The Hartlepool Monkey - PPAUK

OPINION: When a monkey won an election and did a great job - Peter Moore

Dr Peter Moore

One historian described the end of Boris Johnson’s premiership as the 'most bloody in the 300-year history of British Prime Ministers'.

I’m sure the end of Spencer Percival’s premiership, who was shot dead in 1812, must come a close second.

When I started writing in local papers, I was warned not to express party political views as this would immediately alienate over half the readers.

And so, I will not express a view on the shenanigans in Westminster last week except to wonder why anyone wants the job? Should we exclude anyone mad enough to want to be Prime Minister? Could anyone taken off the street with no political experience do the job as well?

There is one example of an accidental electoral success by someone who did not want to win proving very successful.

In 2002, H’Angus the Monkey stood in the election for Hartlepool Mayor. He was the mascot of Hartlepool United football team, who are nicknamed the ‘Monkey Hangers’.

The legend is that during the Napoleonic wars a French ship was wrecked off Hartlepool and the only survivor was a pet monkey. The locals had never seen a Frenchman before and assumed that he was a hairy Frenchman.

They tried interviewing him but he refused to talk. Perhaps he did not speak English. They then hanged him as a spy. It is unlikely that the legend is true but, ever since then, people from Hartlepool were nick named the monkey hangers.

H’Angus the monkey, or Stuart Drummond, who was inside the costume, had entered the election as a joke which might give the club some useful publicity. He never expected to win in what was then a safe Labour area. He did no campaigning.

When he beat the labour candidate by 5,696 to 5,174, Stuart Drummond alleged that the local MP Peter Mandelson, called him a disgrace, making the town a laughingstock before facing the cameras and praising his success. This was his first introduction to the real world of politics.

Although he spent his weekends as a monkey, Stuart Drummond was not a fool. He had an HND in business and languages from the University of Salford. He then worked on cruise ships travelling the world.

When he was elected, he stood down as mascot and studied local government. He said that he was a normal guy off the street, listening to the views of the public. As mayor, he was very successful and even kept his election promises. As a monkey, he promised to give a banana to every child. As mayor, he managed to obtain a grant to provide fresh fruit to every schoolchild.

He stood again under his own name in 2005, won with an increased majority of 10,205 and was re-elected in 2009. He continued as mayor until the post was abolished.

In 2010, he was a finalist for the World Mayor Prize.

The monkey mayor is one of the few examples of a non-politician accidentally being elected and it shows that taking someone off the streets with no political background can be successful.

We have seen it again with President Zelensky in Ukraine. A comic actor who was the Ukrainian voice of Paddington Bear has proved a brilliant wartime leader.

Of course, our next Prime Minster will be chosen from existing MPs, all of whom are experienced politicians. It would not be possible to grab someone off the street who was not a member of a political party and force them to become an MP but, perhaps, when selecting election candidates, it might be helpful to look at people who are not career politicians.

My only problem with Hartlepool United is that they beat Torquay in the play-off final following a dubious decision to disallow a perfectly good goal.

And, for the avoidance of doubt, as a non-politician, no, I do not want to be Prime Minister.

Written by Peter Moore