Loonies call for the vote that makes sense
LONDON (Reuters) - And now for something completely different.
Their ideas include wheezes like 99p coins for use in shoe shops, their candidates have daft names like R.U. Seerious (Derbyshire mid) and their clothes often look more like fancy dress than serious, vote-catching gear.
Arguably the only non-mainstream party to be fondly regarded by all voters, they are the Official Monster Raving Loony Party, who are fielding 45 candidates across the country.
Their manifesto, launched in a pub in east London this week, calls for buildings to be fitted with air conditioning units facing outward to combat global warming and a demand that all politicians be permanently painted the colour of the party they represent.
The party is particularly proud of its new transport policy. At its hub is a scheme to encourage floating bicycles to be driven across the Thames to reduce both traffic congestion and public transport overcrowding.
Knigel Knapp, the Loonies' Shadow Minister for Big Fibs and Blatant Lies, launched the policy on the Thames in front of the Houses of Parliament with fellow candidate Chris Rogers.
Also known as Lord Offa of the Dykes, Rogers is standing in in a parliamentary seat in Wales.
Eight days earlier, Knapp launched the party's manifesto in the Royal Sovereign pub in Stoke Newington, northeast London.
He revealed his party's brief list of promises to a few dozen assembled drinkers, telling them his party was unique in British politics.
"The Monster Raving Loony Party exists because we're not politicians at all, we're just loonies. We're people like you who go to the pub and drink beer and have a bit of a laugh basically," he said.
Knapp joked to his audience that the Loonies were opposing the Conservatives' clarion call for change.
But he told Reuters he believed he would pick up votes from disenchanted voters.
He said: "Basically there's nobody else worth voting for and rather than not vote, which an awful lot of people are going to do I think, they should register their protest because this way it will get counted, basically."
Knapp says his campaign has cost very little money and insisted voters were happy to support a candidate who did not have a lavish expenses account.
The OMRLP was established in 1982 by eccentric former British singer David Sutch, who renamed himself Screaming Lord Sutch. He contested more than 40 elections, never threatening the major candidates, but often garnering a respectable number of votes.
Sutch was easily recognisable at election counts by his flamboyant clothes and top hat. He stood against two incumbent prime ministers in general elections, Margaret Thatcher in 1983 and John Major nine years later.
Sutch committed suicide in 1999, but his party continues under the leadership of Alan "Howling Laud" Hope who is standing in Witney, Oxfordshire, against David Cameron.
He may not win, but Hope will doubtless be a prominent figure at the count, resplendent in his trademark white suit, cowboy hat and oversized rosette.
Knapp hopes to pick up enough votes to save his 500-pound deposit. He requires five percent of the votes to see his money returned.
Drinkers in the Royal Sovereign got into the spirit of the occasion, with some admitting they would even consider voting for him.
John Dalligan described the Loonies' policy document as a "very good manifesto," particularly the bit about free ice cream.
His friend Sean McNeil was also enthusiastic but said he would not be voting for Knapp. "My fringe vote on a wasted party will be going towards Communism rather than the Monster Raving Loony Party. But I hope that he really does well in the election," he said.
Kate Maclean said she would support the Loonies. She said: "I think they set it up really as a kind of protest vote. Sometimes people think that's a little apathetic or something, but in the current climate he's probably a little more credible because of that."
No member of the Loony Party has ever managed to retain a deposit, let alone be elected. But whatever happens on election day, the party is sure to bring a dash of colour and eccentricity to proceedings.
(Editing by Steve Addison)
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