Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Official Monster Raving Loony Party
Sutch's early political activity
Beginning in 1964, Sutch—of Screaming Lord Sutch & The Savages—stood under a whole raft of party names, mainly as the National Teenage Party candidate. At that time the voting age was set at 21 and the name "National Teenage Party" was intended to highlight what Sutch and others saw as the hypocrisy in the situation that, while teenagers were unfairly denied the right to vote on the basis of their supposed immaturity, the "adults" running the country were involved in such shenanigans as the Profumo Affair. Sutch himself was in his mid twenties in 1964.
Formation of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party
The "Raving Loony" tag only came when Sutch returned to politics in the 1980s, after leaving the USA thoroughly disillusioned with what he saw as an increasingly violent "Land Of The Free" under Ronald Reagan. A similar concept appeared in the "Election Night Special" sketch by Monty Python's Flying Circus in 1971 in which the Silly Party and the Sensible Party competed against each other. Monty Python also popularised the word "loony" in the sense that Sutch was using in the name of the OMRLP, but it is possible that Sutch inspired Monty Python by managing to stand against Harold Wilson in 1966 and in the City of London election in 1970. There had also been a "Science Fiction and Loony" candidate in the 1976 Cambridge by-election.
It should also be stressed, however, that there were two others important in the formation of the future OMRLP. The first was John Dougrez-Lewis , who stood at the Crosby by-election of 1981 (which was won by the Social Democratic Party's co-founder Shirley Williams). He stood at the by-election as Tarquin Fintim-Limbim-Whimbim-Lim Bus Stop-F'Tang-F'Tang-Olé-Biscuit-Barrel (a name taken directly from Monty Python) on the behalf of the Cambridge University Raving Loony Society (an anti-political party and charity fundraising group) despite a legal challenge to stop him from standing by a far-right candidate from Middlesex Polytechnic. Dougrez-Lewis was Sutch's agent at the notorious Bermondsey by-election of 1983 where the OMRLP banner was first unfurled.
The second person who helped found the party was Commander Bill Boaks, a retired World War II hero involved in the sinking of the Bismarck, who had campaigned and stood for election for over 30 years on limited funds, always on the issue of road safety (he had been prosecuted several times as a result of his campaigns against several prominent figures who had mysteriously managed to escape prosecution for drunk-driving offences). Boaks foresaw the problems that increased traffic and more roads would cause the country, but by the time his predictions of unnecessary child deaths, pollution and congestion were proved correct, he had died as a result of head injuries received three years earlier from a motorcycle collision. Boaks acted as one of Sutch's counting agents at Bermondsey and also proved influential on Sutch's direction as the leading anti-politician: "it's the ones who don't vote you really want, because they're the ones who think". Boaks subsequently retired from standing at elections due to his injuries, content that someone else was now taking up the anti-Establishment baton he had held for three decades.
Candidates and party manifesto
The Loonies generally field as many candidates as possible in United Kingdom general elections, some (but by no means all) standing under ridiculous false names they have adopted via deed poll. Sutch himself stood against all three main party leaders (John Major, Neil Kinnock and Paddy Ashdown) in the 1992 General Election. Parliamentary candidates have to pay their own deposit (which currently stands at £500) and cover all of their expenses. No OMRLP candidate has managed to get the required 5% of the popular vote needed to retain his deposit but this does not stop people standing. Sutch came closest with 4.1% and over a thousand votes at the Rotherham by-election , whilst Stuart Hughes still holds the record for the largest number of votes for a Loony candidate, with 1,442 at the 1992 General Election in the Honiton seat in east Devon.
In 1987 the OMRLP won its first seat on Ashburton Town Council in Devon, as Alan Hope was elected unopposed. He subsequently became Deputy Mayor and later Mayor of Ashburton until he moved to Hampshire after Sutch's death.
The OMRLP are distingushed by having a deliberately bizarre manifesto, which contains things that seem to be too impossible or too absurd to implement. Despite its satirical nature, some of the things that have featured in Loony manifestos have become law, such as being able to vote at 18, "passports for pets", and all-day pub openings. Similarly, the outcry following Alan Hope's appearance on the BBC's Nationwide current affairs programme after he was elected - during which he mentioned that butter and milk surpluses were being dumped down abandoned mineshafts under EEC rules to maintain prices (something the media of the day had failed to expose) - resulted in the distribution of such surplus items to the needy or charities instead.
2005 General Election manifesto
For the 2005 General Election the OMRLP's manifesto included:
- Refusing to sign up to the euro, but inviting the rest of Europe to join the pound.
- Drivers can go straight over a roundabout when there's no traffic coming "to make driving through Milton Keynes more fun".
- Traffic cops "too stupid" for normal police work to be retrained as vicars.
- "A quid for everyone who votes for us".
