Thursday, August 04, 2011

Yesterday I followed my regular practice of disappearing into that unloved bookstore in town while the Missus did her shopping. I was browsing through the section on local material when I read the following in a book called "Edge of Heaven" -
"Some years before Screaming Lord Sutch launched his Monster Raving Loonies on the world, a group of harmless anarchists in Hull started the Get Stuffed Party and ran several candidates at the local elections, one of whom, I recall, was Mike Waterson of the legendary folk-singing family. They won a lot of public sympathy, several column inches in the press, a few healthy laughs and hardly any votes."

This was written by the sadly missed Alan Plater in a piece about Hull.
The description of the founders as "harmless anarchists" was correct in that they were harmless (and not at all serious), but no genuine anarchists were involved to my knowledge. Alan P. probably calls them anarchists in reference to their contempt for existing political parties and their intention to poke fun at them. The GSP was a party in the manner of Jaroslav HaĊĦek's 'Party of Moderate Progress Within the Bounds of the Law', that is, a motley crew in search of a good piss-up.
Here's how it all began.
A good friend of mine (in fact a good friend of almost everybody) by the name of Tom Gray was a regular feature at the Bluebell pub in Lowgate, Hull. During the middle to late sixties this boozer was a gathering place for lefties of all persuasions. Several of them would try to sell their party's papers and other literature there. Tom, a freelance socialist, would tolerate none of them. "One day", he'd declare, "I'm going to found my own party, and it will be an honest party. I'll tell the voters the truth; that I'm in it for myself, that when I get elected I'll be looking after number one, and that I'll help myself to the party funds."
People would ask him to elaborate on this new party, and he'd improvise on the spot. Among the proposals I remember - the party would be completely undemocratic; it would have a ludicrous hierarchy consisting of cronies with pompous titles; and all young female applicants for membership would be inducted ('anointed' was Tom's word) in a private ceremony involving only the party leader.
Such was Tom's nameless party.
After a great deal of this blather listeners, stoked up with lashings of bevvy, began to challenge Tom about his plans - he hadn't any of course - and demanded that his great idea be acted upon.
So he did it. He called the product of his 'pontificating' (keyword) the GET STUFFED PARTY, as an open declaration of his intentions toward the electorate. He immediately recruited the members of his regular drinking circle to form the upper echelon, and went about organising. He next went to his more political friends, some of whom joined "for a laugh", others, including myself, said no.
Still he asked me for advice on titles. What hi-faluting title should he give himself? I suggested 'Great Panjandrum' , silly enough to suit. He turned it down. Eventually he called himself 'the Supreme Pontiff', a reference to his fondness for pontificating. This title would later be a problem for the local paper, as it was already the property of another autocrat. So the paper used to refer to Tom as the 'Supremo' of the GSP.
Tom then went about recruiting members, always among the pub's regulars and casual visitors. It surprised me how eager many people were to join. Friends got in free. Others had to buy Tom a pint. Some offered money for the party funds. Tom accepted, explaining that party funds were actually beer money for Tom. No problem. There were some people Tom didn't like and turned down. They offered him money. He refused. They offered him more, they bidded up."OK", he would say, "You can be a menial (the lowest rank). More money would be offered, and Tom would come up with a new title.
The whole title business was something of a mystery. Following the Supreme Pontiff theme The inner circle, i.e., boozing cronies, became cardinals. There were other ranks but the only one I remember was 'menial'. As it turned out nobody wanted to be a menial, so the GSP was a party of chiefs and no indians. Tom had a rethink. The lowest rank would be called 'Carbonari'. Tom explained it to me thus; the original carbonari, Italian charcoal -burners, were of very low status, in fact outcasts. Then a secret society of revolutionaries adopted the name in a spirit of solidarity with the wretched of the earth, and a romantic aura attached to the name carbonaro. Sounds good, means nothing.

So the Get Stuffed Party was born.

The party's mere existence was not enough for some, so it was decided to carry the joke into enemy territory, i.e., put up candidates in local elections. General elections were out of the question, as a substantial monetary deposit was a prerequisite of candidacy. In local elections anyone could stand, and, in the case of the GSP, anyone did. There was to my knowledge, no statement of policies, no leaflets, no canvassing, just a few posters saying "Vote Get Stuffed Party". As Alan Plater noted few votes were garnered and no candidate ever got a sniff of political power. The party continued to put up candidates even after Tom left Hull to take up a job elsewhere, so proving that it wasn't a one man band after all.
At one local election Tom was invited to participate in a television discussion with leading figures of rival parties. I was working away at the time so I missed his big moment, his chance to pontificate to a mass audience. I don't know if the serious opponents attacked him as a trivialiser of the political process, or if they tolerated him as a licenced jester. I did hear that he acquitted himself well.
After Tom's departure I lost my source of information on his creation. I didn't know any of the other 'activists'. The party did continue to put up candidates in local elections, and continued to make no headway. Whether they ever developed a programme I couldn't say. As far as I know the party is no longer extant. But maybe the veterans have reunions where they toast their long deceased founder, Thomas Adrian Gray, all-round fine fellow.

One local writer has stated that the GSP was founded by Alex Craig and Chris Ketchell. Not so, though Alex C. was an early member, and appears to have played a leading role in keeping the party going after Tom's departure. Of Chris Ketchell's part in the organisation (?) I know nothing. Mike Waterson must have encountered the party at the Bluebell, where his family's folk club was based.

A cautionary note.
As the GSP had no real structure, it was, I believe, possible for members to stand for election in any ward that had no other GSP candidate. Any expense incurred would be their own of course.
I heard a story about one young fellow who joined with the thought of being elected. He stood for election in his ward of residence and, contrary to the spirit of the GSP, actually went canvassing from door to door. Some householders asked him about party policy and he had the answers. What's your position on capital punishment? They asked. "We will bring back hanging, he assured them. And immigrants? We'll send them all back, he replied.
I wonder where he is now. He might have done well in some parties I can think of.
To quote a favourite phrase of Tom's in reaction to such stories, "These are the perils."

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