What would British elections be like without candidates such as Count Binface, who is one of 20 people standing for London Mayor today? Britain has a long tradition of joke candidates contesting elections. Sometimes they have something more serious to say, other times they are seemingly motivated by the attention they draw.
Famously, in 1984, Moira Stuart – with a perfectly straight face – had to read out on the BBC news a full list of candidates for the Chesterfield by-election, which included representatives from the Elvis Presley Party, Reclassify the Sun Newspaper as a Comic, and the Official Acne Party.
This election also featured Lord Such of the Monster Raving Loony Party, which was founded in 1983 by ‘Lord’ David Such.
This was nothing new for Such, who had been in show-business since the early 1960s as lead singer for the band Screaming Lord Such and the Savages. Such’s first election came in 1963, when he stood for the National Teenage Party, calling for a lowering of the voting age from 21. At the time of the Profumo Affair, he argued it was hypocritical to let older people who could behave so badly have access to the vote when teenagers were denied participating in elections.
Such’s irreverence typified the ways such joke candidates can mask a more serious message. In 2015, the comedian Al Murray used his Pub Landlord character to initially spoof the populism of Nigel Farage, when he stood against him in South Thanet, but as the campaign developed Murray’s character promoted a wider message of encouraging people to vote.
Murray was not elected, but in 2002 Stuart Drummond stood for Mayor of Hartlepool, dressed as the football mascot H’Angus the Monkey, and won. Peter Mandelson, the then Labour MP, was not happy. Drummond dropped the mascot persona and proved popular. He was re-elected in 2005 and again in 2009, and was the only person to hold the position as it was wound up in 2013.
Comedians have long been aware of absurdities in the way the British can treat the democratic process. In 1970, Monty Python’s Flying Circus broadcast their Election Night Special sketch, which spoofed both election coverage and especially the trend of silly candidates. In the sketch the Silly Party wins Leicester, confounding the studio pundits.
When the Monster Raving Loony Party itself emerged a decade later, it became a regular feature of British elections in the 1980s and 1990s. In the 1995 Littleborough and Saddleworth by-election Such even stood against My Blobby, who was representing (of course) the House Party. Lord Such beat Blobby by 782 votes to 105, and also curiously enough he beat the UKIP candidate as well.
After Such’s tragic death in 1999, the Monster Raving Loony Party has continued to contest elections. In 2015, for example, it scored 3,890 votes in the General Election, more than double the number for the British National Party that year.
Lord Buckethead was another who emerged in the 1980s. A Darth Vader like character derived from the 1984 spoof science fiction film Hyperspace, the first time the ‘intergalactic space lord’ stood was to contest General Elections in 1987 and 1992.
As is often the way, Buckethead targeted a high profile constituency, and stood each time against a Prime Minister. Against Margaret Thatcher, Buckethead scored 131 votes, though against John Major he fared less well, with 107 votes – after which he seemed to return to outer space (or had to stop due to copyright reasons).
However, Lord Buckethead re-emerged in the 2017 General Election, and stood against candidates including Howling ‘Laud’ Hope representing the Monster Raving Loony Party, a man dressed as Elmo and also the then Prime Minister, Theresa May. Buckhead promised strong but ‘not entirely stable leadership’, but May won in the end.
Buckethead was undaunted by failure, and he (and Elmo) returned to contest Boris Johnson’s seat in the 2019 General Election. This time the pair were also joined on the platform by Count Binface, a rival to Buckethead and whose political career now also extends to the 2021 mayoral election. For his part, Johnson had to make sense of the absurdity of being surrounded by people dressed in silly outfits as his constituency victory was confirmed.
Political engagement is crucial. Lord Such wanted politics to be for everyone, including people with a sense of humour, and so it should be.
Paul Jackson, Associate Professor of History