Alen Hope | Benjamin Woods
Alen Hope’s birth name is not widely known. He is no war hero nor philanthropist; neither will you find him in many history books or scholarly articles. So who is he, and why is he, in my view, the greatest living rogue? His surname may ring some bells, but if not, I’ll give you some clues. He is the longest-serving leader of any political party in the UK. Born one town over from Clement Attlee, he upstaged the Beatles, attracting a crowd 27 times larger than they did on a night they performed in the same town. He’s stood in more general elections than any other person in British electoral history, not including the nineteen by-elections he also stood in (although he has never retained his deposit!). Despite never winning a seat in Westminster, several of his policies have wound up on the statute book. He became town mayor, chairman of the council and lord of the borough for Ashburton in Devon without winning a single vote, having run unopposed. He was a member of a rock and roll band. The party he leads boasts members all over the world from Patagonia to Canada. In UKIP’s first-ever election, Nigel Farage beat his predecessor by just 166 votes. I speak, of course, of the formidable political heavyweight that is Howling Lord Hope – Leader (and self-professed dictator) of the Official Monster Raving Loony Party!
Anyone that fulfilled half of the clues I gave in my introduction would be worthy of the title “rogue”, but to be all of those things plus some elevates Howling Lord Hope to the highest echelons of the rogue hierarchy. The Official Monster Raving Loony Party, founded by Howling Lord Hope and the equally great and late Screaming LaudSutch, exists primarily to satirise British politics. But it symbolises more than that; the party and Lord Sutch represent an art form that’s only mastered within these islands; the ability to laugh at oneself.
I’m sure Howling Lord Hope won’t mind when I say he is the David Brent of politics. The man who doesn’t take himself seriously, in fact, the man who goes out of his way not to. A man who perfectly encapsulates the eccentric Englishman, bumbling and lost yet cheerful and merry. In no other nation on earth is there a phenomenon quite like the force of nature that is Howling Lord Hope. It is that ability to laugh at ourselves that so many outsiders can’t get their heads around. From wearing Nepolions insult of “a nation of shopkeepers” as a badge of honour in the nineteenth century to chanting “IT’S COMING HOME!” in the twenty-first, there is nothing quite like British self-degregating humour elsewhere in the world. Lord Hope recognises this, in his own words, describing both himself and the party as a whole as “true British”. He is aware of the vision of the British eccentricity that he represents.
However, to brush the Monster Raving Loony Party off as merely a comedy act played by Lord Hope is wrong. Through their light-hearted fun, they remind us of several important aspects of the world of politics. First and foremost is that nothing is constant. What was common sense yesterday is today’s loony fringe, and what is loony today is tomorrow’s go-to solution. Passports for pets, all-day pub openings, votes for 18’s: a plethora of loony policy now on the statute books surviving as a timeless reminder that nothing is constant in politics nor in life. If an idea can go from being ludicrous to being given royal assent by the Monarch in the space of a few decades, then almost anything is possible.
More importantly, the mere existence of the party acts as a permanent reminder that whoever you are, whatever you believe, no matter how bizarre or whacky or even loony, you have a right to stand for election. There is no test, no qualifications, no limitations bar hard work, determination and persistence. The ability to run for parliament is not limited by the status quo, nor what the ruling classes consider is the done thing. The ability to vote in and out whomever you please is a fundamental right, but this equally fundamental right to stand for election yourself is often forgotten. The right to vote is irrelevant if you don’t have a choice at the ballot box. So as loony as it sounds, if you look for the heart of British democracy in Westminster, perhaps you’re looking in the wrong place. Just maybe the place to look is where you least expect it, in the looniest of all the political parties.
Finally, through their light-hearted fun, the Loonies highlight deeply rooted failures within our political system. Their slogan, “we are the party on everybody’s side, no matter what political persuasion they may be”, is a thinly veiled jibe at the state of the main parties come election time. The loonies voice what ordinary people think when they hear election pledges; namely, politicians’ promises are not worth the paper they’re written on. Election after election, promises are quickly discarded by the victorious side. The idea that politicians only say what they think you want to hear is a deep-seated, and not entirely unfair, conception among the public that the Loonies highlight.
So, to sum up, this most improbable of political stalwarts. For record-breaking dedication to politics, defending the right to stand for election, highlighting nothing is constant, pointing to inadequacies of modern politics, epitomising the eccentric self-degrading patriotic British stereotype, upstaging the Beatles for goodness sake and for being the world Loony-in-Chief: ‘Howling Laud’ Hope, Alen Hope, is truly a rebel worth noting.
Stephen Fry on the difference between British and American comedy said:
“All the great British comic heroes are people who want life to be better, and on whom life craps from a terrible height and whose sense of dignity is constantly compromised by the world letting them down. […] Their lack of dignity is embarrassing, and they are a failure, an utter, utter failure. They are brought up to expect empire and respect and decency, and everyone around them laughs. Whereas the American hero wins the girl, they are smoother and have the largest nob in the room! Comedy is the microcosm that allows us to examine the fundamental difference between our two cultures. Ours is bathed in failure, and we celebrate that. Whereas America’s is an ideal, a utopia of what they want to become themselves.”
If you were to count the votes at election time, you would chalk Alen Hope as a failure, albeit a comedic one. But while this metric could be applied to anybody else in politics, to do so in his case would be to miss the point entirely. While he delivers his contributions through unconventional light-hearted comedic fun (we could all do with a bit more of that after the past year!), crucially the contributions to politics and society themselves remain criminally undervalued. Like most things, I suspect we will only come to appreciate the full extent of his Loony Lordship’s contributions with the benefit of hindsight.