This Independent Group factsheet explores why Independent councillors might want to consider registering as a political party with the Electoral Commission; and outlines the implications of, and process for, doing so.
The great strength of Independents is that we are generally elected or seeking election on the basis of our community engagement, an important local issue or seeking better representation for your area without any links to a national party.
Individual representation as an Independent will always remain an option for those seeking elected office and the Local Government Association's Independent Group exists to support individual Independent councillors, and those who are members of smaller national parties or registered local or regional parties. There are also other networks and groups which support the development and election of Independent councillors. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.
Why register as a political party?
There are a number of systemic advantages which might not appear obvious unless you understand how the political electoral systems work; and there are other potential community and communications advantages to consider.
1. From a systemic point of view, registering as a political party creates a known entity when working with your council officers:
They know who is working together, can use this identity to deliver political balance in the allocation of committee places for example, group leaders may be present at specific briefings or provided particular information, a group size might confer access to a group room or political assistant support. These all vary significantly from council to council and you should read the constitution of your council to understand how groups work within your council. You can come together as an administrative group within your council, working formally or informally with other Independents or registered political parties, by notifying your council and this will be covered in your council constitution or you can seek guidance from your democratic or member services team. However, being registered does confer an identity.
2. As a registered political party you will get access to electoral information to support you going about your community engagement activities:
This will include the annual electoral roll as well as the monthly updates and information on who is registered as an absent voter. This information can help you consider exactly who is situated in the council ward or boundary division. As an unregistered individual Independent, you can only get this information when you declare as a candidate approximately six weeks before an election. It could be helpful to you planning your path to election success to have this information as it becomes available and level the playing field with the larger national parties. This is provided free and is the whole electoral roll rather than the public register which can be purchased but with people removed who have indicated that they do not want to appear on the publicly published register. Please note that when an election happens, the council administering the election will compile two records of voting at the election. One is the list of people who have been issued with an absent or postal voting pack and when this has been received back. The second is the full electors list which is 'marked' with who has walked in to cast a vote on the day of the election. It is important to understand that neither of these documents will indicate in anyway 'how' anyone has voted only that they 'have' voted at all in that election. Both these documents can be purchased for the whole area or a specific ward at a cost for up to one year and one day from the date of the election. This information gives you a further indication of who votes in elections and who does not which again might help with planning your path to election success.
3. From a community engagement and communications perspective it is important to consider that anyone who stands for election without nomination from a registered political party can have the description on the ballot paper as Independent (or left blank):
You might want to consider if there are shared values with others who want to remain independent of a national party and want to work together both in the council chamber and the community and you then might want community you are seeking to serve to know that you are working together with others. Conversely, there may be Independents that you do not agree on any or sufficient shared values, aims and objectives that you might want to demonstrate a clear distance and identity away from. In both these cases helping the community see you for who you are and what you stand for will help with your path to election success.
What does, and what doesn’t, registering as a political party mean?
Venturing down the route of registering as a political party:
- does not mean you must stand candidates in every ward or even constituency in any local or national election
- does not mean you are all 'whipped' to vote in the same way on every issue or decision before council (see more on this below)
- does bring with it certain statutory obligations around maintaining your registration and financial reporting
- does create a brand or identity which the community can identify your activities and positive contribution to the area away from your political opponents whether they are registered to a national political party or an individual independent themselves
- might create the impression that you are a group or party of 'politicians', when you are striving to ensure that you are seen as something different and to demonstrate your commitment to your area away from some of the stereotypes and perceptions of politicians and politics locally and nationally (This is something you might want to consider when we talk about the “How” below to ensure you retain the distinction you strive to demonstrate for your community in your area).
How do I register as a political party?
The Electoral Commission publishes extensive guidance about the registration process. The Electoral Commission provides support on the process and can be contacted by phone on 0333 103 1928 and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Key aspects that you will need to consider:
- This is an online process and although the web portal can be a little difficult to navigate, it is generally logical once you get into the process.
- You have the option to register a 'minor party' (which would only be able to contest parish or community council elections) or complete a full registration (which permits participation in all elections). 'Minor party' registration has fewer obligations around reporting. Although, it should be noted that, for elections to parish councils any six-word description can be agreed with the local election returning officer without the need for registration.
- When considering your registered name, you might want to consider the common theme that draws you together to take that step for registration. It might be that you are already working together in the community for example a Residents Association or local issue pressure group. It might be that you are already elected and working together in the Council Chamber and looking to build your numbers, representation and impact or identifying a need in your community and drawing a group together from scratch. It could also be prudent to have a couple of alternative options just in case there are objections during the registration process or the Electoral Commission declines your preferred name for some reason. You can also register up to 13 additional descriptions that might allow for an overall name as well as highlighting the very local identities for example.
- There are three named roles whose details are registered with the Electoral Commission – the leader, the treasurer and the nominations officer. Each has specific responsibilities set out in the guidance including how these might be shared roles by one person. It should be understood that only people approved by the nominations officer can be recognised to use the name of the registered political party name or description.
- As well as the name and descriptions you can also submit an emblem or logo. There is guidance about the emblem but you might want to consider something simple which reflects the purpose of your group. I should be noted that it will be printed small on the ballot paper in black only.
- You will need two written documents approved by the group registering the party to support the registration: a constitution and an approved financial schedule.
- Your constitution (examples of constitutions available here) should set out how you operate as a group and approved at a meeting of the group.
- You financial schedule sets out how you will manage your financial obligations around your registration, how you handle donations and spending both reportable quarterly and annually. There is a template model financial scheme supplied by the Electoral Commission as part of the registration process and guidance although you can write your own should the template not be appropriate, but this would need to satisfy the requirements of the Electoral Commission.
What else should I consider?
Around the establishment of a registered party there are some other aspects of this which you might want to consider.
One aspect is the issue mentioned above about being 'whipped' to support particular issues or votes. Establishing as a registered party does not mean you all have to agree on every subject and indeed it is more likely that, in bringing an 'independent' group of people together, that view will vary widely. You might want to consider how you disagree and represent this within the group and within the community or council chamber. This might be a priority if and when you are elected and may be the administration running the council or an opposition on a specific issue or the annual budget. This is particularly important where vote numbers might be very close. Member peers within the Local Government Association Independent Group might be able to provide help and support in relation to this issue.
As part of working together will likely be some aspects of mutual financial support, fundraising or councillor allowance contribution to 'party' funds. This will likely need a bank account; and most banking organisations will allow a treasury account for political organisations.
Having a common identity through registering with the Electoral Commission should be considered alongside your communications and branding which will likely be reflected in your submitted emblem. Also consider a website, email addresses, social media accounts. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are common platforms, but you could also consider other platforms, for example, TikTok. It is advisable not to register your name and brand on these platforms without having a clearly-defined policy, within the group, about the purpose and audience for each communication route which will include details of who can post what content, and any approval process. It is advisable to have in place a similar policy and process regarding press releases.