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Tuesday, 5 June, 2001, 10:25 GMT 11:25 UK
What happened to the Natural Law Party?

Last time they contested hundreds of constituencies, and lost in every one. Now the party famed for advancing yogic flying as the panacea for most evils is watching the election from the sidelines, writes BBC News Online's Jonathan Duffy.

Never have all the world's ills appeared so eminently solvable as when the Natural Law Party lends its wisdom to the political debate.

While mainstream politics must recognise the process of change - "A lot done, a lot still to do" - the Natural Law Party deals in absolutes of an almost mystical certitude.

Natural Law logo
...but not this time around
For the economy, it promised in 1997 to create an "ideal quality of life - prosperity, creativity and happiness [for all]", crime would be reduced by creating coherence in national consciousness, and defence would depend on an integrated national consciousness to make Britain invincible.

Laudable aims but questionable means seemed to be the response of the electorate. The party won just 0.3% of the vote in the 193 seats it fought in the 1997 general election, down from 0.4% in 1992.

This time around it is not even bothering, following a decision at the NLP's international convention last December to opt out of the electoral process in all 50 or so countries where it is active.

There was no place for us on Newsnight and Question Time

Geoffery Clements
Dr Geoffrey Clements, who leads the UK arm of the NLP, blamed "the negativity and inertia" of the electorate.

Voters' scepticism was too great to "appreciate and vote for policies that are so universally good and beneficial," he said.

It's not an unusual claim for a politician - Tony Blair has frequently attacked the "forces of cynicism" - although given the NLP's reliance on positive vibes to deliver its policies, public suspicion is not altogether a surprise.

Costly business

The other reason for the party throwing in the towel is money.

Geoffrey Clements
Geoffrey Clements: Less than positive vibes
The last general election burned a 250,000 hole in the party pocket, much of which went on forfeited deposits.

And it wasn't even good value in publicity terms. Although the party qualified for a prime-time election broadcast, Dr Clements says the media largely ignored it.

"The media seems to be very much against the interests of the newer parties, especially as the election comes near. There was no place for us on programmes such as Newsnight and Question Time," he complains.

The problem here might be that so much of the Natural Law Party's core doctrine is totally at odds with accepted political thinking.

Drivers held up by fuel protests outside Channel Tunnel
Channel Tunnel: Just asking for trouble?
So while other candidates might bat around finer points of fiscal policy in a hypothetical TV debate, the NLP's representative would likely wade in with the view that Britain's problems were down to the fact the prime minister lived in a house with a south entrance.

This was in fact one of the points made at the party's third international convention, in 1996, when blame was also heaped upon the Channel Tunnel, which provided a south entrance to the UK. Such things go against the principles of Natural Law.

Harnessing the force

Formed in Britain in March 1992, the party's principles are based on the premise that everything in the universe is administered by Natural Law.

Yogic Flying with the NLP
Yogic flying involves bouncing across mats with crossed legs
Harnessing it, through practices such as yogic flying and Transcendental Mediation, would benefit mankind as a whole, the thinking goes.

The party claims a cut in crime levels in Merseyside during the 1980s was due to a sustained programme of yogic flying in nearby Skelmersdale.

An experimental programme, whereby 4,000 yogic flyers descended on Washington DC for two months, is said to have cut violent crime by 20% and reversed the declining fortunes of President Clinton's administration for the period.

It's the sort of performance data Jack Straw dreams about, but a long way from teenage curfews and mandatory sentencing.

Before their time?

Yet Dr Clements believes he has the ear of some of Parliament's top people.

John Prescott
Would Mr Prescott lend an ear to the NLP?
"A lot of my own work during elections and also between the elections is chatting to politicians and seeing how we can make politics and administration more effective," he says.

The idea of Dr Clements shooting the breeze with John Prescott is maybe hard to swallow, but the party is not always as outlandish as you might think.

After all, William Hague is an exponent of Transcendental Meditation, and the party's long-held beliefs on preventative medicine and organic agriculture have come into the mainstream of late.

Crossing the box

"We've always felt that we didn't have any patent on ideas," says Dr Clements, who has clearly decided to sit out this election in style, speaking, as he was, from a hotel room in the Bahamas.

Surely it beats knocking on doors and standing on a High Street wailing through a megaphone?

Yes and no, says Dr Clements.

"Personally, I much enjoyed sharing ideas with other politicians; the debating and such. I won't miss the fact that we were denied adequate coverage."

So, without a Natural Law Party candidate on the ballot paper, will Dr Clements join the ranks of the apathetic on 7 June?

"No, I will be voting," he says. "I haven't decided yet, but I'll weigh up the candidates when I get home."

Those that ring his doorbell should be prepared for an unorthodox line of questioning.


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