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.