The most powerful thing a pressure group can do at the next election is something none has ever done

A few years back, candidates wanting to stand as Labour/Co-operative Party joint candidates ran into a legal problem, despite the tradition of such joint candidates stretching back many decades. The Electoral Commission decided that, on close reading of election law, it was not legal for such joint candidates to have a logo appear next to their name on the party ballot.

Cue a flurry of election law changes to remedy the situation (or rather, given this is British election law we’re talking about, cue a slow-moving sequence of updates), along with a little bit of media coverage – either ignorant or deliberately mischievous, take your pick – wrongly suggesting that this was all, in fact, a cunning Coalition plot to make coalition candidates easier.

But in that misreporting is a germ of an idea which a pressure group could adopt.

A candidate for a political party could stand as a joint candidate, with a joint description and special logo on the ballot paper,* reminding voters at the most crucial key final moment before voting that this candidate is the one which gets their approval.

This idea of pressure 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 there, but the same underlying purpose and method.

Imagine, for example, a group of environmental lobby groups setting up their minor political party and offering its ballot paper endorsement to candidates who back its policy.

Agree with them and you’re Labour? Fine, you get to stand as the Labour Party / Green Coalition joint candidate, so described on the ballot paper. Agree with them and you’re Lib Dem? Then it’s the Liberal Democrats / Green Coalition you appear as and so on.

This would simply extend the existing tactic of a pressure group asking candidates in a constituency their views on some set questions and then publicising the answers back to a relatively small number of voters signed up to the organisation in that constituency. Extend however in a crucial way.

Because by getting the answer as to who is most favoured on every printed ballot paper, it would take their message not to a small audience, but to the whole electorate.

Now that really would be a pressure group putting on the pressure.


* Parties can register multiple logos for use on the ballot paper so the pressure group party could register a series, one each for the Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem candidates it backs. However, as parties can only register three emblems, it may make more sense either to make use of the party description to convey the endorsement message (you can register up to 12 in addition to the official party name), or simply register one party for each endorsement combination, each with its own appropriate logo. See the legal details from the Electoral Commission.

2 responses to “The most powerful thing a pressure group can do at the next election is something none has ever done”

  1. Historically, I understand the cooperative movement did this all the time, before the cooperative party was formed.
    There are particular practical problems with this however, since certain issues tend to be associated with certain political parties. So, for example, if the electoral reform society were to do this, almost everyone they ended up endorsing would be either Green or Lib Dem.
    It may however become more of a factor if the current gagging bill becomes law. Faced with the draconian limits placed on non-party campaigning and the relative laissez faire approach for parties, I suspect that most would prefer the latter. It’s certainly a pretty straightforward loophole.

  2. I disagree. 1. If I were working for a pressure group (as I did in the past) I would want the widest possible consensus on a policy/issue. I certainly wouldn’t want representative of party A being hostile to my organisation for endorsing candidates from party B. 2. There are many issues on which most parties agree. Would they have to endorse all candidates? 3. There are hundreds of associations/pressure groups etc. … very unpractical.

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