By Kate Whannel
Political reporter, BBC News
It’s 40 years since the Official Monster Raving Loony Party fielded its first candidate in a parliamentary election. Since then no election count has been complete without a garishly-dressed, garishly-named member of the party standing alongside other hopefuls.
Now, no matter how (self) important the politician, come election night, chances are they will be sharing the stage with someone in fancy dress sporting a ludicrously outsized rosette.
David Sutch – or Screaming Lord Sutch as he later became known – began standing in elections in the 1960s, partly as a way of publicising his music.
But in 1983, he stood for the newly-formed Official Monster Raving Loony Party.
The rock singer brought some sense of silliness to the Bermondsey by-election which was otherwise a deeply brutal contest.
Since its inception, the party has fought 76 by-elections and participated in every general election with candidates including R. U. Seerius, The Flying Brick, Bananaman Owen, Mad Cow-Girl, Sir Oink A-Lot and Lady Lily The Pink.
None has ever been elected as an MP – in fact, the party’s current leader Alan “Howling Laud” Hope has said that if any candidate gets too many votes, they will automatically be kicked out on the grounds that they have been insufficiently loony.
Yet despite the party’s mission to never be too popular, a handful of its policies have become law.
In 2000, the government introduced passports for pets – a long-standing policy of the Monster Raving Loony Party.
Throughout the 1980s, the party campaigned for pubs to remain open during the day, rather than shutting in the afternoons – and this came into force in 2005.
Since its first manifesto in 1983 (or manicfesto as it calls its list of promises) the party has called for the reduction of the voting age to 16.
Those aged 16 or over are now able to vote in certain elections in Scotland and Wales – and at the 2019 election, Labour promised to reduce the overall voting age to 16.
In reaction to their policy becoming mainstream, the party now wants five-year-olds to be given the vote. “If you can hold a crayon you can vote,” their website declares.
This success at formulating future laws, has led Howling Laud Hope to describe his party as the official think tank of Parliament.
“If you want tomorrow’s policies, vote for us today,” he told the BBC in 2017.
Al dente Brexit
However, some of their ideas are yet to be adopted by the major political parties.
Recently, the party announced that, once in government, it would give atheism charitable status because it is a “non-prophet organisation”.
During Brexit talks, it campaigned for neither a hard nor soft Brexit, but an “al dente” one.
And it promised to send Noel Edmonds to Brussels to negotiate on the grounds that “he understands deal or no deal”.
Other policies include introducing a 99p coin, mandating outdoor air conditioning units to combat climate change and building a high-speed railway line to the Falkland Islands.
It has also proposed giving the public “a year off from listening to our politicians”.
The party might not be that keen on MPs, and the feeling has sometimes been mutual.
One politician in 1984 accused the candidates of bringing the “whole election process into disrepute”.
And in 1985, the Conservative government sought to discourage what it saw as frivolous candidates by making anyone hopeful of a seat pay a deposit, which they would lose if they failed to secure more than 5% of the vote.
A year later David Mellor, then a Home Office minister lamented that the policy had not worked, noting that a recent by-election in Fulham had been “marred… by the fact that it took place against a backdrop of a lot of people dressed like idiots, behaving like idiots and waving idiotic slogans”.
“I think we probably are just going to have to live with this,” he told the BBC sadly.
Not all politicians were quite so disapproving.
Former Prime Minister John Major described Lord Sutch, who stood against him in 1992, as “by far the most intelligent opponent”.
In 2017, Peter Hennessy, a constitutional historian who sits in the House of Lords, said the party was “part of the continuity of the realm”.
So, what motivates people to put themselves forward as Monster Raving Loony candidates?
“I did it to wear a funny outfit and a silly hat,” says Berni Benton who ran in the 2019 Brecon and Radnorshire by-election under the pseudonym of Lady Lily the Pink.
However, she also says she wanted to “poke fun at the pomposity of politics” and engage non-voters.
“I am a firm believer in having a ‘none of the above’ option on the ballot paper, but there isn’t one.”
Voting for the Monster Raving Loony Party is “the next best thing”, she says.
The party may pride itself on its looniness, but it still has to abide by electoral law.
In addition to paying the £500 deposits (partly funded through party merchandise organised by deputy leader Baron von Thunderclap) potential candidates have to collect 10 signatures from local constituents in order to be allowed to stand.
This task often falls to party treasurer and minster for abolishing gravity Nick the Flying Brick.
“I get dressed up in my full regalia – lab coat, rosette and two foot high hat – and go door-to-door asking for signatures,” he says. “I usually get a nomination every three or four doors.”
Sometimes, the party’s tilt at power doesn’t always go to plan.
Howling Laud Hope missed the 2019 Newport West by-election because, according to the Times, it clashed with a holiday in Malta.
In 2019, regular candidate Nigel Knapp announced he wouldn’t be running because December was “a bloody stupid time for a general election”.
“I’m in the middle of making my Christmas puddings… I’m far too busy to at this time of the year to get into any sort of politics,” he wrote on his website.
But what of the future? Howling Laud Hope is in his 80s – are there any thoughts of retirement?
“Not a particle of a thought,” says the party’s shadow minister for abolishing gravity, Nick the Flying Brick.
He admits there have been discussions about a future leader.
“We might just elect someone’s parrot.”