a new pro-European centrist political party

There continues to be much chatter about the possibility of creating a new political party to oppose Brexit from a position somewhere towards the middle of the political spectrum.*

Much chatter, including from many with deep financial pockets, but very little sign of anything concrete. For Liberal Democrats, that’s frustrating as of course the response we’d give to this search is ‘hello, the party’s here already’. But it would be foolish to ignore the problem that, at the moment, the Lib Dems are not a sufficiently attractive home for such seekers.

A combination of legacy of the Coalition years and the party’s Parliamentary weakness were part of the reason why many pro-Remain voters plumped for Labour at the election. Labour were less pro-Remain – much less pro-Remain – but they were the more plausible alternative to the Hard Brexiteering Conservatives in many seats. They got the tactical vote for the lesser of two evils from many Remains as a result.

Yet the Liberal Democrats also bring many strengths that a new party would struggle to match. A still large local government base – much smaller than in the past yet still big enough to dwarf the Greens, for example. A large membership – once again, well ahead of the Greens. A decent fundraising machine, raising more money from private donors most quarters than Labour for several years now (it is trade union funding which propels Labour to its greater riches). And an established organisational framework, including campaign software, big data analysis and local volunteer teams across much of the country.

Then there is the record of failed new parties, with already a smattering of new pro-European parties briefly floated and then mostly disappeared from view since the referendum. Not to mention the high failure rate for other new parties in the past.

There is, however, a solution that those looking to create a new party which sidesteps many of these issues. It’s to make use of a detail in election law created to help the Co-operative Party.

This allows a candidate to stand as the joint candidate of two different political parties, with the news that they are a joint candidate reproduced on the ballot paper.

That ballot paper point is crucial because it means that right at the point of voting, people know exactly which candidates have the backing of parties. No messing around with hoping people will look up preferred candidates on a tactical voting website. Instead you get the message right in front of every single voter at the point at which they vote.

Yet by backing candidates of existing parties you also get the benefits of their existing organisations and voter loyalty.

So, you create a new pro-European political party, but rather than try to make it in a fully functioning traditional party, you instead make it an umbrella coalition. Offer any candidate of any party the chance to get an official endorsement from the new party if they agree to a certain number of basic principles (European policy most obviously). If a candidate signs up, give them the right to use the logo and name on the ballot paper.

This idea of group acting as minor political party in order to win coverage on the ballot paper and hence increase its electoral leverage – both to get candidates to agree to its policies and then to win votes for those candidates who do – is something aficionados of American politics may recognise. It is what US political parties such as the Working Families Party do, with a few wrinkles due to the different electoral law their but the same underlying purpose and method.

There are a few legal wrinkles to this the full details of which are in the legal details from the Electoral Commission. First, the party description on the ballot paper. This requires consent of the ‘traditional’ political parties whose candidates the new party wishes also to endorse as what the law permits is for different parties to agree to register a joint description (e.g. Green Party / New European Party). A candidate using such a joint description then choose which of official logos of the two parties to use.

Therefore such a new endorsing political party could only back the pro-European candidates of parties which agree to cooperate.

That would put Labour very much on the spot, but that in itself is no bad thing. The endorsing party would have to decide also whether or not to be willing to back more than one candidate in a constituency. This of course can be controversial either way, but is subsidiary to the earlier point that it forces Labour candidates to choose whether or not to be out as a pro-European on the ballot paper. That, plus avoiding much of the usual pain and risk of creating a new party, would be the gain.

I wonder if anyone will try this route?


* Apologies to Liberal Democrat readers choking at my acceptance of a left-right spectrum. I offer my poster about the Lib Dems as penance.

11 responses to “The easiest way to set up a new pro-European centrist political party”

  1. Interesting idea. I think the agreement to co-operate from Labour and Tories would be the tough thing to achieve. Current leaderships would oppose tooth-and-nail (I believe), but in the current climate any Labour or Tory leadership in the near future may be wary of anything that highlights the splits in their parties (I realise this may be down to party conferences, depending on each party’s rules, but leadership always influential). I suppose the only thing that could swing it would be if it became clear that they had to go along with it or lose MPs.

