Loons and superheroes liven up UK election
FLEET: There's something about a British general election that brings out oddballs, loons and eccentric buffoons who dream of making it to parliament.
In the run-up to polling day on May 7, Britain's stuffy politicians are sharing the hustings with quirky candidates poking fun at the whole election ritual.
And in a campaign derided as flat and stage-managed, the new arrivals are bringing some much-needed merriment to proceedings.
The torchbearers for electoral eccentricity are the Official Monster Raving Loony Party, which has been blowing raspberries at politics for decades.
Their leader, Alan "Howling Laud" Hope, dresses in a white suit and stetson, complete with a ludicrous giant rosette and a leopard-print bow tie.
The Loony "manicfesto" includes pledges to put air conditioning on the outside of buildings to deal with global warming and fit airbags to the stock exchange ready for the next crash.
But some of their policies, once derided as bonkers, have actually been enacted, such as passports for pets, 24-hour pubs and honours for The Beatles.
"Our main policy is: we promise we shall do all the things the other parties say they're going to do when they don't do it," Hope told AFP at his local pub in Fleet, southwest of London.
"We've seen it all before, heard it all before, and still don't believe it."
Hope is standing against bumbling London Mayor Boris Johnson in the west London seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip, and hopes voters will have trouble picking out the official Loony.
"General elections are good fun. When we turn up, they say, jolly good job you're here, at least it won't be so boring," he said, sipping a pint of Loony "Winning Co-ALE-ition" beer.
"We're just poking a bit of sensible fun at politics," said the 72-year-old, one of 16 Loonies standing.
"If we just got 2,000 or 3,000 votes, wouldn't it make the other parties sit up and think, where on Earth are we going wrong?
"That not loony, is it? Or is it?"
- Flatulent superhero sniffs opportunity -
Meanwhile in Aberavon in south Wales, Captain Beany -- once voted the Great British Eccentric of the year -- is out to cause a shock upset.
Local charity fundraiser Barry Kirk, 60, is a man-sized baked bean: the tinned haricot beans in tomato sauce beloved by Britons famed for inducing flatulence.
He has spent 25 years unsuccessfully standing for election in his Captain Beany superhero costume and nuclear-orange facepaint.
This time round he has switched the caped crusader look for a tangerine-coloured smart suit to strike a more serious tone.
He is standing against Stephen Kinnock -- son of 1980s Labour leader Neil Kinnock and husband of Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt -- who has been parachuted into the safe Labour seat.
"It is a slap in the face to all the local population," Beany told AFP.
"People say to me at least you are local, have done your bit for this town, why should we vote for this interloper?"
Beany and Kinnock have crossed paths out campaigning.
"What a bore! If you went into a furniture showroom he's quite plausible for that. He's totally bland," he said, howling with laughter.
Beany reckons his new look and serious approach to representing his struggling steelworks town is attracting more voters.
"Politicians promise the world and don't come up with the goods," he said.
"I've got one policy: if you've got any issues, come to see me and I promise if I can do something for you, I'll try my hardest to do it.
"Can you imagine an orange man on the backbenches? That would be awesome!"
- Maracas at the ready -
Elsewhere, some well-known but rather unusual candidates are hoping to shake up parliament.
Mark "Bez" Berry, the dancer-maracas shaker in the alternative rock band Happy Mondays, has formed the Reality Party, an anti-austerity, anti-fracking movement.
He is standing in Salford and Eccles in Manchester, northwest England, proclaiming: "Shake your maracas if you're against the frackers."
Comedian Al Murray is standing in South Thanet, southeast England, against Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party.
Murray is running as his character The Pub Landlord -- a patriotic, xenophobic, reactionary publican.
"It seems to me that the UK is ready for a bloke waving a pint around, offering common sense solutions," Murray said, the whole effort mocking Farage's approach. (AFP)