Divisions within the Loony Party
Just like any other party, the OMRLP has long suffered from splits over policy regarding just how silly it should be. Many mistakenly believed that the splits were flimsy attempts at poking fun at the series of splits going on in British politics during the late 1980s - at the Vauxhall by-election there were two Green Party candidates and two National Front candidates as well as the feuding Liberal Democrats and Social Democratic Party candidates - but the splits were serious, despite Peter "Top Cat" Owen's blithe dismissal to journalists that "the only splits I'm interested in are the ones with bananas in them" (which lead to his adoption of an inflatable banana when on the campaign trail!). Some members believe that OMRLP activities are purely for fun (and an ego trip or publicity for their entertainment business), while others see the party in the same vein as Private Eye magazine or programmes such asThat Was The Week That Was or Spitting Image, using satire to make serious points on issues of the day. Tensions have often resulted because the more serious types in the OMRLP have managed to do what most observers considered impossible - actually achieve a creditable number of votes.
There were also objections in some quarters to the continued presence of convicted brothel keeper and minor celebrity Cynthia Payne—a friend of Sutch—who was at the front of many party photo opportunities but continued to stand instead as a member of the rival Rainbow Alliance party (aka Captain Rainbow's Universal Abolish Parliament Party) of George Weiss (a friend of Ian Dury and Peter Cook). The controversy heightened after Weiss was convicted of heroin possession.
In 1989, Stuart Hughes , along with Danny Bamford (later Danny Blue), Roly Gillard , Melvyn Hertshorne and Stuart Greenwood formed the breakaway Raving Loony Green Giant Party (RLGGP), mainly due to personality clashes with OMRLP Chairman Alan Hope and other "Fun-da-Mental-ists" - the final straw being the latter (and Sutch's) behaviour during a sponsored walk for the children's cancer charity CLIC where they only turned up at the start and finish for the media call whilst Hughes and others did the whole event.
Stuart Hughes's electoral successes
The first Raving Loony to win as a result of a straight vote (as opposed to being elected unopposed) was Stuart Hughes , taking the "safe" Conservative seat of Sidmouth Wolbrook on East Devon District Council in May 1991. He then took a seat on Sidmouth Town Council from the Conservatives the following day. His success was met with fury and quite disproportionate hostility from the local Tories. Hughes's reaction was to attempt to make their lives a misery for the next three years. He refused to pay his Poll Tax, then dumped scrap metal in the middle of the council chambers to the value of his unpaid tax). He also formed an alliance known as "The Coastals" (because of the seats they held) of Independents and the sole Green Party councillor, giving East Devon's ruling Conservatives the first true opposition they had faced for decades (the local Liberal Democrat and Labour Parties being negligible).
Hughes retained his seats with increased majorities in subsequent elections, and the final humiliation for the Conservatives came when he took the Devon County Council seat from the local party's Chief Whip in the council. Hughes remains a member of all three councils to this day although he now does his politicking as a Conservative.
The RLGGP's better organisation and success at the polls proved a wake up call to the OMRLP. At one stage in England during the early 1990s there were 16 councillors elected despite having the word "Loony" accredited to them, and one in Scotland - Mark Boyle on Johnstone Community Council - who stood as a joint Official Monster Raving Loony Party and Raving Loony Green Giant Party candidate because he disagreed with the split (Hughes and Sutch thought having a joint councillor for two warring factions hilarious, Hope less so). To date, two have risen to become mayors - Alan Hope in Devon and Chris "Screwy" Driver in Essex.
Loonies embarrass Social Democrats
At the Bootle by-election in May 1991, the Loony candidate (Sutch) received more votes than the candidate for the Social Democrats. This was the last straw for the rump Social Democrats - centred around former Labour Foreign Secretary Dr. David Owen - who had refused to join in the merger of the SDP with the Liberals to form the Liberal Democrats. Rubbing salt in their wounds, Sutch offered to form a coalition with them, but they instead disbanded...or at least most of them did. A core around the defeated SDP candidate, Jack Holmes, vowed to carry on - ironically reforming an alliance with the continuing Liberal Party (run by Michael Meadowcroft and David Moorish, who had also opposed the merger). Almost a year after Bootle, the supposedly disbanded SDP finished fourth at Neath, and were to carry on winning council seats for many years after their supposed "death".
Serious attempts to gather votes
Sutch also defeated a joint Plaid Cymru/Green Party candidate at the bitter Monmouth by-election and almost beat the ruling Conservative Party's candidate at the Islwyn by-election later on - but by this time the OMRLP were organised enough to make coming in fourth the norm in by-elections in England and Wales.
The credit for this must lie with John Tempest , a former Liberal/Liberal Democrat press officer who, along with friend and OMRLP activist Willi Beckett (one of the founders of the anarchist One-In-Twelve Club in Bradford) transformed the way the party fought elections. From the outset they were determined to make the OMRLP reap the rewards of being the unofficial "protest vote party" of the UK: now posters, car stickers, and a never-ending series of headline-grabbing stunts not only made it easier for the party to gain publicity, but also ensured they were treated fairly by the media (three by-election TV shows were cancelled when the OMRLP used the law to stop them having candidate debates that barred the Loony candidate).