  2. I was very interested in your idea about joint candidates. My own experience recently is that I have met a lot of people who say they are sympathetic towards the Libdems but didn’t vote for them. Perhaps joint candidates might persuade then to put their cross in the ‘right’ place in the future. Stephen Schlich

  3. I thought that the Co-Op party agrees to work exclusively with the Labour party, which might defeat the idea, if the new ProE party looked to attract co-candidates from Greens, Tories & Labour.

  4. I am not sure that this would put the Labour Leadership on the spot; most of them want The Centrists to break away, its The Centrists who are clinging on.
    The same may well be true for many of The Tory Headbangers too.
    The other big problem is timing, if we are looking at another Snap Election things would have to be organised very fast. Conversely, if we are assuming its 2022 then its utterly theoretical & off in the possible Future.
    A “New Party” would start by contesting Local Byelections, that would be much harder for an “Umbrella Party” focused entirely on Brexit.

  5. An interesting idea and it may have a chance but to my mind it would have to have a very strong, clear line of defence against both Conservative and Labour attacks ready because it is in neither party’s interest to let the new party get going. So they will attack. Hard. And they must be attacked back equally hard. No gentle reasoning with these ruthless machines. To my mind, there isn’t time to build up slowly. It’s important to grab the headlines, to be constantly on TV and to make the running. Not easy, but the ‘Gang of Four’ managed it and the SDP became flavour of the month for month after month … but then, they didn’t have to rely on loyal MPs to become disloyal. They had a prospectus that was different from all the other parties (including the Liberals). The new party must not think it can just be the pro-Europe Party and that will be enough. It won’t.

  6. The key issue which will make or break all these “Umbrella Coalition” ideas is whether the LibDems are prepared to stand down in favour of better-placed Remain candidates in hundreds of constituencies. If the party is serious about stopping Brexit, or even just Hard Brexit, it needs to start working on the idea now. Many Remainer Labour and Tory MPs will be emboldened if they can be confident there will be a winning chance for them when the election comes. It’s going to be a big ask for our more tribal fellow members. But it will be a unique new initiative for a British political party and potentially a major step towards creating the strong left-centrist party which we need. You could play an important role Mark Pack – please do.

  7. I can see how this may work. We would need a big media machine to make sure it is widely recognised and we’d need to lobby known Remain MPs to stand on that endorsement.

  8. @Tim Johnson
    The objection to LibDem candidates standing down has nothing to do with tribalism and everything to do with the facts that (a) it doesn’t work – because voters can’t be taken for granted, (b) it isn’t necessary – because tactical voting does the job anyway and (c) it subverts democracy – by denying voters’ choice.

  9. We really have to stop talking about another party. The only way to stop Brexit is to change the opinions of a large number of people who voted Leave. And the only way to do that is to build a Momentum-style movement, cheap to join, thousands of members (maybe free to join if you’re already a member of a political party), who go round their own communities explaining simply and patiently what hard/soft/no Brexit will mean to them. It’s not called ‘Stop Brexit’, which immediately winds up people who voted leave, but something like Reality. People need to come to us of their own accord.

  10. I’m up for anything that moves us towards a more democratic, collaborative government rather than the current combative system that, after years of voter disgust at the behaviour during PMQs etc, led us to the destruction of our economy on the say-so of 27% of the population.

    I’m trying to keep up with what you are saying but wonder how such an arrangement can survive the 3 line whip, etc. A pro-Remain Labour candidate gets elected with the backing of the LibDems and maybe the Greens, then along comes Jeremy and demands our MP sets aside the platform on which he stood in favour of the direction Jeremy wants.

    I dont agree with Paul Griffiths. Tactical voting is no democracy. I’ve lived all my life in effectively a 2 party system and every time the pendulum swings from left to right and back again, it brings with it monumental and costly change based on ideology rather than demonstrable value

  11. I’ve previously suggested something similar, and Mark Pack has added a detail I didn’t know. I think the idea is to create a new political party with effectively a single Aim: in my terms, to Remain and Reform. In law candidates in an election may stand for two parties, so a Tory candidate who believe we should Remain woukd stand as a Conservative/Remain candidate, and other party candidates similarly. So then we vote for candidates in our constituency who are (insert political party name)/Remain. All very good: presumably if there is no (other party)/Remain candidate we can write “None of the above” on our ballot papers.

    There are two drawbacks: we won’t get another general election in a hurry; and once elected the party Whips will see to it that MPs vote on party lines whatever their true political values.

    Sorry for the length of this, but I don’t have time today to write a shorter post.

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