Gordon Shrigley is far from what you would expect from a prospective parliamentary candidate. Sure, he’s got the Boris Johnson-like mop of sandy-coloured hair and booming vocals, but unlike other Westminster wannabes, he’s no career politician.
The fine artist and part-time architecture lecturer sits stirring a latte in the corner of The Laundry Cafe in London Fields, laying down his intentions for May’s general election.
“I have no policies, which seems slightly absurd to most people,” he chuckles.
“But there is a kind of critique there of what we’re being offered already.” He bursts into a laugh so loud that I am forced to give an apologetic wave to the people sitting next to us.
“I have nothing to offer but offer itself”
Back in 2010, Shrigley set up the Campaign Party and published Without Residue, A Preliminary Introduction to a Manifesto for An Unidentified Political Object.
It is a manifesto of no ideas, only slogans such as “I have nothing to offer but offer itself”.
Now Shrigley has announced that he will be running against the incumbent Labour MP Meg Hillier for the Hackney South and Shoreditch seat in May.
“[The campaign] is about the space of imagination,” he says casually.
“On one level, the fact that I have no policies is a parody, but on another level it wouldn’t be right for me to have any.
”If I’m talking about the space of possibility, I’d narrow the debate if I was to come up with policies,” he insists.
I’m lost, but Shrigley seems to think what he has provided is explanation enough.
But with Hackney South recently named the ninth worst area for childhood poverty in the country, surely he must have some social aims?
Shrigley sits up and puffs out his chest.
“See, these kinds of questions aren’t really what Campaign is about,” he says indignantly. “If you ask Meg Hillier what she’s got to say about the space of imagination, she’d say it wasn’t relevant – she wants to talk about housing in Hackney.
“Each politician sets their own form of reference and mine is imagination and creative space.”
“I don’t feel the need to evangelise.”
Hackney may have its fair share of artists and eccentrics, but is he not worried about not being taken seriously by the general public?
“There’s a long history of slightly mad independents running in this country, who feel they have ‘the solutions’ to the world,” he says. “They either remain on the fringes of politics or they go and live in a hut somewhere, write a manifesto and start making bombs.” Cue another mighty rumble of laughter.
“I’m different,” Shrigley goes on. “I don’t feel the need to evangelise. I am an incredibly opinionated person but in the context of this project it’s important to just talk about the space of imagination.”
Indeed, this is not his first foray into politics.
Shrigley’s political awakening came when his family emigrated to South Africa in the early eighties, at the height of the apartheid regime.
“I came back after six months because I couldn’t handle it. It would change anybody’s life unless they were stupid or fascist. It was so extreme. It definitely put me very firmly on the left,” he adds.
Since then, Shrigley has been part of both the Communist and Labour parties, but his latest move sees him running against his old comrades.
“It’s clear that the Labour party is still fighting old ghosts,” he says. “It doesn’t seem to be able to renew itself. Nothing can be totally apart from the past but when the main opposition proposes a radical new policy to cut student tuition fees from £9,000 to £6,000, you can see very clearly that [the main parties] are all the same.”
He leans forwards to extend a large palm.
“Do you want to hold hands now and sing The Red Flag?” After this I’m pretty sure I’m going to be barred from the E8 eatery for life.
“The election’s on the fourth isn’t it?”
Shrigley restrains himself for long enough to tell me that the Campaign Party is being run out of IMT Gallery on Cambridge Heath Road, where he will be “meeting the constituents” from 4 April.
“That’s exactly a month before the election,” he says. Opening his Filofax he asks, “The election’s on the fourth, isn’t it?”
I remind him that it is actually 7 May and once again he bursts out laughing.
“Whoops!” he yells, throwing his hands in the air, nearly sending the table flying.
“See – that’s my charm. If I pretend to be a Slick Willie, that would be absurd wouldn’t it? I don’t pretend to be anything but human. My role model is Václav Havel, the playwright and former prime minister of Czechoslovakia, who was a total mess!”
I wonder how his students at Westminster University feel about having a prospective member of parliament teaching them.
“One of my students went to me, ‘Gordon, are you an MP?’ I said ‘No, I’m the Prime Minister, but don’t tell anyone…!”