Tempest and Beckett suffered the same problems from the "Fun-da-Mental-ist" faction, but by then new people had entered the party such as future Chairman Peter 'T.C.' Owen , to whom beating the other parties was what it was all about and who saw nothing funny about coming last with a handful of votes. It was no coincidence that during the era of Tempest and Beckett, other well known "alternative" parties such as the Greens, National Front, British National Party, and the UK Independence Party often withdrew their candidates from seats after an OMRLP member had announced their candidature because of the damage to party morale from finishing with fewer votes than a "Raving Loony".
Sutch's death, and after
There were also however some not-so-complimentary comments. The worst came from the embittered Roseanna Cunningham. Cunningham was at the time the Scottish National Party MP for Perth and a columnist for the Scottish Sunday Mail (which, confusingly, is in fact the Sunday edition of Scotland's Daily Record newspaper). Cunningham huffed that newspapers were more interested in Screaming Lord Sutch's death - whom she felt had contributed nothing to politics nor society - whilst the papers had ignored the death that same week of the leader of England and Wales' Roman Catholics, Cardinal Basil Hume (in fact most had given long obituaries) whom she felt had done more (albeit she was unable to name a single noteworthy achievement).
Cunningham had first been elected at the Perth & Kinross by-election caused by the death of Tory grandee Sir Nicholas Fairbairn. Cunningham had never forgiven the OMRLP for upstaging her on the night of her triumph when a foul-up between SNP spindoctors inside and outside Perth Town Hall and the BBC led to the nationalist supporters gathered outside cheering Sutch, Boyle and Beckett for five minutes when they stumbled out of Perth Town Hall first; leaving Cunningham trapped inside whilst the OMRLP (and one defecting Scottish Liberal Democrat...) conducted the crowd in choral renditions of both "Spot the Loony" and "Let's All Laugh At Labour". (Labour had spent a fortune in vain on trying to win the seat for Peter Mandelson's aide Douglas Alexander.
This in many ways sums up the OMRLP's role in politics. Politicians and the media loved them, so long as they themselves did not fall foul of their antics.
Sutch's funeral was attended by members of the OMRLP and RLGGP (including Hughes), who provided a more dignified entourage than Sutch's own relatives and romantic partners, who fought with one another at the graveside. The OMRLP is now run by Alan "Howling Laud" Hope and his dead cat, Cat Mandu. Cat Mandu was reputedly the real winner of the 1999 membership ballot for the replacement for Sutch, and was killed in 2002.
The OMRLP fielded 15 candidates in the 2001 General Election, where they actually ran up their best General Election results to date. This, however, has been followed by a series of disastrous by-election results and a further split. Chris Driver formed the Rock 'n' Roll Loony Party in a sad replay of the events surrounding the OMRLP/RLGGP split a decade earlier. A biography of Sutch due for release in March 2005 however may boost the party's fortunes, and a number of candidates such as R.U Seerius (who polled surprisingly well at the 2004 Leicester by-election) & Peter Owen could provide a surprise at the 2005 General Election.
The OMRLP's official headquarters are in the Dog and Partridge pub at Yateley in Hampshire. The Chair remains Alan Hope, although the real day-to-day running of the party is done by Melodie "Boney Maroney" Staniforth, whose 2004 council election result of 300+ votes was greeted with a remarkable amount of ill-will from local major party members (the usual signs that a "Raving Loony" candidate has now moved into the "serious threat" category).
Non-Loonies who nevertheless claimed to be
The party suffered from a number of individuals that claimed to be members—usually for their nefarious reasons—down the years. Two in particular deserve mention.
Sir Patrick Moore, the famous British TV astronomer, several times claimed to be the party's Minister for Flying Saucers. In fact, Moore was not welcome at all within the party.
He had formerly ran his own United Country Party in 1979, which merged in 1981 into Dennis Delderfield's New Britain Party (with characteristic poor timing, they did so a day before the launch of the Social Democratic Party. Both the UCP & the NBP were far-right parties, one of many failed attempts between 1976 to 1982 to create "respectable" versions of the National Front. Moore's claims had more to do with erasing his past political associations from public consciousness - fearing his TV career could be terminated if he was seen as a racist at a time when the BBC (for whom he did "The Sky at Night") were becoming increasingly "politically correct". He later changed his story, claiming the party had asked him, but he refused.
Second comes Hugh Reed & The Velvet Underpants , a band barely known outside of the Scottish University circuit. They released the song "Vote Monster Raving Looney" in 1992. They were however nothing to do with the Official Monster Raving Loony Party (hence the different spelling of "Loony") & disowned by a press statement from John Tempest.
- "Vote for insanity. You know it makes sense." - Screaming Lord Sutch (a parody on Margaret Thatcher's oft used "You know it makes sense" by-line circa 1979-1983
- Official web site of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party.
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