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There was gloomy news last week in the sphere of international politics — so gloomy, in fact, that had it not been for Israel’s spirited rejection of its most unhelpful prime minister ever, Benjamin (“Turn-the-clock-back Bibi”) Netanyahu, monitors of social progress everywhere would now be inconsolable.

A familiar and reassuring force in British politics, it was reported, is facing extinction following a rise in the deposit required by electoral candidates. The Official Monster Raving Loony Party will field no candidates in the European Parliament’s June elections; indeed, according to its leader, a question mark hangs over the party’s entire future.

We are not coyly referring here to William Hague and his Conservative Party, although British voters have understandably been known to confuse Tories (and the odd Ulster Unionist) with Monster Raving Loonies from time to time. No, the man responsible for last week’s bombshell was the top-hatted Screaming Lord Sutch, who, as leader of the Loonies and its predecessor Teenage Party since 1963, is Britain’s longest-serving party leader by far. As for the OMRLP, it is a bona fide electoral force that has labored faithfully since 1976 to serve the British public by “taking looniness away from the unofficial loony parties (the Conservatives, Labor, Lib Dems, Greens and the rest) and showing them up for the boring parties they are.”

Even now, teetering on the brink, the party should not be taken lightly. While it boasts no member of Parliament, it has had five local councilors over the years and one mayor — a pub-owner in Ashburton, Devon, who upon taking office immediately saw to his constituents’ needs by replacing the official mayoral robes, the old ones being “tatty, and an embarrassment.” Not surprisingly, this alert and public-spirited gentleman was recently re-elected. Sutch himself has contested some 40 general and by-elections under the Loony slogan “Vote for insanity — you know it makes sense” and drawn accolades from fellow party leaders, all of whom he has outlasted. Former Prime Minister John Major, for one, described the rock singer-turned-politician as “by far the most intelligent opponent” in the last British general election.

As well he might. The Loonies have been famously ahead of their time on numerous important social issues, taking stands that were dismissed at the time as, well, loony, but which have since been widely accepted. As far back as the ’60s, they proposed lowering the voting age to 18 (since that became law, of course, they have pushed for 16, the age when Britons can marry, serve in the armed forces, pay taxes and become unemployed. Sound crazy?). Commercial radio was official Loony policy 30 years ago; now it is more popular than the BBC. (New broadcasting policy: Absolutely no telephones or doorbells allowed in films or plays; it’s so annoying when you think the phone is ringing and you jump up, rush out of the room and miss the denouement.) Also in the ’60s, the party proposed scrapping Britain’s controversial state exams for 11-year-olds. Years later, the government agreed. Perhaps it will now consult the Loonies’ current education policy, which advocates “a return to basics: the four R’s — reading, writing, rock ‘n’ roll.”

The latest Loony policies to bear fruit are equally momentous. British pubs are now open all day, although the party, ever a step ahead, also wants to see mild ale made available, free, on National Health Service prescription. For years, Loonies campaigned for a Pets Ministry and passports for pets. Everyone scoffed. Yet the pet-passport idea has now been adopted by the European Union to reduce the number of animals needing to be quarantined. We hope that if the Loonies survive they will have some luck with their related idea for a “dangerous minister bill,” according to which certain ministers will not be allowed out unless muzzled or on a leash or, in the case of overly amorous politicians, neutered. After the circuses of 1998, who’s laughing?

The OMRLP is a force for pure good. Not only does it make people smile, it makes them think (and vice versa), which is more than can usually be said for a political party. If it is killed by rising election costs, Britain and all of us will be the poorer. Who will be left to champion the Decimal Clock (thereby getting rid of January and February entirely), universal shoe sizes and the world’s most imaginative environmental policies (“the only vehicles allowed in London will be Morris Minor 1000s, Ford Escort vans, Fiat 126s, horse-drawn carriages and camel trains”)? Oh, and the outlawing of all party platforms, including the OMRLP’s own, “to stop the lies”?

If Britain doesn’t care to save its Loonies, we would like to invite them to relocate immediately in Japan.

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