The Official Monster Raving Loony Party (OMRLP) is a registered political party established in the United Kingdom in 1983 by musician and politician David Sutch, also known as Screaming Lord Sutch (1940-1999).
A similar concept had appeared in the "Election Night Special" sketch by Monty Python's Flying Circus in 1970 in which the "Silly Party" and the "Sensible Party" competed against each other, and The Goodies did a similar skit with Graeme Garden standing as a "Science Loony". Monty Python and The Goodies also popularised the word "loony" in the sense that Sutch was using in the name of the OMRLP, but it is equally possible that Sutch inspired the two comedy shows by managing to stand against Harold Wilson in 1966 and in the City of London election in 1970. There had also been a "Science Fiction and Loony" candidate in the 1976 Cambridge by-election.
There were two other individuals important in the formation of the future OMRLP. The first was John Dougrez-Lewis, who stood at the Crosby by-election of 1981 (which was won by the Social Democratic Party's co-founder Shirley Williams). Dougrez-Lewis stood at the by-election as Tarquin Fin-tim-lin-bin-whin-bim-lim-bus-stop-F'tang-F'tang-Olé-Biscuitbarrel (a name taken from the aforementioned Monty Python sketch), having changed his name by deed poll from the somewhat plainer John Desmond Lewis, on the behalf of the Cambridge University Raving Loony Society (CURLS) despite a legal challenge to stop him from standing by a far-right candidate wishing to highlight his suspension from Middlesex Polytechnic for his views. CURLS were an "anti-political party" and charity fund raising group formed largely to be a fun counter response to increasingly polarised student politics on campus and responsible for a number of fun-stunts (their Oxford University equivalents were the “Oxford Raving Lunatics”) Dougrez-Lewis was to become Sutch's agent at the notorious Bermondsey by-election of 1983 where the OMRLP banner was first officially unfurled.
The second person who helped found the party was Commander Bill Boaks, a retired World War II hero involved in the sinking of the Bismarck, who had campaigned and stood for election for over 30 years on limited funds, always on the issue of road safety (he had been prosecuted several times as a result of his campaigns against several prominent figures who had mysteriously managed to escape prosecution for drunk-driving offences). Boaks foresaw the problems that increased traffic and more roads would cause the country, but by the time his predictions of unnecessary child deaths, pollution and congestion were proved correct, he had died as a result of head injuries received three years earlier from a motorcycle collision. Boaks acted as one of Sutch's counting agents at Bermondsey and also proved influential on Sutch's direction as the leading anti-politician: "it's the ones who don't vote you really want, because they're the ones who think". Boaks subsequently retired from standing at elections due to his injuries, content that someone else was now taking up the anti-Establishment baton he had held for three decades.
Despite its satirical nature, some of the things that have featured in Loony manifestos have become law, such as being able to vote at 18, "passports for pets", and all-day pub openings. Similarly, the outcry following Alan Hope's appearance on the BBC's Nationwide current affairs programme after he was elected – during which he mentioned that butter and milk surpluses were being dumped down abandoned mine shafts under European Community rules to maintain prices (something the media of the day had failed to expose) - resulted in the distribution of such surpluses to the needy or charities instead.
The Loonies generally field as many candidates as possible in United Kingdom general elections, some (but by no means all) standing under ridiculous names they have adopted via deed poll. Sutch himself stood against all three main party leaders (John Major, Neil Kinnock and Paddy Ashdown) in the 1992 General Election. Parliamentary candidates have to pay their own deposit (which currently stands at £500) and cover all of their expenses. No OMRLP candidate has managed to get the required 5% of the popular vote needed to retain his deposit, but this does not stop people standing. Sutch came closest with 4.1% and over a thousand votes at the Rotherham by-election, whilst Stuart Hughes still holds the record for the largest number of votes for a Loony candidate at a Parliamentary election, with 1,442 at the 1992 General Election in the Honiton seat in east Devon. The all time highest vote achieved was by comedian Danny Bamford aka Danny Blue, who secured 3,339 votes in the 1994 European Elections under the pseudonym of "John Major". Bamford had also acted as an election agent for Lindi St Clair's rival Corrective Party, and was a former close associate of Stuart Hughes.
Some members believe that OMRLP activities are purely for fun (and an ego trip or publicity for their entertainment business), while others see the party in the same vein as Private Eye magazine or programmes such as That Was The Week That Was or Spitting Image, using satire to make serious points on issues of the day. Tensions have often resulted because the more serious types in the OMRLP have managed to do what most observers considered impossible—actually achieve a creditable number of votes—tending to put the noses of the "Fun-Da-Mental-ists" out of joint.
