The Haltemprice and Howden by-election that took place in July 2008 was a rare, single-issue by-election, and it had a record 26 candidates, with a record number of independent candidates. It was also the first mainland by-election since 1963 in which the governing party did not put forward a candidate, and up until that point the best by-election results for both The Green Party and English Democrats. Somehow, I got the opportunity to meet and interview David Icke.
Yes, that David Icke.
On June 11th 2008, the House of Commons passed the Counter-Terrorism Bill, a controversial act which extended the legal detention period of terror suspects without charge to 42 days. The following day, the then Shadow Home Secretary David Davis resigned his seat and announced his resignation as an MP, a surprise move that meant there would be a by-election for the constituency of his seat of Haltemprice and Howden. Davis stated that the intention for his somewhat controversial resignation was to spark a wider public debate on the perceived erosion of civil liberties in the UK, and he announced that he would be running for the seat again under the banner of ‘David Davis for Freedom’.
Davis’ decision opened him up to a lot of derision, probably the most derision he’d faced since leaving school, where he was undoubtedly derided on a regular basis for having a surname that is practically the same as his first name, a double dose of ‘Dave’, a bit like Dave Davies of The Kinks.
Although he had some support from the public, the biggest criticism that the Tory MP faced from his political rivals was that he was making a big deal about resigning, when in fact he was contesting an issue in a seat so safe that it probably comes with an airbag. Labour didn’t even bother to field a candidate. This had the effect of essentially turning the by-election into a bit of a freak-show, a political carnival where the Monster Raving Loony Party were actually one of the more moderate and sensible candidates.
Even The Sun considered fielding a candidate, that’s how fucked up it all was.
At that time, I was writing a lot of stuff for an independent arts and culture website based in my home town of Hull. Although Hull is by and large a Labour town, the bulk of the Haltemprice and Howden constituency covers the villages that border Hull, such as Willerby, Kirk Ella, Anlaby and Cottingham. Despite the fact that they are only a bus ride away, politically they are a hundred miles in the other direction.
They tend to be populated by the kind of people who seem embarrassed and ashamed to be living so close to a place that they consider a shit-hole, a town that at the very least should be walled-in like some terribly deformed mutant offspring. A Conservative hotspot, in other words.
Anyway, the webmaster for the website I worked for had a bit of thing for conspiracy theories. He gathered them up and studied them with the same sort of fervour that I used to apply to collecting Panini’s Transformers stickers in the mid-80s. So imagine his surprise and excitement when he received an email from David Icke’s ‘people’, stating that David was intending to run for the seat, under an ‘Big Brother – the Big Picture’ banner. The scene was being set for a spectacular clash of the Davids.
It transpired that Icke’s people were having trouble getting attention from the press, something they were understandably frustrated about, becauseHaltempriceand Howden was going to be witness to an important moment: this was going to be David Icke’s first-step onto the British political landscape. Suitably awestruck, the webmaster immediately agreed to help out in any way he could, and he asked me if I’d like to interview The Icke. I agreed.
My knowledge of David Icke, both as a person and as the conspiracy theorist’s poster boy , was gleaned from Jon Ronson’s brilliant book, ‘Them: Adventures with Extemists’. I figured that Ronson had done such a good job with his profile of Icke there wasn’t a single thing a hack like myself could possibly add, but I agreed to the interview on the basis of: ‘it would look good on my CV’, a line of reasoning that has put me in many strange situations. In some horrible way, my CV will probably end up being my life’s work, a rambling, incoherent set of disconnected experiences and qualities stitched together for some fantasy job that will never appear.
The date for the interview was set for early July at the Willerby Manor Hotel, the venue that would host the beginning of David Icke’s campaign at a free public meeting alongside the other independent candidates, who would also be kick-starting their own campaigns. The Willerby Manor Hotel – with its extensive leisure facilities, winning cuisine and three acres of gardens – is the kind of tepid place that usually serves as the venue of choice for wedding receptions and visiting musicians and pantomime actors, so it was the perfect choice to host something that was essentially paramount to a single-issue minor celebrity soap-box, the local by-election as political posturing public performance.
When the day finally arrived, I sat at a table just outside the bar, smoking roll-ups while I waited for my own private audience with The Icke. They were all out in force by then: the National Front, the Monster Raving Loony Party, The Church of the Militant Elvis, the Christian Party. After about half an hour, I was approached by a slightly overweight middle-aged man in a bright blue silky shirt. “I’m David,” he said, extending his hand.
He looked exhausted, the result of an all-night drive from his home in theIsle of Wight, he said. Before we started, he told me that he didn’t want the interview to be another piece about his larger theories; extra-dimensional lizards were off the menu, in other words. This by-election, he said, was an opportunity to draw attention to the issue of the Orwellian ‘Big Brother’ global state that was becoming an ever more powerful and prevalent force. As far as interviews go, it was quite bland. Obviously used to being the subject of hatchet jobs, he was very wary of me, and took the position of the put upon humble man, a lone voice in the wilderness standing up for what he believed to be right. He even quoted Martin Niemoller: “First they came for the Socialists…” He was polite and quite self-deprecating. It was quite disappointing in a way. I was expecting him to be some kind of chubby Morpheus, offering me consciousness expansion and a view of the secret world that ran parallel to consensus reality, but instead I got a burned-out bloke who looked like he was in desperate of a good sleep and a bath. In fact, the only thing that suggested that The Icke was any different was his eyes: he had the intense and unblinking gaze of an acid casualty, and he seemed to look beyond me rather than at me.
We parted on good terms and I was invited to his talk later that afternoon, and that’s when I got to experience the craziness that usually defines any discussion of David Icke. I was staggered by the sheer amount of followers who had turned up to meet him. He had more groupies than the average mid-league boy-band. They all seemed to be middle-class white-collar sorts, smartly dressed and well spoken, and they regarded him with an almost messianic fervour. One young woman, who seemed to be completely normal on the surface, told me that she believed that the aliens were on their way as we spoke, and she, along with the rest of the enlightened in attendance, would be invited on board the ship, and David would lead them all to the promised land. She was completely sincere in this assertion.
The meeting was a compressed version of the rambling power-point presentations that Icke has become famous for, the beginner’s guide to the philosophy of The Icke. He started his presentation by announcing that he knew he had absolutely no chance of winning the by-election, and even if by some slim chance he did, he would immediately resign his seat, as he was completely opposed to the modern political system. This statement was greeted with loud applause, something that confused me. If that was the case, what was the point of all this, and why go to all this trouble of running in the first place? Surely all the supporters who’d run about organising this as the stage David Icke’s big entrance into politics would feel a bit short-changed…
As it turned out, when it came to the media-attention stakes, all the independents lost out to Gemma Garrett, who represented the Miss Great Britain Party. She was the true winner that day. Thanks to her impeccable hair and spectacular teeth, she was by far the most photographed of all the independents, even managing to get snapped alongside David Davis, who grinned like a loon. When asked about her views on the Counter-Terrorism Bill by the BBC, she gave what has to be one of my favourite quotes in politics ever: “I’m happy to be locked up for 42 days if I’m a suspect.”
As expected, David Davis went on to re-take his seat, a seat he continues to occupy to this day. David Icke went back to the Isle of Wight to continue plotting his war against the Archons via the medium of the power-point presentation, and Gemma Garrett went on to be named third in a list of Britain’s sexiest blondes, just behind Keeley Hazell and Eve. I don’t know what happened to the rest of the independents, beyond the fact that the majority of them lost their deposits, another record that was set that during that by-election.
I went home, confused to as to what it was all about. I still have absolutely no fucking idea.