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Mavericks who bring election alive

By CNN's European Political Editor Robin Oakley

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Lord Sutch fought and lost more elections than anyone else in the UK's political history.
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Blair faces toughest battle yet in May 5 parliamentary elections. CNN's Robin Oakley reports.
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Robin Oakley
UK election

LONDON, England (CNN) -- We in the media tend at election times to represent the Hang On What About Me Party, pointing out the snags in the parties' manifestoes and identifying those who are likely to lose out as a result of their policies. There is also no shortage of people who reckon they have something special to offer the nation and who are prepared to take on the Law of Averages.

The chances of any of the seats up for grabs in the House of Commons being won by anybody other than Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrat candidates (or in Scotland and Wales the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru) are pretty limited. But it does happen.

At the last election, with the Liberal Democrats opting out of the contest, the Wyre Forest constituency in the West Midlands was won by Dr. Cyril Taylor, an independent campaigning against the closure of Kidderminster Hospital, an establishment once responsible for overseeing he birth of your humble blogger. He had a thumping 36 percent majority too.

Another independent victory was that of the white-suited former BBC war correspondent Martin Bell, standing as an anti-corruption candidate against Tory Neil Hamilton in 1997.

Such successes will have encouraged those collectively known as "the other parties" to try their luck, even though most will lose the £500 deposit they have to lodge, which is forfeited if they fail to secure 5 percent of the vote. With nominations now closed nearly 3,500 candidates have declared themselves to contest the 646 seats.

When I first started covering elections in the late 1960s the independents included the marvelously eccentric Lieutenant-Commander Bill Boaks, a road safety enthusiast who was once fined £5 for obstruction after stopping his car in the road to allow the spectators at an England v Scotland match at Wembley to leave the ground safely, and refusing to move it until all 100,000 of them had crossed the road.

Boaks used to drive about in a vehicle painted in zebra stripes with an eight-foot flagpole poking out of the roof flying sloganeering banners. Accused of using his vehicle for illegal advertising he told a magistrate that he always went out with the car in that condition, though he admitted his wife "used to get a bit cross about it" on family outings. Later, when poor Boaks was broke, I seem to remember it became a tricycle.

Sadly Boaks's political career could hardly be counted a success.

He first tried to stand against Clement Attlee in the then Labour prime minister's Walthamstow West constituency. Unfortunately Boaks filed his nomination papers in next-door Walthamstow East instead and did not get the publicity he craved. He regularly scored less than 100 votes and the mere five he won at the Glasgow Hillhead by-election remains a record low in any British constituency election. He would have needed 10 signatures for his nomination.

Still with us is the Monster Raving Loony Party, founded by the late Screaming Lord Sutch, a minor rock star who used to pay for his election campaigns by doing gigs in local pubs, dressed in his leopardskin body suit and top hat. Even for an old-fashioned rocker like me he was a pretty dire performer, but he added zest to the political scene with slogans like his promise to turn the European "butter mountains" into ski slopes. I see that one of the MRL's candidates, Mr. R.U.Serius, is keeping up the tradition with an election leaflet urging voters "Work harder! Millions on welfare depend on you."

Candidates this time round include a grandmother who was convicted of a drug offense after giving her friends cakes spiced with rather more than rum and raisins to ease their aches and pains. She is standing for the Legalise Cannabis Party against Leader of the Commons Peter Hain in Wales. Someone else has registered a Silent Majority Party.

Famous figures tend to attract those promoting particular causes. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is being taken on in Blackburn by Craig Murray, the former British ambassador brought back from Uzbekistan after complaining about the condoning of corruption and torture, and Tony Blair will be opposed in Sedgefield by anti Iraq war protester Reg Keys, whose Redcap son Lance Corporal Tom Keys was killed by an Iraqi crowd in 2003.

This time at least there is some collective help for the maverick candidates. Martin Bell, Dr. Taylor and others have signed up to the Independent Network coalition to offer mutual assistance. All power to their elbow. Some of them have serious causes, some are merely adding entertainment to an election dulled by the over-professionalization of politics. But all are exercising a precious democratic right and adding some humanity.

We also have plenty of new blogs in this election. Latest onto our screens is that of the wife of Conservative Opposition leader Michael Howard, Sandra. She records: "I have heard on the grapevine that a certain other leader's wife has just booked arguably the best and certainly the priciest hairdresser in town for the entire campaigning month ahead. I reckon that gives me some good leverage in getting across that my hair deserves a look in too."

Miaow. I can confirm though that her rival Cherie Blair likes to have her barnet at its best on important occasions. I once flew out on a Downing Street plane for a prime ministerial visit to South Africa. The aircraft called in the Seychelles to pick up the prime minister and his wife from a holiday before heading on for the official trip. I was using the stop to file a live report on my cellphone when there was suddenly a furious racket just behind me as two familiar figures embraced each other with screams of joy.

It was only after I had turned with a face like thunder and a series of rude gestures to hush them that I realized the happy pair were Cherie and her hairdresser.


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