There were also objections in some quarters to the continued presence of alleged brothel keeper and minor celebrity Cynthia Payne—a friend of Sutch—who was at the front of many party photo opportunities but continued to stand instead as a member of the rival Rainbow Alliance party (aka Captain Rainbow's Universal Abolish Parliament Party) of George Weiss (a friend of Ian Dury and Peter Cook). The controversy heightened after Weiss was convicted of heroin possession (the News of the World settled a damages claim by the OMRLP, for saying Weiss was a member, out of court).
Due to ill health, Lord Sutch became less involved with the party and his last campaign was in Winchester after a by-election was called when the main election was undecided due to a count difference of just two votes between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat candidates. Assisted by his Campaign Manager and Election Agent, Peter 'Uncle Belly' Byford, the party gained 316 votes.
The first Raving Loony to win as a result of a straight vote (versus being elected unopposed) was Stuart Hughes, taking the "safe" Conservative seat of Sidmouth Woolbrook on East Devon District Council in May 1991. He then took a seat on Sidmouth Town Council from the Conservatives the following day. His success was met with hostility from the local Tories. Hughes' reaction was to attempt to make their lives a misery for the next three years: eg. refusing to pay his Community Charge (also known as the Poll Tax), then dumping scrap metal in the middle of the council chambers to the value of his unpaid tax when threatened with legal action. He also formed an alliance known as "The Coastals" (because of the seats they held) of Independents and the sole Green Party councillor, giving East Devon's ruling Conservatives the first true opposition they had faced for decades (the local Liberal Democrat and Labour Parties being negligible).
Hughes retained his seats with increased majorities in subsequent elections, and the final humiliation for the Conservatives came when he took the Devon County Council seat from the local party's Chief Whip in the council. Hughes remains a member of all three councils to this day although he now does his politicising— ironically—as a Conservative.
The RLGGP's better organisation and success at the polls proved a wake up call to the OMRLP, and at one stage in England during the early 1990s there were 16 councillors elected despite having the phrase "Raving Loony" accredited to them, and one in Scotland—Mark Boyle on Johnstone Community Council—who stood as a joint Official Monster Raving Loony Party and Raving Loony Green Giant Party candidate because he disagreed with the split (Hughes and Sutch thought having a joint councillor for two warring factions hilarious, Hope less so). To date, two have risen to become mayors — Alan Hope in Ashburton in Devon and Chris "Screwy" Driver on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent.
The story was a major headline in many UK newspapers; ironically the by-election itself had attracted little coverage: the little media attention there was focused on a bizarre row between Labour and the Raving Loonies. Relations between Labour members and Raving Loonies had never been good, but they reached a new low when the Labour agent tried to have the Loony candidate, Screaming Lord Sutch, arrested for breaking the old electoral law forbidding using a public house as an election campaign headquarters, a law which had been repealed in 1987. The tabloid newspapers referred to "Kinnock’s Killjoys" (Neil Kinnock being the Labour leader at this time) for the campaign's duration, and the OMRLP never looked back.
The result was the last straw for the continuing Social Democrats — centred around former Labour Foreign Secretary and Social Democratic leader Dr. David Owen—who had refused to accept the merger of the SDP with the Liberals to form the Liberal Democrats. Rubbing salt in their wounds, Sutch offered in jest to form a coalition with them, but they instead disbanded, though in a repeat of the events of 1988 once again a week later some members voted to carry on. Almost a year after Bootle, the supposedly dead SDP finished fourth at Neath, beating the OMRLP to 5th place in the process, and survive to this day (for the history of the post-Owen SDP, see the continuing Social Democratic Party).
Although there have been far more prestigious Loony results before and after (particularly Monmouth), Bootle is still regarded by Raving Loonies as their finest hour, the watershed moment when they had to be treated as a serious political party, albeit one largely lampooning the political world.
The credit for this must lie with John Tempest, a former Liberal/Liberal Democrat press officer and election agent (and co-founder of the award winning Bradford Soup Run charity for the homeless). Together with friend and OMRLP activist Willi Beckett (one of the founders of the anarchist One-In-Twelve Club in Bradford), they transformed the way the party fought elections. From the outset they were determined to make the OMRLP reap the rewards of being the unofficial "protest vote party" of the UK: now posters, car stickers, and a never-ending series of headline-grabbing stunts not only made it easier for the party to gain publicity, but also ensured they were treated fairly by the media (three by-election TV shows were cancelled when the OMRLP used the law to stop them having candidate debates that barred the Loony candidate). The party even managed to attract some corporate sponsorship from the makers of "Monster Munch" crisps & "Spillers" dogfood, albeit to lampoon the manner in which Labour under Blair in particular had become big business puppets.
