The Natural Law Party launched its campaign for the European elections in Edinburgh yesterday. But is everything really what it seems?
SOMEONE in the publicity department should take a bow.
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The party disappeared without trace, achieving a dismal average of 100 votes in each of the 310 General Election seats it contested, but supporters could claim that as a reasonable return for a campaign which began only three weeks before polling day.
Then, earlier this month, when the nominations for June's Euro-elections closed, the NLP staged another media coup.
A close inspection of political history reveals that no single party has ever fought every UK seat in a national election, be it for Westminster or Brussels. A headline-grabbing record was available, and was duly notched up: the NLP put forward 87 candidates, including three in Northern Ireland, where MEPs are elected by proportional representation.
Yesterday, in the splendour of the Caledonian Hotel, the assembled journalists were treated to another session of yogic flying, and an exposition on how the phenomenon could improve the quality of life across Europe. It's so far out, it could hardly fail to tickle the imagination of a jaded editor.
So, as we said, bouquets to the PR department. But perhaps attracting media interest is only a superficial goal for the NLP.
The party offers a vague, mystic panacea of global peace through Transcendental Meditation, as inspired by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the guy who hooked Mia Farrow and The Beatles in the 1960s, before it all ended in tears.
Now, suppose someone wanted to relaunch this outdated philosophy in the ultra-sceptical world of 1994. They could try to infiltrate current educational thinking, take over a newspaper company, or simply spend #87,000.
The third option represents a #1000 deposit for every Euro seat in the UK, and also a tiny investment which brings a massive dividend.
Primarily, the returns are:
* An automatic party political broadcast on BBC1, BBC2 and ITV. Buying five minutes of peak-time advertising space on the commercial network alone would cost at least #1m.
* Free use of the Royal Mail to send an election communique to every voter in the UK. Say, 40 million second class stamps at 19p equals #7.5m.
* Guaranteed inclusion in virtually all media coverage of the elections; and,
* The right to spend around #25,000 on campaigning material for each of the 87 candidates, under the veneer of electoral credibility.
Apart from the #87,000, the only other essential for the NLP is candidates. For Scotland's eight seats, four of the NLP hopefuls live in England: one in Lancashire; and three in the same house in Dunstable, Bedfordshire.
The Gilmours -- Margaret, Dobie and Sarah -- are Ma, Pa and the wean of the NLP. We are told that, having once lived in the Dunoon area, they have kept a holiday home on Cowal and their heart resides here.
Three of the other four candidates are, respectively, German, English and American, although they at least do live in Scotland.
However, it must be admitted that all of the above is only a cynical theory. Politicians, as we know, should be taken at their word, and NLP leader Dr Geoffrey Clements insisted yesterday that his movement was a serious political party, legally and financially separate from the charity which promotes Transcendental Meditation. Of course.
Asked if he was exploiting the electoral process with an ulterior motive, he replied: ''No. There is no exploitation. We are using the opportunities available. All our candidates have paid their own deposit, through either their own finances or with the help of supporters.''
Dr Clements is perhaps the ultimate model of a political leader. Dressed in a fawn suit, with a perfect hairstyle and wearing gold cufflinks and three rings, he can deliver a 45-minute address without notes, and without stumbling. He oozes credibility to the verge of smugness.
His ideas, though, are less convincing. The NLP programmes, he says, would reduce disease by 50%, cut crime by up to 30%, create new jobs, abolish VAT, build invincible defence and create ideal education. No problem, especially when you bear the slogan: ''Only a new seed will yield a new crop.''
So: radical alternatives, or electoral charlatans? One conclusion is offered by Dr John Curtice, a politics lecturer at Strathclyde University who specialises in monitoring elections.
He said: ''The NLP is trying to exploit the electoral process as a mechanism for gaining publicity for their particular religious or spiritual message. They show no serious aspirations of actually working to represent people in government.''
And they have exploited a loophole quite legally. One Scottish elections official said yesterday: ''It is very difficult to draw a line between those who have a legitimate political cause, and those who do not. The system is wide open, and deliberately so, for good democratic reasons.''
The criteria for elections were recently relaxed, and no party is likely to champion another change in the rules, since that could hamper its own political efforts.
As the man said, it is wide open.