The Strangest Things to Happen During an Election

There are some election promises we can all get behind, but what about free fishing rods, the introduction of a 99p coin, officially ending boredom, increasing the length of a day to 32 hours, or rewarding taxpayers with Nectar points? Here are some of the most bizarre things to happen during an election campaign!

19 June 2024

Elections are one of the most important aspects of the democratic political process, but sometimes, the actions of politicians, or would-be politicians, leave us scratching our heads. Let’s delve into the weird and wonderful world of mad manifestos, eccentric electioneering and perplexing political promises.

Whatever your political leanings, everyone knows the names of the main parties standing in the general election, but they’re not the only choice. It has been estimated that since the 1950s, more than 700 political parties have stood for election in the UK. Among the most famous outliers is the Official Monster Raving Loony Party. But there are others, even more unusual than the satirisations of Screaming Lord Sutch.

There was the Church of the Militant Elvis Party from the early 2000s, comedian Dom Joly’s Teddy Bear Alliance, the Fancy Dress Party, and the Alfred Chicken Party, seemingly spawned from a 1990s computer game. Interestingly, while some are created simply for anarchic fun, others are formed not necessarily with the intention of winning, but rather to raise awareness about specific issues that may not get the exposure or airtime they otherwise would.

Here, we’ll run down some of the strangest events in elections from the UK and around the world!

Lord Buckethead vs. Margaret Thatcher

Darth Vader (Credit: BZ-Dani via Getty Images)

At the 1987 general election, a character known as Lord Buckethead, a parody of Star Wars villain Darth Vader from an obscure early 1980s film called Gremloids, stood against incumbent Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the north London constituency of Finchley. Among the manifesto promises of the Gremloid Party were free sweets for children, and the demolition of Birmingham to make way for a spaceport. He got 131 votes.

Lord Buckethead reappeared in the 1992 general election, this time standing against Prime Minister John Major in Huntingdon, winning 107 votes. After a break of 24 years, comedian Jonathan Harvey took on the role of Lord Buckethead, standing against PM Theresa May in Maidenhead with a policy to reinstate Ceefax. He got 249 votes but lost his deposit.

Just Horsin’ Around

A free pony for everyone! (Credit: happyborder via Getty Images)

American performance artist and political activist Vermin Love Supreme has run as a candidate in all sorts of local and state elections, as well as in each of the US presidential elections since 2004. He has campaigned on things like awareness of an impending zombie apocalypse and a commitment to look into the possibility of time travel, but perhaps his most outlandish manifesto pledge is to give every American a free pony.

While it sounds silly, the more serious point of these policies was seen as being a comment on politicians’ empty pledges and the willingness of an electorate to believe in big proposals without scrutiny.

Rainbow George Weiss vs. Michael Portillo

Belfast City Hall, Northern Ireland (Credit: Tibor Bognar via Getty Images)

Rainbow George Weiss was said to have been advised to go into politics by his extraterrestrial soulmate known as Sterling Silver, and so he did. Under various guises, the Vote For Yourself Rainbow Dream Ticket Party stood in the 1984 Enfield-Southgate by-election against Conservative politician Michael Portillo as well as in the 1992, 1997 and 2001 general elections.

Over the years, Weiss’s policies have included renaming Great Britain & Northern Ireland as the Emerald Rainbow Isles, replacing the pound with the Wonder, made up of 100 Gasps, cancelling all debt, and changing the name of Belfast to Best City, in honour of former footballer George Best.

No Fly-Tipping On Everest

Sunset over Mount Everest (Photo: Feng Wei Photography via Getty Images)

David Bishop, aka Lord Biro and Bus-pass Elvis, founded the Church of the Militant Elvis Party in 2001, partly for fun, but also to increase awareness of some important environmental issues including the depletion of the Amazon rainforest, and climate change.

He stood as a candidate in most general elections since 1997 as well as in an assortment of local and by-elections, and some of his more outlandish manifesto pledges have been to turn all public schools into pound shops, to punish those caught fly-tipping on Mount Everest with a stint in the stocks while being pelted with mouldy cheeseburgers, and to offer trips to Antarctica to shout ‘STOP MELTING’ at icebergs.

