WITH the party trailing in the polls behind Labour and Ukip, some might say you would have to be mad to join the Conservatives – a quality their latest recruit has in abundance.
For 17 years Monster Raving Loony John Cartwright's eccentric hat and brightly-coloured jacket have been synonymous with election time in Croydon.
But now he has swapped his badges for a blue rosette and, where he used to advocate the provision of free chocolate bars for students and pensioners, he has now joined a party backing benefit caps and NHS reforms.
The 44-year-old, who lives in East Croydon, made the announcement on April Fools' Day but told the Advertiser his defection was no joke.
He said: "What it boils down to is that I have gradually reached the position where I'm no longer a floating voter. I have reached the settled view that the future of this country can be best managed by the Conservative Party.
"Most importantly, I have come to realise that Labour governments always ruin the economy."
Mr Cartwright's defection is an appropriately bizarre twist to a political career which began when he founded the Chocolate Fudge Cake Party and stood in the 1994 local elections, winning 175 votes.
In 1996, he became a Loony, standing in the 2001, 2005 and 2010 general elections and winning 408, 193 and 192 votes respectively. In total, the former Trinity School pupil has fought 21 different election campaigns.
It was while canvassing during the Croydon North by-election last November that he discovered his efforts had become half-hearted.
"I realised that I was enjoying walking around the constituency so much that I kept on forgetting that I was supposed to be campaigning," he said.
"I wasn't enthusiastic about standing in the first place, because I was a bit concerned about splitting the Conservative vote. However, I spoke to Gavin (Barwell) and he told me not to worry because it was a safe Labour seat."
When asked whether he would miss being a Loony, Mr Cartwright said: "A little bit, yes. It was fun to go to the party conference. It's usually held in Hampshire. We hang around a pub for a few days and do a silly things.
"But I can quite easily manage without it, and it will be good not have to spend money on an election deposit any more.
"They always said I was too serious. I was a bit of a rebel like that."
Beneath his wacky exterior, Mr Cartwright has a reputation as a sharp mind with an encyclopaedic knowledge of politics. He is undecided as to whether Croydon North will be his final election.
"If the Conservatives are desperately short of people to stand in a hopeless ward then I would, but only if they can't find anyone else," he said.
As to what he will do with his iconic jacket, Mr Cartwright said: "I'm thinking of hanging it up in my room as an ornament.
"It's a bit ironic really. I remember around 2004 I realised I had so many badges that I needed a new coat. I went to lots of fancy dress shops but none had Monster Raving Loony yellow.
"In the end I settled for red because, at the time, I was centre left, not right. Turns out I should have got the blue one."
The Official Monster Raving Loony Party believes Mr Cartwright's defection could see Conservative Gavin Barwell move the opposite way.
Referring to the Croydon Central MP as "Gavin Barlow", spokesman R. U. Serious said: "John Cartwright has been a loyal supporter and active candidate for many years.
"His input, character and assistance has been greatly appreciated. He will be missed.
"However, our loss is the Conservatives' gain and we wish them both the best of luck.
"We are not sure that Croydon is ready for two political heavyweights, and foresee Gavin Barlow crossing the floor to represent us.
"With John's continued effort on behalf of the Conservatives, it may be that Steve Reed (Labour's Croydon North MP) may finally have met his most formidable opponent.
"Whatever happens, we wish him well."
Mr Barwell, who was in the year below Mr Cartwright at Trinity School, said: "John's passion for Croydon has been evident for years.
"I've long said to him that he should have got involved in one of the main parties and I'm delighted he has chosen the Conservatives."