Now this is an interesting question. On balance, I agree that a name change could be good, but I would take a different direction in terms of the name itself. I’ll come back to that, but the first question is why change at all?
Here are some of the advantages of the existing “Pirate” name:
- It has currency in the digital rights community, being a well known global brand. That relative fame gives us a vote floor of around 0.5% (which dips only when we’re running against wikileaks). It’s kept us consistently among the top tier of small parties.
- The name stands out from the crowd and sparks interest among curious voters.
- The name sums up our platform and what makes it unique.
- It is a name and brand that lured a lot of us to join, so we’re naturally attached to it.
But then there are the problems:
- It’s hard to explain to people who aren’t nerds. This risks us not being taken seriously enough and may mean our vote ceiling is not far above our vote floor. And of course “among the top tier of small parties” in no way means electable.
- The name could be an affront to people we ought to have on-side (creators and artists).
- The global pirate movement is declining and the name could be losing its currency.
- Digital rights issues are increasingly being decided by technological change and consumer choice, and not by political parties.
So fair enough—there is a reasonable argument for changing the name. My first thought was “Progressive Libertarian Party”; Brendan has suggested “Left Libertarian” and we have also heard “Social Democrat”, “Liberty Party”, “Digitarian Party”—and various others including some at the Sydney meetup.
Before we pick the name though, we need to step back and look at the big picture. The whole game is about to change for minor parties. Senate reforms are passing which will attach optional preferential voting to a 14% quota—this will categorically lock out parties with little money. We are seeing parliament turn into a gated community for large publicly funded party machines and ‘outsider’ billionaires.
In this environment, the best (perhaps only) option for small parties is to run for state parliaments instead.
There are good arguments for this. The quotas for state senates are low enough to allow small parties through, if they can build support in the community. The resources needed to campaign are lower in state elections. Parties that get into parliament gain resources, staff, publicity, and generally stick around. Registering for state elections might be more difficult, but the flip-side is more clear air and less crowded ballot papers for the parties that manage it. (The exception here is NSW, where the requirement for groups to run 15 candidates has created tablecloths).
If our avenue for succeeding is at the state level, then it makes sense to look at which parties have already succeeded there. And this is where the name issue really matters. Here are all the minor parties which currently have seats in a state upper house:
Christian Democratic Party
Animal Justice Party
Local Jobs Party
Democratic Labour Party
Dignity for Disability
Shooters and Fishers
There is a clear common factor here: every successful minor party has a name which is a “resonant phrase”. All of the names appeal to an easily-understood cause and avoid reference to generic ideology. (yes there is the Democratic Labour Party, but that begun as an offshoot from a major party rather than something which had to grow up from the ground).
If we take an ‘ideology’ name—even one as technically correct as ‘left-libertarian’—we will be going against the evidence about what actually works for minor parties. Broad ideological terms are poorly understood by the general public and would leave us struggling to punch through with a clear message. We’d risk melting into the ballot paper as a generic party and being overlooked.
So if we change, I think we should pick a ‘cause’ based name. There are various causes we could pick out from our policies. One is digital rights—which we could use literally (Digital Rights Party), or slightly figuratively (Internet Party). The problem with that is that the digital rights voter base is small, and most of those involved probably know us already. Also, as noted, the future of digital rights is increasingly being fixed outside of the political arena.
IP-reform type names share many of the same problems.
I see a possibility in being called something like the Basic Income Party. Basic income is a much bigger cause now than when we first adopted it. The name and concept generate real energy and could infuse the party with a larger volunteer base. It could also draw members and help us get registered for state elections. The basic income movement has a long way to rise yet and if we rose along with it we may get the critical mass to break through in one state or another.
On the other hand, there’s some controversy around basic income, and many other possible causes we could pick instead, so if you favour one then let’s hear it.
There’s also a middle path we can follow. Look at what the Christian Democratic Party did in marrying a cause (“Christian”) with an ideology-type name (“Democratic”). A name like Basic Income Digital Society Party or Basic Income and Liberty Party (or whatever) would allow us to keep the punch-through but also have something which reflects our broader platform. We will have to think of something that doesn’t sound awkward and make sure we put the memorable part (cause) first so people can find it on the ballot paper.
The risk in all this is that some other group will take on a version of our cause and/or name and split our vote (it would be particularly awkward if the other group got the name ahead of us). But to be fair, that’s a risk we’ll face to some degree with any name, including our current one—wikileaks clearly split our vote last time.
Finally here’s the ritual reminder that all of this needs to be considered at length by our members. The reception to our social media posts makes it pretty clear that the focus of our supporters is digital liberty, and they may not appreciate a paradigm shift out of the blue. We will need to retain our digital rights advocacy no matter what guise we take, and nobody should feel ambushed by any change or get a sense that the party is moving out from under them—or we could schism.
Thanks to Brendan for opening up this useful discussion.