1994 was a different time. Harry Potter was still three years away from publication, and John Major was Prime Minister. It is also the year of the now famous Natural Law party political broadcast above.
Now defunct, and leaving very little cultural impact, few know the Natural Law party's story. But that story is quite a rollercoaster, encompassing some of pop culture's greatest figures and spawning movements across the world.
The Natural Law party was founded in March 1992, two years before that famous 1994 broadcast. Its core principles stem from the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and his philosophy of Transcendental Meditation. Initially from the Indian Himalayas, the Yogi had already built a global following for his teaching throughout the previous four decades.
You may have heard of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. He had became spiritual advisor to the Beatles in 1967, though this formal association was relatively brief. By 1968, the group were on record calling their association a 'mistake' - while 'sexy Sadie' was reportedly written about Maharishi. There were even contemporary reports that the Yogi had attempted to attack Mia Farrow.
By the time the Natural Law party was founded, this rift had apparently healed somewhat. George Harrison kicked off their 1992 campaign with a star-studded fundraising concert at the Royal Albert Hall - which was his first full concert in the UK since 1969. He later reported that Maharishi Mahesh Yogi had suggested that he, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr stand for election as MPs for Liverpool under the party's banner.
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In the end, the Beatles never became Natural Law candidates. Instead Dr Geoffrey Clements became the party's figurehead. Their first leader, he was a scientist by training, holding bachelor and doctoral degrees in physics from the University of Sussex which he earned between 1968 and 1974. He trained as teacher of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's Transcendental Meditation while studying for these degrees.
Clements was a far more serious looking man. With his dull features and grey suits, he looked very bit the 1980s science teacher. This added to the bizarre nature of the party's message and goals, as he soberly delivered speeches on 'Yogic Flying' (in which a participant would bounce around with their legs folded) and other 'alternative' health and economy policies.
As leader, he stood for parliament in 1992 and 1997, and ran for London Mayor and headed his party's European Parliament list in 1999. He did not retain a deposit in a single one of these elections.
What did the party stand for?
The video above is a good representation of the party's core aims and ideas, surprisingly. The most concise glimpse into their worldview can perhaps be found in the forward to their 1997 manifesto, below:
"THE BEST GOVERNMENT IS NATURE'S GOVERNMENT - Natural Law - which governs our universe with perfect order and without a problem. Natural Law governs all life, from the galaxies to the solar system to our planet Earth; and certainly our own lives are governed by Natural Law. The Natural Law Party has the knowledge to bring the support of Natural Law to every individual and the whole of the United Kingdom. Our national life will be in harmony with Natural Law, and everyone will enjoy peace, happiness and prosperity. We have the scientific knowledge to create a government as efficient and nourishing as the government of Nature."
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Their policy programme was divided into five pillars for good government, to achieve the harmony with natural law they sought.
Firstly, they sought to develop each individual's consciousness through encouraging people to participate in Transcendental Meditation. This enlightenment would, in their view, lead to better decision making and reduce conflict. More realistically, it might have the secondary benefit of improving what we would now call mental health.
Secondly, they sought to reduce healthcare costs through training people to do their own health check ups. These checks would be very vague, and assessments would consist of self-pulse readings. It is not entirely clear if these personal health assessments would have replaced or complimented more traditional check ups.
Thirdly, they wanted to establish new groups of experts in their practices. These included in Transcendental Meditation and Yogic Flying techniques, as well as in the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
Fourthly, they wanted to convince people to follow what they saw as natural law. In their view, this would reduce 'unfavourable' influences and improve the moral and spiritual standing of the nation.
Finally, they committed to ensuring that people's work and home environments supported their health and happiness. Unlike the other commitments, this sentiment may be seen in a modern manifesto, however this was to be achieved through following the general teachings of Maharishi.
Explaining this set of policy positions in 1999, Clements said, "When groups of people practise yogic flying it creates a powerful effect of coherence that radiates to the environment, decreasing stress and increasing integration and positivity in the area". The spiritual power of Transcendental Meditation and Yogic Flying techniques, per the party's worldview, would solve all of the country's ills through radiating the spiritual energy it created into wider society.
The Natural Law party was incredibly well funded. It contested 310 seats in the 1992 election. This would have cost £155,000 in deposits. The party won only 0.19% of the vote in constituencies in which it stood - losing every single deposit. This entitled them to the party election broadcast below:
The party had budgeted £1 million on the 1992 election. One of these was Doug Henning, who said that the 'dismal' number of votes he secured was a "reasonable return for a campaign which began only three weeks before polling day."
Two years later, Natural Law became the first UK party to put forward candidates for all 87 United Kingdom seats in the European Parliament Elections. The party won no MEPs in 1994. This is the year that they released the classic party election broadcast above.
Between 1992 and 1997, the party ran candidates in 16 of the 20 by-elections held. Every one of their candidates lost their deposit.
By 1997, the party had burnt through money and seen absolutely no electoral return. Yet they still ran a significant campaign, fielding candidates in 197 constituencies. This would have cost £98,500 in deposits. Again, this number of candidates entitled them to a political broadcast. The party secured 0.10% of the vote, with every candidate losing their deposit. And again they were entitled to a party election broadcast, below:
After 1997, the money seems to have dried up. The party ran candidates in only 8 of the 16 by-elections held between 1997 and 2001, and ran candidates in the 1999 European Election (party election broadcast ;here ) - again losing every single deposit - and did not run any candidates in the 2001 general election. The party folded shortly afterwards, and voluntarily deregistered with the Electoral Commission at the end of 2003 without contesting another election or by-election.
There are no shortage of small parties in British politics. Many of them have been as persistent and as laughably bad. But few of them have been so bizarre, or at least so earnestly bizarre. There was something endearing about that. Similarly, few if any have ever had the financial backing to run in that wide a range of constituencies that they are entitled to a party political broadcast - so many, indeed, that there was a good chance they were on the ballot in your constituency.
Despite being relatively recent in the grand scheme of British politics, the number of odd political and quasi religious organisations currently present in British politics, and the fact that the deposit for standing at a general election has stayed at £500 since the 1980s, it seems unthinkable that we could have a party so odd stand in so many seats ever again. And for that they will probably be remembered.
What happened to the organisation? After the UK party was set up, branches were established across Europe and then America, Oceana and Asia. Few of these parties achieved similar levels of notoriety (possible exceptions include the USA, where the Natural Law party had a candidate for President on the ballot in 48 states in 1996, and Croatia where a member was elected to regional assembly in the 1990s), while most are now defunct. The only real exception is the Indian affiliate, the Ajeya Bharat Party, which has achieved minor success in national elections and is seemingly still active.BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS