When Ankit Love felt that none of the candidates in the London Mayoral election were offering what he wanted, he formed the One Love Party - offering world peace, an end to climate change, and a pledge to legalise cannabis. We went to meet this self-styled saviour to find out more about his elusive campaign.
It’s 5pm at the foot of City Road in London. Accountants, graphic designers and lawyers are rushing away from their offices, some desperate to get a pint in the early summer sun, others just to get home as quickly as possible.
Dressed all in black, beret poised on a neat head of hair is Ankit Love, who sticks out amongst the commuters and city boys. His long Dr. Martens and large suede jacket not the usual attire of the suited and booted surrounding him. But like them, he too is in a rush.
Ankit – the leader of the One Love Party – will today be standing in his first election, and as far as he sees it every minute counts to pull in the votes.
Generally presented as a two-horse race, the campaigns run by candidates to be the next Mayor of London have so far has been what most expected: tedious and riddled with cheap shots.
Labour candidate and son of a bus driver Sadiq Khan is leading the polls, trailed by the multi-millionaire Tory Zac Goldsmith – despite Goldsmith’s various attempts to smear his opponent as a terrorist sympathiser. The other candidates have also been less than remarkable.
Today millions of Londoners will be heading to the polling booths, but still just a few voters are likely to have heard of Ankit and his party.
Desperate to rectify this, two days before voting opens Ankit is handing out flyers to passers-by. He’s stood on a roadside when I find him, trying to grab the attention of those walking past by while announcing his campaign goals with an unmatched enthusiasm. “It’s for world peace, brother! You need to vote! It’s a revolution”, he cries.
It’s a marked difference from the bland rhetoric coming out from most of the other campaigns.
World peace and ’a revolution’ are indeed what this 32-year-old is striving for. To fulfil his ambitious aims, the youngest-ever candidate for the London Mayoralty has conjured up a plan inspired by his own life which, incidentally, he describes as a “true fairy-tale”.
The Maharaja who lives in a hostel
Ankit’s political journey began in late December 2014, years after he first arrived in London. Having first set foot in the city in 1989, it had been his home for some 25 years when he began to feel nostalgic about his native country.
The home he was missing is a town in the Northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, which has been the subject of a territorial dispute between India, China and Pakistan since 1947.
“I was researching stuff about my family and me”, he passionately explains to me as we sit in a busy London pub. “Eventually, I found a loophole. According to some strange laws, I legally hold the last titles of a sovereign state. It was in the fucking law!” He speaks quickly, sipping his orange juice as he goes.
On the basis of this research – which from my little investigation seems legit – Ankit Love claims to be the current Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir. It turns out the position was left vacant after the last incumbent, Hari Singh, was forced into exile in 1952. Contacted via email, Ankit’s mother Mala Jay clarified the situation: “After the King died, the State was left in limbo as no one claimed the throne, including Hari Singh’s descendants and Love’s immediate family. Love’s forefathers ruled the State. Therefore it is natural for Love to claim the throne.”
Upon discovering that he was apparently the emperor of a state seen as the epicentre of a potential nuclear war, Ankit – who had so far focused on a budding music career – felt a bit overwhelmed.
At that point, Ankit made claims that weren’t well received by the authorities, which resulted in his mother losing her position at the Indian Supreme Court. She could therefore no longer financially support her son. “I lost my home. I went homeless. It was so crazy. I sold all my musical instruments, dumped all the rest of my stuff on the street. To be honest I got dangerously depressed.”
Luckily Ankit found shelter for a month at a neighbour’s place. When she had to leave London, the self-professed Maharaja decided to try his luck as a sailor in the French Riviera town of Antibes.
After struggling to get by for a month, he headed back back to England, deciding to resume his art studies at the University of East London. “I got a student loan. That money allowed me to survive. I moved to a hostel and I was fine.”
While staying in the Kingsland Road hostel, right in the heart of East London, Ankit started talking politics with the other young travellers residing there. Soon he met the man with whom he would found – in October 2015 – what he now calls “the best political party in the country.”
A Cambridge graduate and former research executive for Google, Finn Grant was working and living in the hostel at the time. Their friendship soon turned into a political partnership, and they founded the One Love Party.
“We first got into a long conversation about politics, technology and humanity and it just went from there”, recalls Grant now. “We both had strong ideas about how politics needed to be transformed and become more inclusive and innovative. A few weeks later, we had another long talk in the small hours, drinking lots of tea and a bit of whisky. We decided to launch our own party.”
