- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 18, 2005

LONDON — A television contest to choose a candidate for a seat in Britain’s Parliament produced an unexpected winner — a convicted con man with a platform to emasculate all child molesters and deport 20 million immigrants.

Rodney Hylton-Potts, a 59-year-old former lawyer, was picked by viewers of the ITV network’s “Vote For Me” talent contest to run as an independent parliamentary candidate in the nation’s upcoming general election, expected this spring.

Flush with victory, Mr. Hylton-Potts announced that his immediate goal is to unseat Michael Howard, the leader of the main opposition Conservative Party, in his constituency in southeast England. “I think it is goodbye Michael for this seat,” he said.

In what was described as an “innovative attempt to revitalize the public’s interest in politics,” ITV set up the “Vote For Me” show with an initial pool of 2,000 would-be politicians that was eventually whittled down to 15 finalists by a panel of two journalists and a TV show hostess.

During a weeklong series of elimination votes, viewers dismissed them one by one, to a final six, and then chose what ITV originally envisioned as “a person who could honestly claim to be ‘the people’s choice.’”

What ITV and its viewers got was Mr. Hylton-Potts, who was once sentenced to five years in prison for a $38,000 mortgage fraud and who admits to having used cocaine and cannabis.

Mr. Hylton-Potts ran on a platform that he described as a “cabbie’s manifesto,” calling for the mandatory castration of pedophiles, the legalization of all drugs, a massive program of prison building, and the deportation of 20 million immigrants .

“I won because of the cabbie vote,” he insisted.

He said the cabdrivers he talked to all favored his anti-immigration stance. “People didn’t vote for me. They voted for that policy.” ITV appeared a bit stunned by the vote result.

“We have been underwhelmed by the response to Rodney’s victory,” a network spokesman said. “From an ITV point of view, the show was always hoping to engage people in debate and increase interest in politics.

“To that end,” he asserted, “it was a success. [But] we can’t be responsible for what Rodney says.”

Jonathan Maitland, the “Vote For Me” show’s host, was more succinct. “The winner is a comedy fascist nutter and a cross between Lord Brockett and Mussolini,” he said, referring to a famous British deceiver and Italy’s World War II fascist dictator.

Eccentricity is no stranger to British politics. Nearly every election sees its share of oddly dressed candidates running on wacky platforms ranging from flat-Earth belief to a universal ban on cars.

One, the Monster Raving Loony Party, has been running for decades and regularly gets hundreds of votes.

Mr. Hylton-Potts’ competition in the “Vote For Me” contest kept up the tradition. One finalist campaigned against cell phone towers. Another advocated a return to public flogging.

Yet another, running on a religious platform, insisted a daytime planning notebook she brought along was “not a Filofax. It’s a Bible.”

Unlike other slapstick comedy candidates, Mr. Hylton-Potts believes he has a chance of unseating Conservative Party leader Mr. Howard.

“I don’t know whether I can win,” Mr. Hylton-Potts conceded, “but what I’m certain about is that Michael Howard will lose.”

Less certain is whether ITV will elect to repeat the “Vote For Me” format.

“Think democracy, and despair,” wrote television critic John Preston.

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