GENERAL ELECTION FEATURE: Official Monster Raving Loony Party isn’t bonkers – have you seen Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour says candidate fighting I’m A Celeb Nadine Dorries’ Mid Beds seat
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Screaming Lord Sutch, Baron von Thunderclap, Howling Hope and Nick ‘The Flying Brick’ are all prominent past or present Monster Raving Loonies.
Now you can add Ann Kelly to the list.
The party that started out as a joke to satirise British politics is now attempting – in its inimitable fashion of course – to influence the outcome of next month’s General Election in a quiet corner of Bedfordshire.
The political upheavals over the last year means nothing is ruled in or out in the maelstrom that is British politics in 2017 – as Ann, the Official Monster Raving Loony Party PPC contesting Conservative Nadine Dorries’ Mid Beds seat, is looking to attract ‘apathetic and floating’ voters.
Anne, 59, firmly believes she can pick up votes to influence the outcome of this seat.
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Although with Ms Dorries sitting on a whopping majority of 23,327, the interest is more in if Ann can improve on her 2015 showing in polling 0.5 per cent of the vote – which in Monster Loony terms is respectable given their 27 candidates in 2015 polled 0.1 per cent of the votes in the constituencies they contested.
No, the real political interest is her party acting as a magnet for disaffected voters, tired, as Ann puts it, of the ‘political shenanigans’ of the established parties.
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And if she can attract floating voters turned off by Labour under Jeremy Corbyn or those who voted UKIP last time, or even Tory Remainers suspicious of Theresa May, then her showing could give an indication – however small – of just how many voters are utterly disillusioned with mainstream politics.
And it is in understanding this valuable target market which could hold the key to the next but one election – and as such is a rich seam to be mined by political scientists and party strategists of all hues.
With the right wing party understood not to be standing this time around in the Mid Beds seat, everyone is hungrily eyeing the 8,966 extra votes up for grabs following the abdication of UKIP’s 2015 man, Nigel Wickens.
Ann says passionately: “The fact is people are disillusioned with mainstream politicians. People have no confidence in the main parties.
“Although us ‘Loonies’ have a subversive and a light-hearted side, we already have council seats in various parts of the country.
“There will be a lot of apathy in this election. People are saying they’re fed up of politics. It’s important to vote.
“A vote for the me and the Monster Raving Loony Party is not a wasted vote. It can be looked at as a protest vote.
“We have no hidden agendas, we just want to help people. We do things that do sound wacky and way out – but then they become law.
“If you look at some of our policies that were scoffed at 30 years ago, they’ve now entered the mainstream, with many being adopted.”
“Lowering the voting age to 18”, Ann shoots back.
“Lord Sutch was mocked for calling for the age to be lowered from 21 to 18 when he stood as a candidate for his National Teenage Party in the 1960s. And Pet Passports.”
Ann is right. The party led by the quintessential British eccentric Sutch, also campaigned for 24-hour licensing laws, abolition of the 11+ exam – along with the cessation of dog licences, legalising commercial radio and even the pedestrianisation of Carnaby Street.
Such causes were born through the party’s DNA, their sine quo non – ‘the essential condition’ – of mockery. Of themselves, and others.
It was no surprise the cult political puppet show Spitting Image was so popular under the excesses of Thatcherism – for when many feel so marginalised satire is the only option available.
Indeed, many still recall the 2014 political tweet imbedded with a screen grab of a Blackadder character and the line: “The Standing at the Back Dressed Stupidly and Looking Stupid Party in Blackadder have the same party colours as UKIP.”
It did more to damage the perception of the party on social media then any number of links to worthy but dull articles demonising Nigel Farage ever could.
Ann herself has an interesting political hinterland.
She was mayor of Flitwick for two years earlier this decade on an Independent ticket, describing herself as a ‘floating voter’ prior to entering politics – but how did she become the official parliamentary candidate for the Official Monster Raving Loony Party in Mid Beds?
“I was asked!”, she replies, far too matter-of-factly.
“I thought it was a good idea. I was asked to go up against Ms Dorries.”
What did her family and friends think?
“They thought I was bonkers,” she tells me.
“They think it’s funny – but they’ve supported me.”
But what does she make of the Mid Beds incumbent, the well-known Ms Dorries?
She of braving the Australian ‘jungle’ in ITV’s hit show ‘I’m A Celebrity’ fame, Ms Dorries.
Unsurprisingly Ann is scathing, but not for obvious reasons.
She explains: “It was unprofessional. She disappeared to Australia for three weeks. That didn’t serve people living in our constituency.
“If people vote me as their next MP they will get someone who not only lives in our area but passionately understands what local people need.” Which is?
“Well, there is too much housing planned.”
I point to our work experience lad William, who is taking it all in. What about teenagers like him who don’t have a chance of getting on the housing ladder for a very long time, and even then mostly with help from the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ – aren’t new houses good I ask?
“It’s too unplanned,” she says.
“Of course we want youngsters to be able to own their own houses. But at the moment the Local Plan is all wrong.
“The housing market at the moment is simply people with big houses moving into even bigger houses. The Local Plan will make this worse.”
Appropos of nothing, she then adds: ““Labour are in a mess. They’re in disarray under Corbyn. They’re a shambles. Look at that awful interview Dianne Abbott gave.”
