Election '97: Confusion candidates deliver their spoils

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The Independent Online
The Labour Party was inundated with calls from angry supporters in five constituencies yesterday after voters discovered they had voted for candidates confusingly calling themselves New Labour.

Most complaints were being made in Hammersmith and Fulham where William Johnson Smith, the son of Tory MP Geoffrey Johnson Smith, was standing as a New Labour candidate and took votes from the real Labour candidate, Iain Coleman.

In Cardiff South and Penarth the party was also receiving "loads and loads" of calls.

"I feel cheated," said Dr Anthony Young, a research biologist at St Thomas' Hospital in London. "I asked at the polling station for some clarification about which candidate was real Labour but they told me it is against the law to give any advice to voters.

"I went back into the polling booth and decided that Tony Blair is always seen with New Labour behind him so that must be the right candidate."

Dr Young only discovered his mistake after calling the local Labour Party to check.

"I regard myself as fairly intelligent," said Dr Young. "You only get to vote every five years. What this man has done is despicable and contemptuous. It makes a mockery of democracy." Dr Young is now trying to contact Mr Johnson Smith to tell him personally what he thinks of him.

A Labour Party spokesman said that while Hammersmith and Fulham was far down its list of target seats at 77, it was still eminently winnable without the confusion caused by Mr Johnson Smith. It is a new seat which had a notional majority for the Conservative candidate, Matthew Carrington, of 7,174 from 1992.

In Cardiff South and Penarth the party confirmed that it had received calls from voters who were confused about the provenance of John Foreman, who described himself as "New Labour" on the ballot paper. Mr Foreman was an inactive member of the Labour Party, but gave the party no reason for standing against it.

"I think he just wanted to see his name on the ballot paper," said the real Labour candidate Alun Michael. The seat was a strong Labour seat with a majority of 10,000.

Other seats targeted by "New Labour" candidates were Cannock, Hackney South and Shoreditch and Bracknell.

The Conservatives too had their share of confusion candidates. In the safe Tory seat of Hove they faced an "Official Hove Conservative". And in both Brighton Pavilion and Winchester the man who started the fad for confusion candidates, Richard Huggett, was standing as a Conservative.

Mr Huggett stood in the 1994 European Parliament elections as a "Literal Democrat". Because his name appeared above the real Liberal Democrat candidate's name on the ballot paper's alphabetical list he took 10,000 votes and stopped the party from taking the seat from the Conservatives.

The High Court later ruled that the fact that some voters might be confused by a candidates chosen words of description did not amount to a breach of the Representation of the People Act.

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