Magazine article The Spectator

In Praise of Fringe Candidates

Magazine article The Spectator

In Praise of Fringe Candidates

Article excerpt

In praise of eccentric election candidates

No election night is complete without a man dressed as King Arthur waving a plastic sword as the result is read out. Eccentricity is the bedrock of British democracy. The freedom of a madman to waste £500 to get on the ballot is precious. On these islands, we have a right to rave. And sometimes what we rant about is quite revealing.

I've been fascinated by eccentric independent candidates ever since as a teenager I met Mr Mark Ellis, a perennial independent running against EU domination and casual littering. He used to patrol Sevenoaks high street with a shopping trolley, collecting rubbish. A profile in the local newspaper revealed that he slept on two chairs pushed together in his living room, and that he shared his house with a duck. Mr Ellis's platform was a mix of conspiracy theory and a commitment to public service -- and it's that slightly misdirected desire to help others that informs the best of the fringe candidates.

Now that I have moved to Brighton, I'm spoilt for choice in eccentric independents. Brightonians are just children with adult tastes. Charlotte Rose, a 'high-class courtesan' from Exeter, is using her Brighton Pavilion candidacy to get people to talk more honestly about sex. 'Sex is the second biggest human drive, after survival,' she writes in her manifesto, 'and yet it is ignored in politics.' Ms Rose has clearly never been to the Strangers Bar at 2 a.m. She also wonders if the best-qualified people to teach sex education in schools might be professional 'experts', by which she means prostitutes. I for one would have matured much faster if my biology classes had been taught by Miss Whiplash and her human ashtray.

On the ballot next door in Hove is Joe Neilson, 'OAP and retired Amazon explorer'. Matt Taylor, running in the same constituency, is opposed to 'street drinkers and heroin addicts' -- although, lest we think he is a reactionary, he adds, 'My sister and nieces are street drinkers and heroin addicts.' And, 'having spoken extensively with my sister on this issue', he thinks it's time to stop selling drinks to people likely to 'indulge in anti-social behaviour'. Which could be a dig at his sister, or at Nigel Farage. Like many eccentric independents, Mr Taylor's manifesto is quite rational when it sticks to local issues but falls apart when attention turns to the national scene: 'I am the only politician in 1,500 years to conjure up the spirit of King Arthur II in a British general election. Legend says that King Arthur will return in the nation's hour of need. The hour is Now.'

Wrong, Mr Taylor. King Arthur has already returned: he is running in Salisbury. King Arthur Uther Pendragon, a white-haired druid formerly known as John Timothy Rothwell, discovered that he was a reincarnation of the English hero in the mid-1980s. He ran for Salisbury in 2010 and came second from last, with 257 votes.

The great pioneer of the eccentric independent candidacy was Lt Cdr William George Boaks DSC (1904-1986). This former Royal Navy officer stood for his first seat in 1951 on the 'Admiral' ticket (Association of Democratic Monarchists Representing All Women). He intended to run against Prime Minister Clement Attlee but mistakenly filled out the papers for Walthamstow East rather than Walthamstow West. …

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