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When Devon Became a Loony Hotspot

When Devon Became a Loony Hotspot

The town of Ashburton in Dartmoor is famous for many things.

The town played a key role in the tin mining industry in the 19th century and is the largest town in Dartmoor National Park. It was recently named one of the coolest places to live in England by a trendy London magazine.

But in Ashburton political history was made, thanks to theThe official Monster Raving Loony Party, founded in 1982 by the inconspicuous rock musician and former DJ David Sutch, better known as Screaming Lord Sutch, 3rd Earl of Harrow.

Sutch had been active in politics for decades and had stood for election several times. As a younger man he had founded the National Teenage Party, with demands that were scandalous at the time, such as lowering the voting age from 21 to 18, ending the state monopoly on broadcasting and providing passports for dogs.

A later demand from Loony was that 16 year olds be given the right to vote. This is now the policy of Labour, Lib Dems and Greens and is in all their manifestos.

A monstrous, raving lunatic, Sutch first stood for parliament at a by-election in Bermondsey, south London, in 1983. Sutch finished fifth out of fifteen candidates, despite receiving only 97 votes.

In 1987 the party was most active in Devon. Totnes pub owner Tim Langsford stood against Tory great Anthony Steen in the South Hams at the general election, taking 277 votes. Mr Steen won with 34,218.

Alan Hope, who led the Golden Lion in Ashburton, subsequently became the first member of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party to hold public office when he was elected unopposed to Ashburton Town Council.

He held this position for more than ten years and became mayor in 1998. The Golden Lion had become the official party headquarters and the location for the lively annual congresses.

The screaming Lord Sutch committed suicide in 1999 and Mr Hope later moved to Hampshire, where he joined the Fleet council – again unopposed.

In the 1960s he sang with Screaming Lord Sutch, who appointed him vice-chairman of his new party in 1982. His election as a councillor for Ashburton in 1987 caused a dilemma within the party, as it had previously been decided that any member elected to public office had to be expelled.

This rule was changed at the 1987 party congress.

Mr Hope, also known as Howling Laud Hope, is the current leader of the Official Monster Raving Loonies. He and his cat, Catmando, were jointly elected leaders, but since June 2002, Mr Hope has been the sole leader following Catmando’s death in a car accident.

He has stood for parliament more than 30 times to date, without success. The 576 votes he received when he finished sixth out of six candidates in North East Hampshire in 2019 is his best result to date, along with 1.6% of the vote in Leicester South, where he finished fifth and last in 2011.

Other party members achieved success elsewhere, including in Devon.

Cllr Stuart Hughes has been a county councillor since 1993, serving Sidmouth. He is a senior member of the Conservative Group and a cabinet member for highway management.

But above all, he was an idiot.

Cllr Hughes, a former DJ and hotelier, stood as a candidate for the loonies in the seat of Devon in the 1989 European Parliament elections, although his 2,241 votes left him far short of success. He reportedly had a 30-second MEP spell after an error in announcing the real winner.

In the same year he and others founded the breakaway Raving Loony Green Giant Party and subsequently stood unsuccessfully for parliament in Mid Staffordshire and the Ribble Valley, under the names Raving Loony Green Giant Supercalafragalistic Party and later Raving Loony Green Giant Clitheroe Kid.

But in May 1991 he was elected to East Devon District Council and Sidmouth Town Council under the banner of the Raving Loony Green Giant Party, having changed his name to Stuart Basil Fawlty Hughes.

The victory made him the first Raving Loony candidate to win a contested election.

In 1993 he was elected to Devon County Council as an independent and in March 1997 he joined the Conservatives.

Another prominent local Loony was Torquay hotelier John Rowe. His Hotel Sydore in Torquay was often the scene of party-related frenzy.

Mr Rowe was the ‘shadow minister for courage’ and was promoted to party chairman shortly before his death in November 2000.

The 1950s pop star Ruby Murray, who once had five songs in the top twenty at the same time, was also a good friend of the loonies. She took part in a number of events and was a guest of honour at the party conference in 1994.

The party is fielding 22 candidates for the 2024 general election, including Howling Laud Hope himself, who is running again in the North East Hampshire election.

Outside of the loonies, Devon has had other notable candidates. In 1979, Auberon Waugh, son of Brideshead Revisited creator Evelyn Waugh, stood in North Devon for the ‘Dog Lovers’ Party.’

As the seat of Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe, who had recently been acquitted of conspiracy to murder his lover, Norman Scott, it attracted national attention. In the Thorpe case, the bungling killer had shot Mr Scott’s Great Dane, allowing Mr Waugh to make his point – and make headlines – for canine lovers.

Other party candidates this year include Baron von Thunderclap, Nick The Incredible Flying Brick and Lord Psychobilly Tractor.

Count Binface is standing in Richmond, North Yorkshire, and will therefore share the stage with Rishi Sunak when the result is announced in the early hours of Friday morning.

Mr Binface’s policies include nationalising Adele and capping the price of croissants at £1.10 (previously £1, before inflation intervened). In the unlikely event that he forms a government, the cardboard-suited Earl with a bin on his head promises to make it legal for water company bosses to swim in British rivers “to see if they like it”, and to introduce national service for all former prime ministers.

As with previous crazy measures, such as 18-year-olds’ right to vote and pet passports, history shows that some ideas do become reality.