MY WEEK

It costs pounds 500 to put up as a candidate at Parliamentary elections. On Thursday week there will be some 2,000 from "fringe" parties whose chances of getting to sit on the green benches of Westminster are, to put it optimistically, non-existent; candidates' optimism is awesome to behold.

In the Wirral the other day one such man spent a fortnight sitting in a tree house, and when they asked when he was coming down he replied: "I intend to come down when elected and go straight from this tree to the House of Commons."

That was an extreme case, but I have always wondered why business does not cash in on this: pounds 500 is a small price to pay for the publicity of candidature and the free mail shot to each constituent that goes with it. A Heinz Tomato Soup Party which can post samples of its good product to 70,000 voters, courtesy of our electoral laws, must be a sound investment.

A red, white and blue election address was put through the door of my eldest daughter's house in London SW11 by the UK Independence Party: Page 1 urged readers to "Vote Ashley Banks. The Man Who'll Put The B Back In Battersea."

It reminded me of the slogan of a Cambridgeshire council candidate which read: "Why not Mynot?" As he lost, we never found out.

To summarise UKIP's manifesto: take Britain out of the European Union, which will save consumers pounds 10bn a year, return pounds 19bn to the Treasury and cut unemployment by one million. (There's no mention of the downside of resigning EU membership.)

UKIP is tough on crime: - Make the punishment fit ...

Education: - Reading, writing, numeracy for everyone.

Defence: - The strongest possible independent defence for Britain in an uncertain and dangerous world (by which they probably mean Brussels).

You may ring 0891 268278 for the party leader's election address; calls are charged at 50p a minute; the address lasts for a quarter of an hour.

I telephoned candidate Banks at the Battersea branch office, which is situated in Knightsbridge, and we agreed to meet the following morning. He sounded tired and emotional, but pleased to hear from me.

Would 10 o'clock tomorrow morning be a good time? He suggested noon. We compromised.

He arrived punctually at 11am, wearing a red, yellow and blue rosette and a Panama hat with a serious ribbon, and holding in his hands a folded map of the constituency. Banks is 51, lives in Lincolnshire and Knightsbridge. He traded opals in Australia for some years and is now in the family business - which imports shock-absorbers from Holland. He has two ex-wives but "nothing at the moment except a 63-year-old Rolls-Royce which epitomises all the things we stand for: British, Beautiful, Well-made." Where is it? It is in a garage with clutch trouble.

The last time I met Mr Banks was at the Waterloo Cup, where he was dispensing sloe gin from a bar built into the back of a Range Rover. Could that not become his replacement vehicle? "The vehicle belongs to someone else; only the bar is mine."

We go to The Castle, a pub in Battersea High Street which is one of his campaign headquarters. He has discovered "this very good ale called London Pride"; Banks orders a pint.

Did he have trouble finding people to sign his nomination paper? His agent, Louise Vaughan - a South African who lives in Highgate - helped him to find sponsors. "A nice old boy with a Wolseley 1903, who has to go off the booze 48 hours before each year's London-Brighton run, was one."

How do you campaign? "I find it easiest in pubs, drinking with people; and I park the Rolls outside and speak into a loud-hailer (I have this ex-French ambassador's chauffeur, sorry, French ambassador's ex-chauffeur) and I say, 'This is AB of the UKIP, the only party that is here to stay.' "

He is considering parking outside schools, and letting the children crawl all over the Rolls while he gives leaflets to their parents.

Banks has another pint of London Pride. It is 11.40am

How many of these do you drink in a day?

"Is this for publication?" Yes.

"About three."

His campaign manager arrives, a 75-year-old ex-Spitfire pilot; he orders a double lemonade in a jug and we talk about World War One and victualling the Mayflower. Banks explains that the campaign manager takes him round the pubs.

I ask how strong the UKIP is. More than 1,000 people came to the conference and the man who wishes to put the B back into Battersea claims the support of many politicians "including a member of the Cabinet, but it would be wrong to tell you her name".

I ask whether it is Bottomley or Shephard.

He says it is Teresa Gorman.

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