Election '97 : Fringe candidates toss spanner in works

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Among the record 3,717 candidates standing in this election, there is a bumper crop of oddballs, jokers and snook-cockers. Scrutiny of the lists published yesterday also revealed a handful of "spoiler" candidates using party names similar to the main parties.

Rod Richards, the Conservative former Welsh Office minister standing in Clwyd West, faces a challenge from a Rod Richard, describing himself as the "Conservatory Party Candidate". Without the final "s" Mr Richard's name will appear before Mr Richards' on the ballot paper. The stunt could help hand the seat to Labour, which needs a 9 per cent swing to win.

Sir Nicholas Lyell, the Attorney General, saw off in the courts an attempt by a local businessman to change his name to "Sir Nicholas Lyell" and stand against him in Bedfordshire North East. But he still faces Frank Foley, who will be described as "Conservative Candidate" and who will precede him on the ballot paper. His seat is so safe, however, that the intervention is unlikely to affect the outcome.

Labour faces trouble of its own from two "New Labour" candidates. In ultra-marginal Gravesham, which low-pay campaigner Chris Pond hopes to wrest from Tory Jacques Arnold, Anthony Leyshon has carried out his threat to stand as the "New Labour Party Candidate" in protest at the decision to allow Tory defector Alan Howarth to stand as a Labour candidate. Alun Michael, a Labour home affairs spokesman, also faces a "New Labour" challenger in his safe Cardiff South and Penarth seat.

In North Wales, a rogue Liberal Democrat candidate threatens to undermine the party's chances of winning the three-way marginal Conwy seat. Richard Bradley, understood to be a former employee of the party in London, lodged papers describing himself as Liberal Democrat. The move angered party officials who claimed it was a deliberate attempt to damage the chances of the official candidate, the Rev Roger Roberts.

The issue of potentially-misleading party labels was tested at the 1994 Euro-elections, when there were several "Conversative" candidates and two "Literal Democrats". One of the Literal Democrats won more than 10,000 votes in Devon and East Plymouth.

A legal challenge to the result by the Liberal Democrats failed, and the court confirmed that the law on party labels was weak. The election administrator for Tatton seems to have advised Martin Bell against the use of the "anti-corruption" description on grounds of libel law, rather than electoral law.

Other candidates include former drug smuggler Howard Marks who is standing in Southampton Test, a Labour target, for the Legalise Cannabis Party, and Gary Glitter who is standing in Cornwall. Entertainer Freddie Zapp, changed his name by deed poll to fight the marginal Tory seat of Falmouth and Camborne for the Monster Raving Loony Party.

Meanwhile, four Scottish Green Party candidates in Edinburgh have pulled out of the election and burnt their nomination forms in protest at the pounds 500 deposit required.

"Britain is one of the few places in Europe that puts a financial price on democracy," said Charles Booth, who called for the deposit to be replaced by a requirement to obtain 200 signatures instead of 10.

"We are told that the deposit is needed so that all and sundry do not enter elections. But it does not work. Joke candidates can still stand if they are rich enough," he said.