General election 2019: The election losers who come back for more

By Alice Evans
BBC News

Image source, Paul Hazell
Image caption,
Berni Benton says her alter ego Lady Lily the Pink wouldn't have a clue what to do if she was actually elected

While many people will groan at the prospect of another general election, there are others for whom the poll affords another fleeting moment in the spotlight. So who are the people who stand as candidates again and again, but never get elected?

Berni Benton is putting the finishing touches to a batch of pink fairy cakes. The kitchen surfaces at her home, in Llanwrtyd Wells, Powys, are sticky with pink icing. The colour scheme matches that of her election-time alter ego, Lady Lily the Pink.

The 51-year-old guesthouse owner hopes her bake sale will help fund the £500 deposit required to stand as an election candidate. Berni only got 334 votes in the Brecon & Radnorshire by-election in August - more than 1,200 shy of the 5% of votes needed to keep her deposit.

She isn't expecting her luck to improve this time, but is nevertheless fired up for the campaign. "I've spoken to some of the other candidates and they're quite keen to have me there," she says. "I'm no threat, I just add a bit of pink."

The mother-of-one first stood in an election in 2012 when she discovered her local councillor was running for re-election without any opponents. "I was quite happy for him to be the town councillor, I just didn't want him to be it by default," she says. "I don't think anyone should go uncontested."

Berni surprised herself by winning a third of the vote. She then joined the Monster Raving Loony Party and stood in the 2016 Welsh Assembly elections. Her party's policies are infamously off the wall. Berni's favourites include putting TV presenter Noel Edmonds in charge of Brexit "because he's an expert at Deal or No Deal". But there is also a serious side to her politics.

"In my view a low turnout is the dream of politicians because the less people who go out and vote, the less people they have to cater for on their election promises," she says.

If voters aren't keen on any mainstream candidates, Berni says she should be seen as the "none of the above" candidate and they should vote for her in protest. "If everyone who didn't want to vote put a cross against Lady Lily the Pink, and Lady Lily suddenly had 20% of the vote… [major parties] would have to think: 'There's something broken within our system'."

She says election night for the Loonies is like "a party". Supporters go to the pub before heading to the count at midnight, ordering pints where possible instead of the tea and coffee favoured by other candidates. She says the campaign trail is also an "amazing" chance to meet people and hear their views.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
David Bishop, aka Bus Pass Elvis, contested against UKIP in a by-election in Sleaford in 2016

David Bishop, a retired painter and decorator from Nottingham, has stood in nine general elections since 1997.

The 75-year-old, whose policies for his self-styled Church of the Militant Elvis Party have included banning the builders' bum, "catches a bit of attention" on the campaign trail by dyeing his hair black and donning an Elvis Presley costume.

The rock-and-roll lifestyle has low points, though. David once had to get an emergency tetanus injection when he was bitten by a dog while out leafleting. "When I put my flyer through the letterbox a dog grabbed my finger with its teeth," he says. "It bled all over the electoral roll."

With an up-to-date vaccine record and a pair of tongs to aid letterbox drops, David is considering launching his 10th election campaign this year, despite announcing his retirement from politics in 2017.

Campaigning became a way of David focusing on the changes he would make, instead of "mouthing off" in the pub about MPs. His more serious ideas include increasing the number of public toilets. So it "really irritates" David if people on the ballot paper haven't actively campaigned.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Bobby faced an anxious wait to see how many voters had turned out for him in Maidenhead in 2017

Bobby Smith is one candidate who turns up to the election count without knocking on a single door or handing out a leaflet.

He stands solely for the photo opportunity offered by election night. Dressed as the Sesame Street character Elmo, the 37-year-old from Stevenage has already photo-bombed Theresa May and David Cameron. This year he will stand against Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

"When the prime minister comes there's loads of opportunities to get Elmo in front of the cameras," he says. "There's a buzz around the place."

Bobby lost custody of two of his children several years ago, and the former lorry driver also sees election night as a chance to raise his concerns directly with the UK's most powerful politician.

"With Theresa May, I spoke to her just as she was going on stage," Bobby remembers. "I said to her 'good luck', and she said 'thank you'. She looked like she was going to cry. It was a little surreal because the whole world was watching and I was just there chatting to her."

Bobby, a mature university student, has garnered just 112 votes across the five elections he has stood in. He says "it wouldn't really matter" if he got no votes at all when he joins Mr Johnson on stage in December.

Image source, Philip C Francis
Image caption,
Vanessa Hudson and some furry friends campaigned from the top of a bus in the 2015 election

For Vanessa Hudson, every vote is a victory. The Animal Welfare Party leader is bursting with campaign ideas, and wants to encourage people to go vegan as well as an end to animal testing.

Vanessa knows the results on election night will be bleak - she won just 173 and 226 of votes in previous attempts to become an MP. But the mother-of-one from London says she must run for Parliament to push her ideas into "the public consciousness".

"We want to make sure that animal and environmental issues are out there on the political agenda and given airtime," the 46-year-old TV producer and director says. "Just by being on the ballot paper, we start to put pressure on other parties to pay attention to our policies."

Image caption,
John Morris has stood in every general election since 1997 and says losing his deposit is money well spent

Another candidate battling against the odds is John Morris, who has stood in every general election for more than 20 years.

Now 81, John was "determined" to stand in his Guildford constituency for the Peace Party again, despite his wife's concerns he should take a break.

"What I'll always be hoping is that the message will snowball... but unfortunately it doesn't seem to work like that," John says.

The retired education professional, whose only experience of electioneering was when his grand-daughter once took him out "to meet the neighbours", tends to win about 300 votes.

But he says he still loves the "anticipation" of election night, despite knowing "there's no chance" of success.

"Standing at election time means the word peace and some of the other words we use get put in front of everybody who is of voting age," he says.

"It's worth the lost deposit - it's £500 well spent."

You'll be able to find a list of all the candidates standing in Brecon & Radnorshire, Uxbridge & Ruislip South, and Guildford, on the BBC News website after nominations close next week.

The general election explained

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