Normally, people would not pay too much attention to a council by-election in a leafy London suburb; these elections rarely attract more than a few hundred votes and certainly don’t attract national media attention. However, the by-election for the Chessington South ward of Kingston upon Thames – the home of Chessington World of Adventures – is gaining notoriety for the kind of entertainment and fantasy that thousands flock to the theme park for every day.
Aside from one party’s ties to George Galloway’s Sputnik TV programme, a former Labour MP running for the Liberal Democrats, and two candidates battling for the seat through poetic verse, the race has no less than 13 Official Monster Raving Loony Party candidates vying for the same council seat.
Undoubtedly, this will split their vote, although, as the party have helpfully pointed out, it does give the Official Monster Raving Loony Party thirteen shots at gaining themselves an elected representative in the Kingston Council.
The party consider themselves the only officially registered ‘loony party’, with all their electoral rivals being ‘unofficial loonys’. The party’s Twitter page serves as a constant stream of their policies – their ‘manicfesto’ – ranging from reducing “the voting age to five years old to reflect the behaviour of our elected politicians” and building a “high-speed railway to the Falkland Islands as the current HS2 proposal is neither daft enough or expensive enough!”
The OMRLP have a long history in the borough, with Chinners Chinnery gaining a barnstorming 0.3% of the vote in the Kingston and Surbiton constituency at the 2019 general election. Chinners gained 193 votes, up from the 168 he received in 2017, but down from Monkey The Drummer’s 247 in the 2010 election – they did not stand a candidate in 2015, but are taking the opportunity to make up for it now.
In all three of the Parliamentary elections the OMRLP have stood in, they have never come last in Kingston, beating out UKIP in 2019, conquering an independent in 2017 and defeating the Christian People’s Alliance in 2010.
In this Council by-election, their winning streak may come to an end though, with the candidates giving them thirteen shots at winning, but also thirteen shots at losing.
The ward was vacated by an incumbent Liberal Democrat councillor earlier this year and all three seats there have been held by the Lib Dems throughout this century, however, the Conservative Party candidate in the 2019 general election won the most votes in that ward, leading to a belief that it could change hands.
The Official Loony’s are facing off against former Labour MP, and now Liberal Democrat candidate Andrew Mackinlay, who left the party in 2018 over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, before joining the Liberal Democrats a year later.
McKinlay is a staunch anti-monarchist, something that has not gone down well with his main opponent, Conservative candidate Sue Towner; a long-standing resident of Chessington and a local campaigner, who is communicating to voters through the poetry she has written about her local area.
Towner was selected as a candidate earlier in the year, ahead of fellow Conservative member Michelle Akintoye, sparking a rift in the local party. Akintoye quit shortly after, resurfacing as the Kingston Independent Resident’s Association (KIRG) candidate. KIRG is a local party that was co-founded by James Giles, a student and presenter on George Galloway’s Sputnik programme on RT – with his role landing him in hot water with some local residents, due to its ties to the Russian government and Galloway’s history of anti-semitism. KIRG is now led by Helen Hinton, a local campaigner who stood as an independent against Zac Goldsmith in Richmond Park in 2019, with Giles – who ran as an independent against Ed Davey in Kingston – the deputy leader.
KIRG has been heavily criticised by the main party candidates, but where the Conservative’s Sue Towner and KIRG’s Michelle Akintoye do agree, is in the use of poetry to win votes. Towner has dedicated a portion of her website to her Chessington South verse and has long written poems about the beauty she sees in the local area, whilst Akintoye has written a poem to tell postal voters how to vote for her.
Whether the poetry is part of the ‘Official’ Loony’s reason for standing thirteen candidates at this election is not clear; however, the other parties’ wife-swapping approach to candidature is perhaps a clue.
The real Clouseau’s may point out that the party headquarters, The Lucky Rover pub, is in the Chessington South ward the lucky thirteen are vying for; Landlord Rover and Landlady Lucky are amongst the party’s top names on the ballot.
Other names – like Newt Kingstonian and Rev Robbie the Radical Recyclist – are welcome additions on the ballot paper too. However, with their thirteen entries trebling the length of the ballot paper, the official loony’s position on recycling and paper use is not clear.
Whilst the borough’s politics has enough drama to make Michael Dobbs’ House of Cards look stale, if it were it not for the thirteen Official Monster Raving Loony Party candidates, it would be just another little-known council by-election in a leafy suburban corner of London – decided by party affiliation and poetic verse.
There is only one ‘official’ loony party, even if some claim there are 19 ‘loony candidates’.