Turning the spotlight onto smaller parties, Liam Grace speaks to leader Alan Hope, long-time voter Jason Chinnery and political commentator Dr. Darren Lilleker to see if the Monster Raving Loony Party should be considered a serious political party.
“People used to say don’t be so ridiculous. Don’t be so loony. That’s daft.” Alan ‘Howling Laud’ Hope is recalling the summer of 1968 when he and his former partner-in-crime David ‘Screaming Lord’ Sutch were campaigning for the national voting age to be reduced from 21 to 18.
The roots of the Monster Raving Party go way back to 1964 when they were formally known as the National Teenage Party, which was led by the late David Sutch with Alan Hope as his number two.
“You could go to war at 18, die fighting your country, come back and still not have the right to vote,” recalls Hope. It was the first thing he and Sutch ever campaigned for.
Something must have clicked, as the Labour-led government of 1969 decided to update the Representation of the People Act 1969, which reduced the voting age just as Hope and Sutch had campaigned for.
At the wise age of 72 and with over 30 years in the pub business, Hope looks in his natural habitat as we sit chatting in his local: the Prince Arthur pub in Fleet, Hampshire.
It appears that Hope is somewhat of a local celebrity in the small town of Fleet as he is greeted by almost every table as we walk out into the pub garden. It turns out he is an elected member of the Fleet Council and even has a road named after him here: Hope Walk.
Hope is the leader of satirical yet charming Monster Raving Loony Party whose policies include letting all animals cross at zebra crossings and painting half the grey squirrels red to increase the red squirrel population.
“I like them because they’re simply giving it straight,” says Jason Chinnery, who has voted for the MRLP in no fewer than four general elections and nine local elections.
“Although they make some inane upside down policies when you sit down for a minute you realise they could actually work,” he added.
For example, in the 1980s the Loonies campaigned for pubs to be open all day which became law in 1995 and for pets to have passports which were introduced in 2001.
Chinnery has been involved with the party for over 25 years. Firstly he was a voter and after a brief spell as a candidate he now sells merchandise for the party from badges to t-shirts.
And this appears to be the latest trend bigger political parties have adopted, as UKIP are now also selling merchandise on their official website.
“I think we are a serious party underneath it all,” says Hope. “If we got 3,000 seats in a single constituency this general election the other parties would have to sit up and think ‘where on Earth are we going wrong?’”
However, Darren Lilleker, a political commentator who has been tracking the MRLP for years isn’t so sure.
“I don’t think they want people to take them seriously. However, paradoxically maybe there’s a serious point in that,” explains Lilleker.
“If people are looking at them as the alternative then there’s a problem. But people don’t tend to, they get a few hundred votes here and there but it’s all for a bit of fun.”
Hope would be quick to dispute claims that voting Loony doesn’t make a difference, as he tells me “People say voting for us is a wasted vote. That’s not true at all. A wasted vote is one that is never cast.”
People say voting for us is a wasted vote. That’s not true at all. A wasted vote is one that is never cast.
The real question is how long the Loony party can keep going, as their most successful period was in the 1990s.
In the 1991 Bootle by-election Sutch famously gained more votes than a continuing Social Democrat candidate and in 1992 they recorded their highest ever vote count in a general election: 7,529.
“It’s hard to say if they’re growing or deteriorating,” says Lilleker. “It’ll be interesting to see how they perform in the 2015 general election because there’s a much broader choice of parties.”
And although the MRLP were hit by their lowest vote count since 1987, they still gained more votes than the British National Party (BNP).
“The Monster Raving Loony Party is expanding all the time,” says Hope. “I was at Bath University last week and the students loved it.”
It appears that attracting young voters is essential in keeping the Loony flame alive.
“I think we’re a growing party, with the presence of social media we have a much bigger audience,” says Chinnery.
And the Loonies have made full use of social media, replying to supporters over Twitter and even making their own election single [see left] which has been uploaded to Youtube and can be bought on iTunes.
“It’s all key to the youth,” adds Chinnery. “We do have some young blood coming though. This party was founded for youngsters to give them a voice and I think we’ll be going for a long time yet.”