Runners and Riders

It was David Davis's stated aim, in subjecting himself to the voters of Haltemprice and Howden, to lead a wide-ranging democratic debate on the state of liberty in modern Britain. The governing party might have declined his invitation, but if choice is one of the measures of democracy then this forthcoming by-election will be the most democratic in history, with a field of 26 candidates easily surpassing the previous record, 19, set in Newbury in 1993, and more than double the mere 12 candidates who stood in this week's Henley poll.

And what a very strange bunch they are, a mixture of extremists, doomed idealists, publicity-seekers and single-issue campaigners. Yet beneath their disparate (and unlikely) platforms a common theme emerges, a dissatisfaction with the status quo combined with a touching, and ultimately hopeful, belief that change might still be effected via the ballot box.

The only "real" party standing is the Greens, represented by the teacher and LEA official Shan Oakes. Oakes, who is also "one of the founders of Voice International, an organisation working to sustainability through education". She claims to be standing for "real" civil liberties and has the backing of human rights activist Peter Tatchell. In a message of support, Green Party "principal speaker" Derek Wall laid into Davis, accusing him of being someone who "thinks it's okay for the government to lock you up for four weeks without even telling you what you're supposed to have done." This on the grounds that the Conservatives managed to defeat the Blair government's attempt to impose a 90 day limit in 2006. He goes on to claim the David Davis supports the ban on unauthorised demonstrations outside Parliament (which even Gordon Brown has promised to rescind) and caricatures Davis's support for capital punishment as a belief that "a judge should be allowed to kill you if he thinks you've committed a serious crime." Derek is clearly a bit off the Wall.

The Greens are probably looking to come second in H&H. However, among the serried ranks of independents a couple approach seriousness. So far the rape campaigner Jill Saward has attracted the most press attention. Saward seems to believe that Davis wants to switch off all CCTV cameras and destroy all DNA samples (something Davis has denied). Her personal history will guarantee her a sympathetic hearing but some of her positions strike me as overly simplistic and, if implemented, downright dangerous. She has a naive faith in the reliability of both CCTV and DNA testing. "If anything we should be expanding the national DNA database so that everybody’s DNA is on it," she declares. Rather than "standing up for British Justice", she writes, Davis "is attempting to strike a hammer blow through the very tools the police need to keep us safe." And his decision to contest the election, as well as being a waste of money, shows his refusal to accept the "will of Parliament" on the 42 days issue. She finds this "deeply, deeply disturbing".

A second "serious" candidate, and the one identified by Mike Smithson of Political Betting as perhaps Davis's most dangerous rival, is the former Tory MP Walter Sweeney. Sweeney was MP for the Vale of Glamorgan in the 1992-97 Parliament, where he was best known for having the smallest majority in the House (a mere 19). He also introduced a private member's bill which would have permitted householders to shoot attempted burglars on sight (though since losing his seat he has stood up for property rights by campaigning against Home Information Packs instead). A Eurosceptic, he had "a number of run-ins" with David Davis during debates on the Maastricht treaty (when Davis was a government whip). According to one possibly apochryphal tale, Davis blocked the door to the Commons loo with Sweeney inside to prevent him from voting against the government. Perhaps Sweeney's decision to stand is part of a long-delayed revenge. Oddly, he is on the council of the Freedom Association, whose website recently carried a fulsome message of support for Davis. "At last, a leading member of Britain's political class has spoken out in defence of Britain's traditional liberties," it rejoiced.

Another candidate with a previous career in mainstream politics is Herbert ("Herbie") Crossman. Crossman was elected as a LibDem councillor for Harrow in 1994, but resigned from the party to become an Independent two years later. He stood for Sir James Goldsmith's Referendum Party in the 1997 general election, soon afterwards switching sides once more and joining the Tories. However, he left the Conservatives in 1999. Crossman's most high-profile campaign was against a former LibDem colleague on Harrow Council, Alastair Alexander, who had posted pictures of his pierced penis on a personal website. Crossman collected more than 200 signatures in an attempt to have Alexander thrown off the council. "It's a private matter and not something the party would take a line on," said a LibDem spokesman.

Fringe parties are perhaps under-represented (no Respect, no BNP). Tess Culnane, a former BNP candidate who according to some accounts was dropped after an embarrassing and expensive court case, is standing under the banner National Front Britain for the British. She also stood in the London Assembly elections, and is apparently a popular speaker in far right circles. At the opposite extreme we find Chris Talbot of Socialist Equality, a Trotskyite outfit that describes itself as "the British section of the International Committee of the 4th International". Like Davis, Talbot is worried about the erosion of British freedoms; unlike Davis he largely blames international capitalism and the "criminal" war in Iraq.