Memo to Labour strategists. If your party and your leader and frontline politicians are being openly mocked by the Official Monster Raving Loony Party for being too unreliable then you know something, somewhere, has gone seriously awry with the party of Aneurin Bevan, Clement Atlee and Kier Hardie.
But what about people questioning your sanity? She laughs a knowing laugh, adding: “I’m not bonkers. It’s the other parties who are.
“If I get more votes than Jeremy Corbyn’s candidate it’ll be Labour who are considered the loonies.
“People are turned off by him and Diane Abbott.”
Warming to her theme, Ann, slammed aid given abroad.
“We’ve got to give it to people who are deserving of it. Not to places like India which have billionaires.”
But what about showing compassion and helping human beings around our planet who need it?
She softens here stance slightly: “Well, it has to be a deserving cause.”
On that stance it’s not difficult to see why she admitted she was a teenage Tory voter. But then she also voted for other parties, too.
“Did you know”, she tells me proudly, “the Monster Raving Loony Party signalled the death knell for the SDP [the long-forgotten group formed by the ‘Gang of Four’ disenchanted Labour Party moderates before eventually dissolving to no-one’s surprise in 1988]?”
Anne is right. David Owen, the former Labour Foreign Secretary, stubbornly continued to lead the SDP in 1990 as a withered rump.
By the time of the Newark by-election that year, SDP candidate David Watts even finished behind the Official Monster Raving Loony Party.
And when that happens you know the game’s up politically.
Which is why the number of people voting for her will be interesting to study – not least to see which party suffers the most from any shift in voting, no matter how small.
But is she eccentric?
She thinks before responding emphatically. “Am I bonkers? I don’t think so. Look at some of Labour’s policies under Jeremy Corbyn and tell me I’m bonkers.”
Ann may not be as wacky as the legendary Lord Sutch – but she is a fine example in a long line of glorious British eccentrics.
She has decorated her car – a Vauxhall – in black and gold, the party’s colours ‘in very floaty material’.
“I attach it to the mirrors”, she explains. “And I’ve got a big poster on a board in the front.”
The poster is redolent of a beer mat with the trademark Sutch Top Hat. The background is a Union Jack. I ask if the badge is subliminally making a pitch for UKIP voters. Down-to-earth Ann replies without missing a beat: “I’ll have anybody. I’ll take any floating voters. UKIP, Labour, Lib Dems or Conservative.
“I’ll take any undecided voters. I stick the poster onto my car with blue tack.”
She’s even got a name for her car, ‘The Minx Mobile’, and she is resplendent in a traditional rosette during our interview.
And for election night on June 8 she also plans to braid black and gold ribbons into her hair and ‘wear a gold dress’.
She also canvasses in local pubs. “You’d never get Ms Dorries doing that’, she confides.
What do people say to her? “They are genuinely interested. They don’t take the mick.
“My friend and my son come in with me wearing party T-shirts.
“People seem to gravitate to us after we get our drinks from the bar. They are interested in me as a candidate for the Official Monster Raving Loony Party – whereas if an established mainstream candidate walked into a pub they’d probably ignore them at best.”
What do they talk about to you in the pubs of Mid Beds?
“They normally tell me their views on Nadine,” she replies.
“You probably couldn’t print half of them,” she joshes.
And it is this fascination with her party from the general public – holding, dare I say it, a residual goodwill for the underdog that simply doesn’t exist for any other political party in the land – that she is attempting to trade on over the next month,
She adds: “It’s a testament to this country’s democracy that candidates like me can stand for Parliament.
“To me Lord Sutch standing against Prime Minsters during General Elections is the epitome of democracy.
“We should be proud of the fact as the world’s oldest democracy our political system allows all types of candidates to run for Parliament – and against the highest politicians in the land.
“That to me is an illustration of how democratic our country is.
“We’ve even got a candidate, Alan Hope, standing against Theresa May in her constituency of Maidenhead this time around.”
Forget the test for ‘Britishness’ – all that should be required to be become a naturalised citizen of the United Kingdom should be a tolerance for the Official Monster Raving Loony Party, and eccentrics like the late Lord Sutch. And for that matter, Ann.
As our photographer takes photos of the mum of one in Stevenage’s Old Town where our interview takes place, to a few bemused looks from locals, she also reveals she has been a candidate on Mastermind three times and is part of a club for former contestants that meets regularly.
Were any of her specialist subjects based on Lord Sutch? No, she laughs, proudly telling me she studied the Irish playwright, poet and author, Sean O’Casey, Buddy Holly and Noel Coward for her trio of appearances.
Despite Ann failing to make significant progress, it wasn’t through a lack of hard work and effort – which could be a metaphor for her election campaign. What would the show’s host, the late and much-loved Magnus Magnusson – he of the ‘I’ve started so I’ll finish’ line – make of her running for the Official Monster Raving Loony Party?
“Magnus was a wonderful person”, she recalls fondly, “I think he’d be rather pleased for me.”
If Ann keeps her £500 deposit in next month’s General Election by obtaining five per cent of the vote, a lot of others in Mid Beds – and lovers of eccentrics everywhere – will be just as pleased.
Who knows, if Ann and the Official Monster Raving Loony Party attract a considerable number of floating voters, maybe her endearing and unintentionally eccentric style could be a future specialist subject for political scientists and strategists everywhere.