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Lord Buckethead vs Theresa May - meet the UK's weirdest political parties

Forget rail nationalisation - how about yogic flying? 

On 8 June, voters across the country will face a choice. Again. And for most of us it will be a fairly binary exercise: the least bad of the two most likely outcomes, whether or not either happens to particularly represent anything you might happen to believe in. But they aren’t the only choice. Nor are the third party candidates, or even fourth or fifth - keep going. All the way down.

Since the 1950s, candidates have stood for more than 700 different political parties in UK parliamentary elections. The Official Monster Raving Loony Party might be the most famous these deposit-losingly futile exercises, but even on the eccentricity front it’s got some competition - on name alone comedian/psychologist Pamela Stephenson’s “I Want to Drop a Blancmange Down Terry Wogan's Y-Fronts Party” has got to be up there.

Sometimes these endeavours are little more than cynical promotional exercises, as in the 1993 Christchurch by-election, when a pub landlord ran for the "Highlander IVth Wednesday night promotion party". Why bother? Well, besides the inherent attraction of a publicity stunt, standing for election gets you free postage for one piece of "campaign literature" to every registered voting household in the constituency. See also "The Alfred Chicken Party", who were promoting a video game, and "Buy The Daily Sport".

Was PR what motivated Lord Buckethead of the Gremloids Party? Buckethead, birthname unknown, took the name and appearance of a Darth Vader-esque character from a 1984 film called Gremloids, an obscure Star Wars parody. He made his entry into UK politics in 1987, when he stood against Margaret Thatcher with policies including free sweets for all children and the demolition of Birmingham to make way for a starbase. Lame marketing ploy by the film’s UK video distributor or an extremely obscure in-joke? Either way, he, or at least someone with the same name and costume, rematerialised temporarily for a failed attempt to take on John Major in 1992, before presumably dying on his way back to his home planet. (Ed: Or so we thought at time of writing: Lord Buckethead, or an inheritor of the title, has apparently returned to stand against Theresa May in Maidenhead. Presumably Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron were Gremloid-endorsed.)

Then there’s the Dog Lovers' Party - which on the face of it sounds ridiculous on any number of levels, but was actually a small part of a deadly serious, albeit bizarre episode of British political history. The party’s name was pointedly selected by its sole candidate - the journalist Auberon Waugh - when he stood against the former Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe in 1979. It referred to a scandal in which an associate of Thorpe had attempted to assassinate riding instructor Norman Scott, with whom Thorpe had had an affair - in the process killing Scott’s dog, a Great Dane named Rinka. Waugh was primarily standing to distribute his anti-Thorpe campaign literature, which was so "forceful" that an injunction was taken out to stop it. The DLP lost their deposit. Thorpe lost his seat.

But it was the 1990s which saw perhaps the boldest attempt by a niche group to transform UK politics, in the form of the Natural Law Party, who contested over 500 seats between 1992 and 2001. Their underlying principle was that transcendental meditation and yogic flying (which, as demonstrated in some memorable Party Political Broadcasts, looks a lot less like flying and a lot more like crossing your legs and bouncing around on your arse) could end all war and all crime. Their backers included George Harrison and his spiritual adviser the Maharishi, who proposed that all three then-living ex-Beatles to stand in Liverpool constituencies (they declined). Not a single Natural Law candidate ever managed to keep a deposit and the party quietly bounced into the aether in 2003.

While not as ambitious as the NLP, the Vote For Yourself Rainbow Dream Ticket Party nonetheless made electoral history. Sort of. Founded by "Rainbow" George Weiss, who claimed to have initially entered politics on the advice of his “extraterrestrial soulmate”, at various times party policies included concreting the Thames, replacing the pound with “the Wonder” and renaming Belfast “Best City” in honour of George Best. The 2005 election saw the party contest 23 seats; Weiss himself was the candidate in a record-breaking 13 separate constituencies (a record he’ll likely hold in perpetuity since it’s no longer legal to stand in more than one). In Cardiff North the party attracted a single voter, the lowest number of votes a candidate has received since the introduction of universal suffrage - and it wasn’t from the candidate herself, who was registered to vote in a different constituency.

Whilst the spectrum of British political parties is impressively broad, it is not without limit. In 2015 the Beer, Baccy and Crumpet Party saw a setback after objections to their use of the word crumpet (here referring to women, rather than baked goods). After some consideration they rebranded as Beer, Baccy and Scratchings Party. Their low vote share would indicate further research into "the three most popular things in the constituency of Eastleigh" is required.

