Election '97: GUIDE TO THE MINOR PARTIES

On the fringes: Left, Right and Centre
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Indy Politics
REFERENDUM PARTY

Sir James Goldsmith's Referendum Party was set up in 1995 by the millionaire Anglo-French MEP. The party wants to put the following question to the people: "Do you want the UK to be a part of a federal Europe? Or do you want the UK to return to an association of sovereign nations that are part of a common trading market?" The party is fielding more than 500 candidates, one in every seat where a candidate, considered to have a chance of winning, has not committed to a referendum on the terms of British membership.

UK INDEPENDENCE PARTY

Alan Sked, the LSE don who heads the UK Independence Party, believes that politicians of all parties are scheming to merge the European union members into a giant superstate behind people's backs. He and his 200 candidates are standing on a pledge to remove the UK from the EU altogether. This is the first general election at which the party has fielded candidates but a spokesman acknowledged that candidates who call for withdrawal are generally regarded as being "nutty as fruitcakes".

THE LIBERAL PARTY

The Liberal Party is the brooding nest of traditional Liberals who hanker back to the days before the party merged with the SDP to create the present Lib Dems.

Set up in 1989 and headed by Michael Meadowcroft, the party currently has 33 local councillors. They have no hope of winning any seats, and most candidates will lose their deposits.

PROLIFE ALLIANCE

The Prolife Alliance is run by a student and his mother. Bruno Quintavalle, 25, has taken time out from his Philosophy doctorate to set up the party. The manifesto centres on a plan to outlaw abortion, with other vague commitments to the family and importance of the mother. Areas favoured by heavyweight parties are being not tackled because "unless you have a right to life, no other right has any relevance at all". But do enough people share their vision? According to a spokesman, if the party were registering in the polls "I'm sure I would have heard about it".

THE GREEN PARTY

The Green Party aims to create a "fair and equal society". The leadership of the party is not entrusted to the hands of a single person. It is run by a co-operative headed by two "key spokesmen" - David Taylor and Peg Alexander. It has a radical agenda including withdrawal from the EU and opposition to a single currency. Unfortunately their efforts are hampered by the spiritual shadow of David Icke, who left the party in 1991 to reveal to the world that he was the son of God. Since achieving approximately 1.3% of the vote at the last election, the party has been plagued by infighting.

NATURAL LAW PARTY

The Natural Law Party figured prominently in the 1992 election after their party political broadcast advocated transcendental meditation (yogic flying), in which the "flyer" adopts a cross-legged position and bounces on a mattress. Led by Dr Geoffrey Clements, it is the political wing of the Transcendental Meditation of the Mahareshi Yogi, whose former disciples included the Beatles. Its aim is to "raise the state of the collective consciousness of the nation". In one local election in west Lancashire, the party came second with 269 votes - more than the Conservatives.

MONSTER RAVING LOONY PARTY

The Monster Raving Loony Party is the bastard son of the "Teenage Party" - which Screaming Lord Such created when he first stood for Parliament in 1964. It metamorphosised into the Monster Raving Loony Party in 1978, and has been a regular feature of elections - by-elections in particular - ever since. Their policies include a pledge to turn butter mountains into ski slopes ("if they're there, let's use them.") Party Chair Alan Hope, a Raving Loony councillor in Devon for 10 years, says "if anyone ever manages to keep their deposit they get chucked out for not being loony enough".

SOCIALIST LABOUR PARTY

The former NUM leader Arthur Scargill founded the Socialist Labour Party out of frustration at the move to the centre by New Labour. So far it has had little success, gaining less than 5.4 per cent of the vote in February's Hemsworth by-election. This poor performace was a particular blow because the staunch left-wing mining constituency was thought to be an ideal target. Fielding 50 candidates, but faces competition from a body even more left wing: the Socialist Equality Party. This body wants "a democratic government of the workers, for the workers and ... by the workers".

BRITISH NATIONAL PARTY

The extreme right wing British National Party, has for the first time in 13 years managed to put up 50 candidates, entitling it to a pre- election broadcast. The party, which is led by John Tyndall, has repeatedly been accused of racism after pressing for the repatriation of black and Asian Britons. So far it has only managed to get one councillor elected - Derek Beackon in Millwall, East London - who lasted just 9 months before being soundly defeated.

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