Today, the One Love Party is much bigger – well, slightly bigger- than it was back then. The organisation is pretty well structured. The role of General Secretary is held by a man named Giacomo Brunelli, a former arts student with kind eyes, long hair and round glasses – who usually goes by the name Pax Brown.
Despite the grand titles, they still only have five members – so getting the party’s name on the ballot in this election was nothing short of a miracle.
To be registered as candidate, Ankit needed to get his hands on a £10,000 deposit, which Pax Brown luckily was able to provide through a lump of cash he’d inherited from his late grandmother.
A slightly more complicated hurdle for this self-styled revolutionary leader was to find himself 10 nominations from each of London’s 33 boroughs, a prerequisite of standing in the race
“We targeted postcode areas around specific tube stations via Google maps”, Pax explains. “Then we just went knocking on doors! It took us a month but we became good at it, and we made it!” The small team had found their way into the electoral race.
Dreams, air pollution and 50-storey skyscrapers
With this kind of backstory, Ankit and his troupe aren’t exactly your run of the mill politicians. An army of interns didn’t build the One Love Party’s policies, and their studies aren’t quite as well researched as those conducted by Labour or the Tories. However, they fully believe that their grand plans for London could work.
Their manifesto includes proposals to legalise cannabis and phase out fossil fuel energy by covering the country with solar panels and buying thousands of hydrogen cars from Toyota. Despite this being a local election, It would appear that Ankit’s ambitions go much further than the city of London.
These guys also also intend to tackle the English capital’s worsening housing crisis in a pretty novel way: “These guys from Broad Group, in China, can build a 50-storey skyscraper in 19 days.”
The idea may sound off the wall, but turns out these pop-up tower blocks are already in production, and Ankit would like to see them imported to London straight away.
No matter how much the One Love Party come across as idealistic kids basing their manifesto on a series of late night Google searches, I reckon they still deserve to be heard.
When asked about how to achieve world peace – another core policy pledge – Pax Brown takes his time before answering. “I appreciate that for many, world peace is a utopian dream”, he explains, “but to us world peace means taking the first step by ending the wars in the Middle East.”
He argues this would be possible if the British and American governments were to take responsibility for everything kicking off on in that part of the world.
“Our ultimate solution is to gradually end dependence on crude oil”, continues Pax, after conversation moves on from British foreign policy. “If you end the need for oil you end the need for war. True world peace, is about cultural revolution and educating future generations to re-think how the world works and to re-think what the role of the governments is.”
“Our utopian dream, as cheesy is it may sound, is that future generations, including future public institutions will not be money-centred but people-centred.”
It does seem pretty unlikely that people are going to throw their weight behind Ankit Love’s revolution today. While he would consider 5% of the votes as a victory, he knows his party are more than likely to end up last.
Idealistic they may be, but I’d argue that the One Love Party remains the only party on the ballot that can fully understand what it is to be young in London today. After a privileged childhood, Ankit now lives in a windowless music studio in Bethnal Green with no mattress and no central heating.
To get their deposit back, Ankit and Pax need 5% of the votes which, if the turnout is the same as 2012, would be slightly be more than 100,000 people. He can only hope that this turns out to be the case, although opinion polls don’t fill me with confidence.
Ankit will probably never be Mayor of London; he’s only managed to get four journalists interested in his story so far, and there’s four years to wait until the next election. No matter how many people laugh in his face as he hands out his flyers, he stoically stands tall, with a hopeful smile on his face.
David Weigel is a national political correspondent for the Washington Post, and went to high school with Ankit.
“In 2000, when I was graduating, he ran for class president with a flashy campaign that included, in lieu of a speech, a video in which he starred for some reason as a James Bond character”, Weigel tells me via email, when I ask him what he makes of the campaign.
“In 2013, I began researching a book, and needed to stay in London. Ankit offered me his futon, as he was also letting a friend crash in his bedroom. He played me the music he’d composed and recorded, and then asked me for advice on the magazine he was trying to launch.”
As we say our goodbyes, Ankit heads off back to the campaign trail. I watch him stop someone on the street, and I can’t help but root for the guy. After all, the Maharaja and his friends are the kids who had the guts to launch their own party, and take matters into their own hands when that sense of helplessness and frustration struck.
Maybe they’ll be an inspiration for future elections – our democracy can only be improved by more of us taking a stand, even if we’re ultimately dreamers.