The Socialist Equality Party is standing in the Haltemprice and Howden by-election to counter efforts to divert legitimate hostility to the Labour government and its extension of detention without charge to 42-days into support for right-wing Conservative David Davis.

The government knows that the drive to seize control of the world’s major oil deposits and other vital resources have made Britain a pariah internationally and the focus of justified hostility amongst millions of oppressed peoples. The fact that the British people face a terror threat is entirely the result of Labour’s criminal actions in destabilizing the Middle East and inflaming ethnic and religious tensions within the UK itself.

The most familiar party banner, though, apart from the Greens and Davis's Conservatives, is undoubtedly that of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party, this time represented by "Mad Cow-Girl" Rosalyn Warner. Warner, who is OMRLP's party secretary, is controversially standing on a populist, anti-Davis platform. "A vote for the Mad Cow-Girl is a vote for a return to real law & order," she says. "I may be a Loony, but I'm not mad enough to want dangerous people walking free in the name of political correctness." Indeed, she sounds no more Loony than, say, Kelvin Mackenzie, who was forced to pull out. Among her other suggestions, she thinks that suspected terrorists should be held "until proved safe"; sex offenders should be held in asylums "until considered safe (if ever)"; and "antisocial yobs can rot in prison if they can't be sociable." "Why don't decent citizens have a "Human Right" not to be assaulted, blown up or harassed, when the criminals can scream human rights if their handcuffs hurt?" she asks.

This hardline stance has already led to a split in Loony ranks, with another leading member, John Cartwright of the Croydon Loonies, pointing out on UK Polling Report website that "if you had been paying attention you would have noticed the photo of me in the London Metro newspaper two weeks ago demonstrating in Parliament Square with my prominent “NO 42″ placard." He adds, "Unlike the Reactionary Bourgeois Dictatorship Imperialist Lib-Lab-Con-trick parties, the OMRLP does not have a centralised God-like figure (called a “whip”) telling us all to agree about everything. We actually have out own opinions, and we are all individuals."

There are many more individuals in the race, and I would love to go into detail about all of them, but it would take far too long. So here are a few tidbits.

- Joanne Robinson, of the English Democrats, who would seem to be liberal romantic nationalists in favour of an English parliament and against the EU

- Gemma Garrett, the Belfast-born Miss Great Britain, who wants to improve childcare and "put beauty back in Britain". "If women look and feel beautiful it makes Britain a happier place," she told the Belfast Telegraph on the eve of the Crewe and Nantwich by-election, which she also contested. She wants "to see politics rapidly becoming sexy instead of sleazy", which makes her sound like La Cicciolina. Which she plainly isn't, though she recently posed as the new "face" of Formula One (the job of "bottom" presumably being taken by one of Max Mosley's friends).

- Ronnie Carroll, standing for "Make Politicians History", which used to be known as the Rainbow Alliance. Carroll had a musical career half a century ago, and has the unique distinction (if it can be so described) of having represented the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest in two successive years (1962-3). Both times he finished 4th. Once married to actress and singer Millicent Martin, his real surname is Cleghorn. According to Wikipedia his party "advocates the abolition of Parliament in favour of devolution to city states and decision-making by referendum. In the Cardiff North constituency (2005), candidate Catherine Taylor-Dawson received only one vote, thus setting a new record for the lowest vote for any parliamentary candidate under universal suffrage."

- Hamish Howitt (Freedom 4 Choice) is a Scottish-born Blackpool publican who in 2007 was the first to be prosecuted for continuing to allow smoking in his pub. A disillusioned former Labour Party member, he now says that the government "stole my vote and many others by lying in its manifesto" and told the judge at one of his trials that he was "the slave of the state".

- David Craig, whose real name is Neil Glass, campaigns against bureaucracy and believes that the 42 days issue is of much less significance to most people than the fact that MPs "have become overpaid, out of touch and are wasting billions of pounds of our money when the cost of living is spiralling out of control."

- Eomann "Fitzy" Fitzpatrick, a market trader who calls himself the Voice of Northampton, believes in Common Sense, "and particularly in the common-sense of Yorkshire folk." He supports 42 days' detention and believes that "in Britain the honest man has nothing to fear". Clearly he has nothing to hide. His other Common Sense policies include "stop the epidemic of heroin", opposition to irresponsible lending and supermarkets, lowering the rents of market traders (well, he would, wouldn't he?) as well as support for ID cards. "Gordon Brown deserves to be given a chance and he seems to be a reasonable sort of chap," he says. I doubt he Speaks for England on that one.

