Publican shares Loony leader's role with a cat

THE OFFICIAL Monster Raving Loony Party's new joint leader was nowhere to be seen yesterday as he won a rousing vote. Throughout his speech Cat Mandu had maintained a somewhat disdainful demeanour before squeaking briefly at the microphone and jumping off the podium.

The other "serious" contender, Howling Laud Hope, was forced to make the casting vote when it became clear that he and his four-year-old ginger tom were neck and neck in the leadership contest. Mr Hope, Alan to his friends, opted democratically to share the leadership with his pet.

It was a typical scene, as yesterday, the "loony faithful" gathered for their 19th annual party conference. Resplendent in top hats, tails, and leopard-skin trousers, they converged on the bar of the party headquarters - a rather dilapidated hotel run by Mr Hope in the quaint Devon town of Ashburton.

Covered in rosettes proclaiming "vote loony - you know it makes sense", bearing caricatures of Tony Blair, they exchanged one-liners. "It will be cat-astrophic if Mandu wins," proclaimed Mr Hope - a portly gentlemen clad in a white suit, cowboy hat and gold bow tie - before he dashed off to save his pet from a snarling Jack Russell.

The surreal air continued into policy discussions. "We have been discussing the homosexual Bill and we have decided to pay it," said Rockin' Dave Robbo, minister for the performing arts (not sex). Cat Mandu was presented with a pet passport, an idea the party thought up 15 years ago.

Despite the jocularity there was some sadness. Screaming Lord Sutch - the party founder and its driving force for more than 30 years until he was found hanged in June - was still a presence among his followers.

His picture remained on the million pounds (of flesh) notes handed out for bribing candidates, and it still was in pride of place above the bar. A minute's shouting was held in his memory as Lord Sutch was voted spiritual leader of the party.

In true political form the candidates were keener to dwell on the future than the tragedies of the past. "This is one of the best conferences we have had in a long time, one of the most organised," said Countess Lunatica. "It is a new beginning for us," she added.

The party plans to put up 50 candidates for the next general election. A suitably clad admiral - Chris Moore, a 41-year-old Kent computer programmer - said: "We are determined to keep it going. It is an important job to bring politics to young people and those who would not normally vote. We must carry on in memory of Dave Sutch."

The king is dead, long live the cat.