Tempest and Beckett suffered the same problems from the "Fun-da-Mental-ist" faction, but by then new people had entered the party such as future Chairman Peter 'T.C.' Owen, to whom beating the other parties was what it was all about and who saw nothing funny about coming last with a handful of votes. Also Tempest was known – ironically – as one not to suffer fools gladly (there were a number of clashes between him and Hope). It was no coincidence that during the era of Tempest and Beckett, other well known "alternative" parties such as the Greens, National Front, British National Party, and the UK Independence Party often withdrew their candidates from seats after an OMRLP member had announced their candidature because of the damage to party morale from finishing with fewer votes than a "Raving Loony".
Beckett was forced to drop out of Loony activities due to ill health, prompting Tempest to end his association with the OMRLP, thanks to work & Soup Run commitments—along with being fed up with the lack of gratitude and backbiting from the "Fun-da-Mental-ist" faction that were happy enough to ask for his help to get them out of a number of scrapes—including a nasty election feud in Holmfirth between Melodie Staniforth and Mike Madden of the rival RLGGP faction during the mid 1990s (Madden eventually quit standing in elections).
Sutch's death drew tributes from right across the political spectrum. There were also however some not-so-complimentary comments, the worst coming from Roseanna Cunningham, at the time MP for Perth and a columnist for the Scottish Sunday Mail. Cunningham claimed newspapers were more interested in the death of someone she felt had contributed nothing to politics nor society whilst 'ignoring' the death that same week of Cardinal Basil Hume (in fact most had given long obituaries to Hume) who she felt had done more (she did not name any specific achievements). Cunningham had previously been upstaged by the OMRLP on the night of her victory at the ill-tempered Perth & Kinross by-election due to the death of Sir Nicholas Fairbairn. A foul-up between SNP spin doctors inside and outside Perth City Hall and the BBC led to expectant nationalist supporters gathered outside cheering Sutch, Boyle and Beckett for five minutes instead when they stumbled out of Perth City Hall first; leaving Cunningham trapped inside whilst the OMRLP (and one defecting Scottish Liberal Democrat) conducted the crowd in choral renditions of both "Spot the Loony" and "Let's All Laugh At Labour". (Labour had spent a fortune in vain on trying to win the seat for Peter Mandelson's then aide Douglas Alexander.)
This in many ways sums up the OMRLP's role in politics. Politicians and the media loved them, so long as they themselves did not fall foul of their antics.
Sutch's funeral, organised by Tempest, was attended by members of the OMRLP and RLGGP, including Hughes, who with Freddie Zapp brought along a huge floral tribute shaped as an OMRLP rosette; they provided a more dignified entourage than Sutch's own relatives and romantic partners, who fought with one another at the graveside. The running of the OMRLP fell to Alan "Howling Laud" Hope and his late cat, Cat Mandu (killed 2002), who were the joint winners of the 1999 membership ballot for the replacement for Sutch.
The OMRLP fielded 15 candidates in the 2001 General Election, where they actually ran up their best General Election results to date.
This splinter however did not last anywhere near as long as the RLGGP, although in a replay of what happened to Stuart Hughes and the RLGGP, success at the ballot box ensured the failure of the new party. Chris Driver's election as Mayor of Queensborough Town Council for the municipal year 2002/2003 curtailed on its leader's time enough to ensure party activities effectively ground to a halt. By 2004, the RRLP was effectively dead, with most of its members having rejoined the OMRLP. (Gillard however dropped out of politics altogether in 2002 after his wife's suicide).
Sir Patrick Moore, the famous British TV astronomer, claimed several times to be the party's Minister for Flying Saucers. In fact, Moore was not welcome at all within the party due to his past involvement as joint leader of the far-right New Britain Party. Moore has since proclaimed his allegiance to the UKIP.
Hugh Reed & The Velvet Underpants, a band barely known outside of the Scottish University circuit released the song "Vote Monster Raving Looney" in 1992. They were however nothing to do with the Official Monster Raving Loony Party (hence the different spelling of "Loony") & similarly disowned by a press statement from John Tempest. The band subsequently became involved in fund-raising activities for the "ultra-nationalist" (i.e., ethnic/cultural nationalist) Siol nan Gaidheal group (who were expelled from the Scottish National Party in 1982).
The manifesto, entitled "The Manicfesto", for the 2005 General Election the OMRLP's major manifesto commitment was once more their long held pledge to abolish income tax, citing as always that it was only meant to be a temporary measure during the Napoleonic Wars. This has been a Loony staple policy since the original manifesto was written by Sutch's agent Pauline Read in 1983. Also included was another old staple, the "Putting Parliament On Wheels" idea of having Parliament sit throughout the country rather than solely in London—with special emphasis this time in its creation negating the need for national/regional assemblies.
