Pubdate: Thu, 24 May 2001
Source: News & Star (UK)
Copyright: 2001 News & Star


Minority candidates in Cumbria are fighting for the right to smoke
cannabis, radical socialism, and a hard line on Europe. They add colour
to the campaign, but are they just a wasted vote?

It was a manifesto launched less in a blaze of publicity than in a haze
of sweet-smelling smoke.

Three Cumbrian candidates from the Legalise Cannabis Alliance (LCA)
gathered outside a house in Raffles yesterday to set out their stall for
the General Election.

It's been a good week for the -minority parties, with Carlisle Socialist
Alliance (SA) candidate Paul Wilcox having a similarly frugal launch on

Then came news that farmer Tom Lowther (UK Independence Party) will
stand alongside independent John Moffat in Penrith and the Border
against incumbent Tory David Maclean.

The question is - does any of it matter?

The minority parties' traditional role is to add a bit of colour and use
the campaign to get their views a wider audience - not to affect the

But with political apathy at an all--time high, could 2001 be a year for
the lesser lights to shine?

Mr Wilcox, for one, believes he will profit from offering a radical
alternative to the growing number of people who would not otherwise

Chief among these are the young, with Mori predicting that fewer than
one in three people able to vote for the first time will do so.

Mr Wilcox admits young people have become apolitical, but believes that
is a result of a growing centre-right consensus that leaves them cold.
That's why he has no qualms about taking most of his votes  - as seems
likely - from Labour in a ward the Conservatives genuinely believe they
can win.

"To my mind there is no difference between them," he says.

Mr Wilcox's official position is that he is "fighting to win", but he
admits his long-term aim is to gather momentum for the next Carlisle
City Council elections.

Winning seats then does seem a realistic goal after he managed 305
votes, or25 per cent of the total, in a by-election in Botcherby last

And for the SA - who would stop privatisation and raise the minimum wage
to ?7.40 an hour - crosses in boxes are not the bottom line. "Issues and
ideas are more important that votes," says Mr Wilcox. "If I can change
one persons thinking I will consider it an achievement."

Even if they can persuade people to accept their policies, minority
parties have to make do without the financial muscle of the big three.

That means no campaign posters and virtually no interest from the
national press.

For Mr Wilcox and LCA candidate Colin Paisley, that means trying to get
round 35,750 households in Carlisle virtually single-handed.

Compare their efforts to the well-oiled Conservative machine, which
managed to deliver thousands of leaflets in the city on the evening the
election was announced.

The LCA and the UK Independence Party also have to overcome scepticism
about "single issue" parties.

While the latter claim to produce a balanced manifesto, the LCA accept
many who support the legalisation of cannabis will not vote for them
because - put bluntly - they would not have the first idea how to

The performance of single issue parties may hinge on getting reluctant
or non-voters excited about a cause.

And the LCA have in their armoury not only government figures showing
five million cannabis users in the UK, but a local trump card - Lezley

Ms Gibson, wife of Penrith and the Border candidate Mark, was found not
guilty of possessing cannabis last year despite freely admitting she
smoked the drug.

A jury refused to convict her because they accepted she needed cannabis
to control the symptoms of her MS.

Now she is drumming up support for the campaign.

Mr Gibson, along with fellow candidates Mr Paisley and John Peacock
(Workington), claims there is enough theoretical support for
recreational as well as medicinal cannabis use for the LCA to do well.

The only argument the prohibitionists have left is how do you stop
children getting cannabis," he says. "My answer is they already are, and
controlled supply is better than letting them use a dealer who could
introduce them to anything."

The Electoral Reform Society claims the region's four constituencies
each has a majority of more than 10,000 which means they are already
foregone conclusions and turnout is likely to be low.

But that attitude may actually help the minor parties with people more
likely to register "protest votes".

Mr Lowther, a farmer standing on a Eurosceptic and anti-foot and mouth
cull ticket, concedes he would probably get fewer votes if incumbent
Tory David Maclean was less well placed to retain his seat.

And unlike the other minor party candidates, he admits furthering a
narrow political agenda - forcing the Conservatives to harden their line
on Europe is "probably" one of his goals.

He says: "If the Conservatives were prepared to change their stance on
Europe then perhaps we would not need to stand."

But Mr Lowther is also standing as a local man who feels the needs of
Cumbria have been ignored by Westminster during - and before - foot and

He points to the lack of Treasury recovery cash for rural businesses and
the consensus that the country should "kill its way out of the crisis"
rather than considering vaccination.

And that's what all the Cumbrian minor candidates have in common this
year - a desire to target specific issues they feel are off the national

Unlike Martin Bell, who as an Independent took Tatton from sleaze-row
Tory Neil Hamilton, they are not fighting for victory.

They are fighting to be heard.
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MAP posted-by: Doc-Hawk