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Thu, 18 July 2024

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By Ben Guerin
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Only one Jeremy Corbyn? A short history of political candidates sharing names

YouTuber Niko Omilana

5 min read

The largely unknown constituencies of Feverford in Kent and Trough in Hertfordshire are linked by the fact that in the 1950s they were represented, simultaneously, by the same individual.

At least that was the plot of the 1953 novel Gentian Violet, a commentary on the stifling atmosphere of 1950s consensus politics. It tells the story of Jim Blundel, who due to an error on his naval papers, is also given the name James Stewart-Blundel and thus two identities. Aided by a fake beard, he contrives to enter Parliament as both a Conservative and a Labour MP.

By contrast, the YouTuber Niko Omilana who apparently appears on 11 different ballot papers at this election is real, although he may yet find himself in hot water with the authorities. 

The more common electoral problem is not one person with different names, or even one person standing in multiple places, but multiple candidates who share the same name.

There was, for example, at this election the attempt by another well-known YouTuber to stand in Islington North under the name Jeremy Corbyn. As stunts go, this was not original.

In 1983 a bearded ex-law student called Colin Hanoman changed his name by deed poll to Mr Margaret Thatcher and tried to stand in Finchley. He claimed his agent was Ronald Reagan (of the “White House, Peckham”) and spoke to journalists with a bag over his head to focus on “issues, not faces”.

Roy Jenkins faced similar attempts twice, in both the Warrington and Glasgow Hillhead by-elections – in the latter potentially facing off against two rivals called Roy Jenkins and Woy Jenkins. These candidates usually fail to make it to the ballot paper, although one of the other Roy Jenkins was allowed in Hillhead and in 1970, in Bexley, Edward Heath faced another Edward Heath.

James Robert Lambert had, by deed poll, added Edward at the front of his name and Heath at the other end. At the previous election, Heath had only held the seat with a slim majority of just over 2000 votes and the Conservatives were required to put in serious efforts to make it clear which was the “real” Ted Heath. The party sent out four separate leaflets telling voters how to identify the genuine Conservative candidate, and on polling day had both loudspeaker announcements and pickets around polling stations warning of “Imposters”. The Other Ted Heath still polled almost 1000 votes. 

Occasionally, this can happen purely by chance – as in Mid-Buckinghamshire in this election where both the Conservative and the Green candidate are called Greg Smith. Duplication of names isn’t as serious a problem as it used to be, partly because we now allow party names on ballot papers.

But in December 1910, there were three constituencies – Chelsea, Tyneside and North West Lanarkshire – where candidates with the same surname paired off, at a time when there were no party labels on ballot paper.

It’s also less of a problem now because the law is now much stricter on what party labels can be used. The bearded Margaret Thatcher had wanted to stand as a Conservationist candidate. In Warrington, at one point there were three candidates claiming to be Social Democrats, two of which were called Roy Jenkins. The Other Ted Heath claimed to represent the Conservative and Consult the People Party.  And, perhaps most famously of all, in 1994, Richard Huggett stood as a Literal Democrat in the European Parliament elections, winning over 10,000 votes, in a seat which the Liberal Democrats failed to take by 700. “If I have confused anyone then that is an indictment of our education system”, he said, not entirely convincingly.

Tony Benn’s view of all this was summed up in a letter he wrote to Mr Thatcher, when the latter appealed for help. “People fought and died for the right to vote. Do not mock it by farce”. 

Our favourite example, because it reflects local demography, rather than being the result of attention-seekers, came in Anglesey. In 1955, the winning candidate was a Mr Hughes for Labour. In second came a different Mr Hughes. In third, yet another Mr Hughes. And in fourth, a Mr Jones.

Nine years later, in 1964, Mr Hughes held the seat. Behind him, in second, came a Mr Jones; behind him another Mr Jones, and behind him, yes, yet another Mr Jones.

And pre-war, in 1922, Anglesey had seen a Sir O Thomas beat a Sir R Thomas. The former then died a year later, being succeeded by the latter.

“Anglesey” itself is one constituency with two names. From 1983 it has been known as Ynys Môn, part of a gradual shift away from the use of Anglicised names in parts of Scotland and Wales. This campaign had long antecedents. Almost a hundred years before, in 1885, the Boundary Commisioners were addressed by those campaigning for Welsh names for constituencies. In the words of the Telegraph: “They enforced their appeals by dwelling with evident satisfaction on the rhythmical beauty of names which to the eye and ear of the uninstructed Saxon seem an arbitrary jumble of consonants and vowels”. The Telegraph wondered where it would all end. You can imagine what they would have made of Na h-Eileanan an Iar.

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