Angling for Votes

A fish finger sandwich (Credit: ClarkandCompany via Getty Images)

In the 2017 general election, an unnamed man calling himself Mr Fish Finger contested the seat of Westmorland and Lonsdale in Cumbria, with the campaign slogan Hake Britain Great Again!

His ‘manifishto’ included no tax on fish ‘n’ chip shops, more fish fingers on hospital menus, and free fish for NHS staff. He promised not to flounder, to swim against the tide of council waste and inefficiency, to focus attention on schools, and to turbot-charge the local economy. 

Cacareco Wins in São Paulo

Black rhinoceros (Credit: nicholas_dale via Getty Images)

In the 1958 São Paulo city council elections in Brazil, Cacareco received over 100,000 votes, more than any other candidate, but she wasn’t allowed to represent the city for her term in office. This may have had something to do with the fact that Cacareco was a female black rhinoceros who lived in São Paulo Zoo.

Itaborai Martins, a local journalist, proposed the rhino as what is known as a ‘write-in’ candidate, someone whose name you can write on the pre-printed ballot paper, as a protest at the perceived ineptitude of the politicians vying for the candidacy.

Pardon Me…

Stamp featuring Warrren G Harding (Credit: Anastazzo via Getty Images)

In the US presidential election of 1920, the first one in which women were allowed to vote in all 48 states (Alaska and Hawaii didn’t join the Union until 1959), Ohio Senator Warren G. Harding defeated Ohio Governor James M. Cox by 404 electoral votes to 127.

What was remarkable about this election was the third-placed candidate, Socialist Party nominee Eugene Victor Debs ran his entire campaign from the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, where he was incarcerated after being given a ten-year sentence for sedition after making a speech at the end of World War I urging resistance to the draft. He got the largest number of popular votes ever by an American Socialist Party candidate at over 914,000 (but he got no electoral votes). If he had become president, he said that he would have pardoned himself…

Equine Eccentricity

The Caligula Triumphal Arch in Pompeii (Credit: Tatsuo115 via Getty Images)

According to Roman historian Suetonius in his seminal work The Twelve Caesars, Roman emperor Caligula planned to elect his favourite horse, Incitatus, to the post of consul, which was one of the highest and most coveted offices in the Roman Empire.

Historians are divided as to why Caligula decided to promote his horse. One suggestion is that it was an elaborate joke which has become a byword for the promotion of those perceived to be politically incompetent. It may have been to mock the Senate and to insult the post, suggesting their work was so meaningless it could be done by an animal, or it could be that the crazed emperor was simply peacocking by demonstrating his absolute power.

Political Animals

A happy goat (Credit: PhotoAlto/Odilon Dimier via Getty Images)

Sticking with the theme of elected animals, there are plenty of stories from around the world of animals being elected to political office.

  • In 2011, a cow named April was elected as the mayor of Eastsound in San Juan County, Washington. The mayoral race doubles as a fundraiser for a kindergarten and it is believed April’s campaign raised $5,000.
  • Billy Gumboots the Goat became the president of the New Zealand town of Whangamōmona in 1999, however foul play was suspected. Billy was accused of eating the other candidates’ ballot papers. He died in office in 2001.
  • Another goat, Yo-yo, was elected to the council of the city of Fortaleza in northern Brazil in 1922.
  • In the town of Lajitas in Texas, one recent mayoral election included a human named Tommy Steele (the incumbent), a wooden statue, a dog called Buster, and a goat called Clay Henry. The goat won, and was succeeded by Clay Henry II.

Last but most certainly not least, it was reported that in 1967, a brand of Ecuadorian foot powder called Pulvapies staged a PR stunt by running their product for municipal councilman for the town of Picoaza. One slogan was alleged to have read ‘Vote for any candidate, but if you want well-being and hygiene, vote for Pulvapies’. It turns out the story wasn’t true, and the advertising flyers for the powder were somehow the same size and colour as the ballot paper, but it still didn’t stop 10,000 being turned in at the ballot boxes!

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