Page last updated at 12:57 GMT, Thursday, 2 April 2009 13:57 UK

How to start your own party

By Brian Wheeler
Political reporter, BBC News

New political parties seem to be springing up everywhere at the moment.

At least three have been formed to fight the European elections on 4 June. They have clearly not been put off by the dismal record of small parties in breaking the stranglehold of the political establishment.

Declan Ganley
Declan Ganley is the latest high profile figure to set up his own party

Perhaps they dream of emulating the UK Independence Party, which broke through into third place in the 2004 euro elections, or the Scottish Socialist Party, which gained six seats in the Scottish Parliament a year earlier (only to lose them all at the next election).

Both of these parties benefited enormously from proportional representation, which is what makes the European elections such a fertile breeding ground for new political ventures.

So just how easy is it to form a new party? And what are the chances of success? Here is a brief guide to doing it yourself.

CHOOSE A NAME

This is trickier than you might think.

You can not use a name that is already registered with the Electoral Commission, or one that sounds too much like another party or is considered obscene. It can not be longer than six words either.

Robert Kilroy-Silk
Even a celebrity name does not guarantee success

Nationalistic sentiments are also frowned upon. You cannot call your party the British Party or the Scottish Party - it must be qualified by another word in the title, hence the United Kingdom Independence Party or the British National Party. You cannot call yourself the Official Party either or, indeed, the Unofficial Party. Royal names, such as Queen or Her Majesty, are also strictly forbidden and you can not try to cash in on the apathy vote by calling your party "none of the above". That is banned too. The full rules are on the Electoral Commission website.

MAKE IT OFFICIAL

If you want to use your new party name on a ballot paper, you will need to register with the Electoral Commission. That means handing over a fee of £150, drawing up a party constitution and a financial statement and nominating a leader and a treasurer. Electoral Commission staff will help with the paperwork.

You can also register up to three party logos and up to 12 descriptions of what the party stands for, which can be used on ballot papers.

DRAW UP A MANIFESTO

Now it starts to get interesting. This is your chance to set out your ideas for a better world.

Although, strictly speaking, you do not really need a manifesto to fight the European elections, as you are not actually bidding to form a government.

Bob Crow
Bob Crow's new party does not want to send MEPs to Brussels

The Jury Team, the party set up by former Tory grandee Sir Paul Judge "to bring about radical change while working within the established constitution" has not got any policies. Anyone can put themselves forward as a candidate, and come up with policies, and the public will choose who should stand as a candidate.

Other parties use the European elections purely as a way of gaining attention for their political campaigns and gathering protest votes.

No2EU, the party formed by trade union boss Bob Crow, says it will not take up seats in Brussels, in protest at what it sees as the corrupt EU "gravy train". If there is a groundswell of support for their position they may transform the party into a campaign against EU directives being incorporated into British law.

GET YOUR CHEQUEBOOK OUT

Campaigning can be a costly business. But before you can even consider printing leaflets or buying advertising space, there is the small matter of deposits.

To stand in this year's European elections will cost £5,000 per region - 10 times the amount demanded at a general election. So to run a national campaign with candidates in all 12 regions will cost at least £65,000. Candidates will get the money back if they gain 2.5% of the vote in their region. But that is no small achievement. Or, if you want to trim your costs, you can qualify for a party election broadcast in England on the BBC or ITV by putting up candidates in the nine regions (cost £45,000). You can get party election broadcasts in Scotland and Wales - which count as one region each - for £5,000 each.

FIND A WEALTHY BACKER

Most new parties want to be seen as genuine grass roots movements. But to stand a chance of taking on the big parties, small donations are probably not going to be enough. Everyone would like to do a Barack Obama, who raised millions in small donations for his US Presidential campaign but, in reality, you are probably going to need find some wealthy backers.

RECRUIT SOME CANDIDATES

One of the joys of starting a new party is that you do not have to recruit candidates from the ranks of professional politicians. You can cast your net wider and bring in people who have not necessarily been compromised by the existing system. But you will also want to pick people who are not going to embarrass your new party or bring it the wrong kind of publicity.

Libertas, the pan-European eurosceptic party formed by Declan Ganley, the millionaire businessman behind the successful 'no' campaign in the recent Irish EU treaty referendum, is currently holding a formal selection process and says anyone is welcome to put their name forward.

But it also grills would-be candidates on its website on their political beliefs and media skills to weed out any loose cannons. Among the list of questions is this puzzler: "A journalist asks you for your opinion on Prince Harry's 'racist' remarks; how do you respond?"

LAUNCH YOUR CAMPAIGN

This is where the reality of what you are up against will start to kick in. You might passionately believe that there is a hunger out there for a new party, a new type of politics even, but getting anyone to listen to your message will not be easy.

You will be entitled to the free use of rooms in town halls for public meetings and a copy of the electoral register to help with mail-outs. But after that you are on your own.

Mobile phone
The Jury Team wants people to select candidates by text

"It is very difficult to get people involved. Eighty or 90% of people might agree with your aims but that is very different from people actually doing it," says Dan Thompson, one of the founders of Your Party.

"The money you would need to inform them and get them to take part would be very substantial."

Launched in 2004 amid high hopes, Your Party attempted to break the political mould by allowing the public to choose the policies of independent candidates. But it soon discovered the reality of life on the nursery slopes of British politics and it never contested a major British election.

PACK YOUR BAGS - YOU'RE HEADING FOR BRUSSELS

Or maybe not. The odds of success for new parties, even under proportional representation, are not great.

And it will be even more difficult this year as the number of seats up for grabs in the UK has gone down from 78 to 72, due to Bulgaria and Romania joining the EU.

You are probably not going to win but it is still worth it
Dan Thompson, founder of new political party

UKIP and the Greens may have looked like overnights successes when they gained seats in Brussels, but it came on the back of years of hard slog at grassroots level. UKIP also benefited in 2004 from wealthy backers and celebrity support, in the shape of Robert Kilroy-Silk, although the subsequent launch of his own party, Veritas, proved even celebrity does not guarantee success.

Above all you will be up against the name recognition factor of the big, established parties.

"The brand power of the existing political parties is absolutely enormous when it comes to elections," says Dan Thompson.

But he advises would-be new starters not to be too discouraged.

"I think it is great that people try these things, I really do.

"Although on the face of it, you don't make much impact, you probably do shift the debate a degree or two. Even if, electorally, you don't seem to be doing anything, I think it is great that people set up and join new parties and new ways of doing things.

"You are probably not going to win but it is still worth it."

If all that has not put you off, you had better get your skates on the deadline for registering a new party to contest this year's European elections is Thursday, 2 April, although individual candidates can register up until 19 May.

And there is always the general election, which must happen before June next year.



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