Maybe the best the brave souls of Britain’s fringiest parties can hope for is to ensure that the winning candidate has to attempt to give a dignified victory speech in front of someone wearing a gigantic leopard print top hat. But sometimes there’s a candidate who just seems a bit before his time, like the 34-year-old businessman who ran as independent in the 1995 Littleborough and Saddleworth by-election, having first changed his name by deed poll to Mr Blobby. His policies? A four-day week, fixing wobbly tables in restaurants, and bricking up the Channel Tunnel. He never stood again, which is a shame as his policies seem perfectly triangulated for 2017 Britain.

Photo: Getty
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UnHerd's rejection of the new isn't as groundbreaking as it seems to think

Tim Montgomerie's new venture has some promise, but it's trying to solve an old problem.

Information overload is oft-cited as one of the main drawbacks of the modern age. There is simply too much to take in, especially when it comes to news. Hourly radio bulletins, rolling news channels and the constant stream of updates available from the internet – there is just more than any one person can consume. 

Luckily Tim Montgomerie, the founder of ConservativeHome and former Times comment editor, is here to help. Montgomerie is launching UnHerd, a new media venture that promises to pull back and focus on "the important things rather than the latest things". 

According to Montgomerie the site has a "package of investment", at least some of which comes from Paul Marshall. He is co-founder of one of Europe's largest hedge funds, Marshall Wace, formerly a longstanding Lib Dem, and also one of the main backers and chair of Ark Schools, an academy chain. The money behind the project is on display in UnHerd's swish (if slightly overwhelming) site, Google ads promoting the homepage, and article commissions worth up to $5,000. The selection of articles at launch includes an entertaining piece by Lionel Shriver on being a "news-aholic", though currently most of the bylines belong to Montgomerie himself. 

Guidelines for contributors, also meant to reflect the site's "values", contain some sensible advice. This includes breaking down ideas into bullet points, thinking about who is likely to read and promote articles, and footnoting facts. 

The guidelines also suggest focusing on what people will "still want to read in six, 12 or 24 months" and that will "be of interest to someone in Cincinnati or Perth as well as Vancouver or St Petersburg and Cape Town and Edinburgh" – though it's not quite clear how one of Montgomerie's early contributions, a defence of George Osborne's editorship of the Evening Standard, quite fits that global criteria. I'm sure it has nothing to do with the full page comment piece Montgomerie got in Osborne's paper to bemoan the deficiencies of modern media on the day UnHerd launched. 

UnHerd's mascot  – a cow – has also created some confusion, compounded by another line in the writing tips describing it as "a cow, who like our target readers, tends to avoid herds and behave in unmissable ways as a result". At least Montgomerie only picked the second-most famous poster animal for herding behaviour. It could have been a sheep. In any case, the line has since disappeared from the post – suggesting the zoological inadequacy of the metaphor may have been recognised. 

There is one way in which UnHerd perfectly embodies its stated aim of avoiding the new – the idea that we need to address the frenetic nature of modern news has been around for years.

"Slow news" – a more considered approach to what's going on in the world that takes in the bigger picture – has been talked about since at least the beginning of this decade.

In fact, it's been around so long that it has become positively mainstream. That pusher of rolling coverage the BBC has been talking about using slow news to counteract fake news, and Montgomerie's old employers, the Times decided last year to move to publishing digital editions at set points during the day, rather than constantly updating as stories break. Even the Guardian – which has most enthusiastically embraced the crack-cocaine of rolling web coverage, the live blog – also publishes regular long reads taking a deep dive into a weighty subject. 

UnHerd may well find an audience particularly attuned to its approach and values. It intends to introduce paid services – an especially good idea given the perverse incentives to chase traffic that come with relying on digital advertising. The ethos it is pitching may well help persuade people to pay, and I don't doubt Montgomerie will be able to find good writers who will deal with big ideas in interesting ways. 

But the idea UnHerd is offering a groundbreaking solution to information overload is faintly ludicrous. There are plenty of ways for people to disengage from the news cycle – and plenty of sources of information and good writing that allow people to do it while staying informed. It's just that given so many opportunities to stay up to date with what has just happened, few people decide they would rather not know.