- Rev George Hargreaves, of the Christian Party. Formerly George Jackman, Hargreaves had a career as a songwriter and pop-producer during the Eighties. His biggest hit was Sinitta's 1986 gay anthem "So Macho", the royalties from which he now uses to fund campaigns against homosexuality and "Christianophobia" peddled by "the pink press". When accused of hypocrisy, he protested that "the money allows me to do the work that needs to be done to advance Christianity. What would they prefer me to do? Flush the money down the toilet? That would be ungodly." Hargreaves comes originally from Trinidad, and is now a minister at the Hephzibah Christian Centre in Hackney. Another of his campaigns was against the Manchester United Crest, which features a red devil holding a pitchfork.

- Norman Scarth, an 82 year-old World War II veteran and retired stud farmer who describes himself as "a whistle-blower, a writer, a dissident & a human rights activist". Scarth was jailed for six years in 2001 for wounding with intent after attacking a baliff with a chainsaw. He had earlier contested Chesterfield in 1997 as an Independent Old Age Pensioner, but after his release took on Tony Blair in Sedgefield in 2007; he stood, oddly enough, as an anti-crime candidate. He is standing in H&H as an Independent after offering himself to the Conservatives at Monday's selection meeting. "This was no democratic 'selection' meeting, he complains, "it had already been decided in secret by a cabal."

- David Bishop, a.k.a. Lord Biro, of the Church of the Militant Elvis. The party "was founded in 2001 to overthrow the Corporate Capitalist State which turned Elvis, a man of immense talent, into a fat media joke. Some members of the Party also believe that George W Bush is the anti-Christ - ‘Beelzebush’ - who will trigger off the battle of Armagedden." Bishop recently stood aside as party leader in favour of "Lesbian Elvis", a female mannequin.

- Thomas Faithful Darwood, a religious writer and publisher who leads (probably on his own) the Reformation Party. Darwood's platform includes support for the Book of Common Prayer, a reunification of Christendom (to be achieved when the Archbishop of Canterbury becomes Pope), and his own election as king in a new democratic monarchy. In pursuit of this latter aim he has written to the Queen urging her to abdicate in his favour. His ideas are explained at exhaustive length on his website.

- Christopher Foren, a former Crown prosecutor from Leeds, whose "embryonic" party is called Work for Progress. More a case of work in progress, its programme so far includes opposition to roadbuilding and support for population reduction. Foren also believes that we should "get off the treadmill of consumerism and move to a society that concentrates on human development and well-being." As an interim measure, he supports proportional representation and an elected Senate.

- David Pinder, former chief executive of the Humber and Lincolnshire Chamber of Commerce and now an expert in terrorism. His New Party supports low taxation, individual funding for education and healthcare, and reducing the power of the European Union. He says: "If we are to roll back the state and return to traditional British values, then we must be brave enough to confront the problems which have caused our decline."

- The other independent candidates are former UKIP candidate John Upex, and some others I could discover almost nothing about, but whom I am required (I think) to list for legal reasons: Grace Astley, John Nicholson, Greg Wood and Tony Farnon. And David Icke, of course.


Olive said…
Congratulations, Mr Davis, you've turned the battle over personal freedom in this country into a freakshow. I'm dreadfully sorry about what happened to Ms Saward 20 odd years ago, but I don't see why that means tht my DNA should be on a police database. And despite what she may have seen on The Bill, a nation covered with CCTV doesn't prevent crime. Hell, it doesn't even seem to be involved in the solution of many crimes either. The rest of you standing in this byelection? You're all fucking idiots.

And breathe...
Anonymous said…
Olive, I heard Jill Saward on R4 - PM prog, I think - and she came across as rather dim. Perhaps that's unfair, but she's a living example of why Victim Culture is idiotic. 'I've been hurt, therefore I KNOW how to stop it happening to other people' isn't remotely credible. I suspect that when voters meet her they'll cluck sympathetically and then vote for Davis, or stay at home.

And yes, I did read and hear about the CCTV cameras that do bugger all to prevent crime because a. their picture quality is crap and b. some haven't worked for years and c. the police 'haven't got time' to go through the footage.

Of course, if there were a compulsory DNA database it wouldn't be subject to any cockups of that sort.
Anonymous said…
Want to be PC?
Vote YES to Free Europe Constitution at

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