A Tale of Theft, Bugs and Bottoms
Booth, John, New Statesman (1996)
John Booth decided to take on Peter Mandelson, but was unprepared for a quite bizarre sequence of events
When a BT customer services manager arranged the phone lines at my headquarters in Hartlepool, where I am standing as the Genuine Labour candidate, she asked: "Who are you fighting?" I explained that it was Peter Mandelson. Was it a sense of humour, or a sixth sense as to how the campaign would proceed, that persuaded her to give me a number ending in the figures 666?
I would not wish to suggest that my opponent is responsible, but certainly some strange things have happened. Mandelson's initial reaction was that I was bound to pull out. "Elections are very expensive, you know," he said. But he had forgotten the modest sum I was awarded in libel damages a couple of years back. A sympathetic biography of Mandelson had repeated the lies he told when he dismissed me as his deputy in the Labour Party press office in 1986. The resulting award funded my campaign launch, and my website has since pulled in lots of donations.
Finance, as it turned out, was the least of my troubles. I knew from the start that I couldn't actually put Genuine Labour on the ballot paper. This is because legislation passed in the last parliament prevents anyone except the Labour Party from using the title "Labour"; in effect, the name is patented. As such, my plan was to drop the "Labour" when nominations approached and just call myself Genuine. (For obvious reasons, I had rejected the idea of being Straight Labour.)
I checked this with Tony Brown, Hartle pool Borough Council's senior solicitor and acting returning officer. The day before nominations closed, he raised no objection. I ordered my literature and obtained my ten nominating signatures on that basis. Seven hours and five minutes before the deadline, he rang me on my mobile to say that his advice had been mistaken. He had looked up the rules again and found that, unless I could use the title of a registered political party, I would have to call myself "Independent". (I am told that there is a man standing against Michael Portillo in Kensington and Chelsea for "Jam Wrestling", but perhaps that has been registered.) Because there is already one independent standing in the election, I opted to stand simply as John Booth, with no label at all. I pointed out that I would have to reorder my literature. No need to worry, said Brown, it was his mistake and the Hartlepool council taxpayers would therefore pick up the bill.
Then there were the smears. Somebody reminded the diary writer of the Times Educational Supplement of how, as a National Union of Teachers press officer in the early 1980s, I was supposed to have protested against a DJ who had played "Land of Hope and Glory" at an NUT conference disco. …