The leader of a political party has launched a High Court challenge against a decision to brand one of its electoral slogans “offensive” in the wake of Jo Cox’s murder.
The Batley and Spen MP was stabbed and shot in her constituency by Thomas Mair in June 2016 during the final week of the referendum campaign.
Following a review after her death the Electoral Commission removed the phrase “English Democrats - England worth fighting for!” from ballot papers for the by-election for her former seat in October of that year.
The commission concluded the word “fighting” would be associated with its “violent, primary, literal meaning” by a significant number of voters in the polling booth.
Labour’s Tracy Brabin won the by-election with the Conservatives, Green, UKIP and Lib Dems deciding not to put up candidates. Nine candidates from fringe parties who did challenge for the seat included Therese Hirst from the English Democrats.
In court, Robin Tilbrook, founder and chairman of the English Democrats, argued the commission was wrong to remove the slogan and said the party should have been consulted.
Representing himself, the solicitor told the High Court: “We didn’t think it was offensive.
“We are a small party with very little money and we rely on being visible on the ballot paper to get our message out.
“To lose something like that with no power to resist and no opportunity to be consulted in advance is just potentially devastating.”
Lawyers for the commission said Mrs Cox’s “politically motivated” murder by Mair, who shouted “Britain First” as he killed her, created “electorally extreme” circumstances for the by-election.
Philip Coppel QC, for the commission, said: “Apart from being a murder and apart from leaving her two children motherless and her husband without a wife, this was an act that struck hard at the core of the democratic electoral process.”
Mr Coppel added: “It was an act of extreme violence and an act that (Mair) publicly maintained was done in the name of putting country first.
“It is that context which heightened the sensitivity attached to any word which associated violence with a particular cause.
“In that context, for a ballot paper to include as a party description a call to using violent means would, at the very least, be inappropriate and ill-judged.”
He said it was reasonable for the commission to conclude a “significantly large number of voters” would, in the privacy of the polling booth, associate “fighting” with violence rather than campaigning.
Mr Justice Supperstone reserved his ruling on the case until a later date.