The rest of the party's manifesto included:
Overall the results were a disappointment for the OMRLP after their success in the previous general election showed there was life after Sutch, the only improvement being Alan Hope’s increase of the vote to over 500, but all other candidates saw marked reductions—including Owen haemorrhaging over 300 votes straight over to the BNP, contesting the Wokingham seat for the first time. "Top Cat" Owen is the only member of the current OMRLP line up ever to poll over 1000 votes (he polled 2,859 votes in the 1994 European elections), and his dip in fortunes despite a previously strong local following appears to have killed the last realistic chance the party ever had of seeing a saved deposit.
Morris and Spydaz were well known enough in York, Morris as a former National Front and then Green Party activist, whilst Spydaz was known as York's "super-squatter", an activist of the York Peace Collective that led a series of highly publicised squats during 2003 and 2004 to highlight neglected "listed" buildings (their antics included the holding of Art exhibitions within such abandoned properties).
The response however from OMRLP headquarters was for Deputy Leader Boney Maroney to promptly expel Morris and Spydaz from the party. In York's "Evening Press" newspaper of 12/4/2005, Maroney claimed it was "for selling loony merchandise against Electoral Commission rules": to be precise the OMRLP's Financial Scheme as registered with the Electoral Commission, which meant any Branch of the OMRLP taking money on the party's behalf would be breaching the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 Part 2. As such, the York Branch's alleged selling of merchandise provided a pretext to expel the entire branch—bar Vee—and declare Vee to be the "approved" York candidate.
Vee then failed to raise the £500 deposit to stand, but the expelled York Branch members had the deposit for Hinkles—now standing as a York Integrity Party (although the ballot paper simply reads "Independent Hinkles")—submitted within days of the Notice of Election being posted.
Morris, Hinkles and Spydaz offered an olive branch to party HQ, but with no response, and with the Socialist Alliance and the Green Party contesting the seat, any hopes the Hinkles candidature may have had of attracting the "alternative" vote from his association with Spydaz were dashed—he barely took 100 votes.
Although Alan Hope took over as Party Leader after Sutch's death, the real day-to-day running of the party has always been done by other party members. Even on the council election circuit, its vote, funds — and public interest — appear to be in terminal decline, facing a tighter squeeze for the "protest vote" from other minor UK parties with more members, money, and organisation.
The party fell foul over its funding on 26 September 2005 when the Electoral Commission forced them to return a donation of £350 sent by a supporter from the independent British Dependency of the Isle of Man.
The party's last elected representative was R. U. Seerius (formerly Jon Brewer) on the 11 member Sawley Parish Council in South Derbyshire, first elected (uncontested) in 2005. He was no longer a member as of May 2007, having failed to appear in no less than 11 statutory meetings during his time in office (see links to Sawley Parish Council minutes)
The party contested both the Bromley and Chislehurst and the Blaenau Gwent Parliamentary by-elections on 29th June 2006; and with it a degree of their previous by-election lustre—a matter perhaps the result of the return of Willi Beckett to frontline OMRLP activities; tragically in October 2006 he was diagnosed as terminally ill with cancer, and he died on Friday 2nd March 2007, less than a day after setting up his own MySpace website. His ashes were later used to make his farewell vinyl single.
Ironically, she had been the most vociferous critic of the Raving Loony Green Giant and Rock'n'Roll Loony factions that had left the OMRLP for largely the same reasons, and of John Tempest's more organised approach to elections and funding. She has since stood as a candidate for the Blah! Party.
Hope retaliated with a press release stating - with little appreciation of the irony - that "although the sudden resignation of a main party member was a shock the Loony party is not just one person and will continue regardless." and that "the party will never again be reliant on one person".
The post-Staniforth OMRLP succeeded in standing in the two by-elections of 19 July 2007 in Sedgefield and Ealing Southall, but again achieving derisory results: Alan Hope acquiring 129 votes (0.46%) and John Cartwright taking 188 (0.51%), beating the English Democrats but coming behind even the so-called Christian Party of the Reverend George Hargreaves and David Braid.
Currently a by-election is being fought by a candidate.
"The Man Who Was Screaming Lord Sutch" - Graham Sharpe, April 2005 (ISBN 1-85410-983-9)
"Life As Sutch" - Lord David Sutch (ghost written by Peter Chippendale), Angus & Robertson 1991 (Expanded Edition 1992)(ISBN 0-207-17240-4).
Sutch's "autobiography" needs to be treated with care, as amid the facts are fictions from Chippendale because he thought they made the book more entertaining. During this period, a number of UK publishers released many such spurious "faction" autobiographies from minor celebrities only too happy to take the royalties (or having little choice but to do so owing to financial problems).
Another problem for researchers on the OMRLP is the tendency of newspapers to simply make up policies the party purported to have or even statements from members when they did not (a problem most minor UK parties face without adequate access to legal redress).