New Times,
New Thinking.

Reform candidates are sinister

Nigel Farage’s company-cum-political party is not the answer to any of the UK’s ills.

By Hannah Barnes

Britain may be broken, as Nigel Farage’s campaign declares. But what it absolutely does not need is Reform. Farage’s company-cum-political party is not the answer to any of the UK’s ills. It relies on fostering fear and intolerance, sowing division, and it longs for a country devoid of difference – whether in colour, religion, or sexual orientation.

Even before the release of Channel 4 News’s ten-minute film on 27 June, which appears to show a party activist using the most vile of racist abuse, we knew what kind of candidates believed they had a home in Reform UK. If it were the case of “one or two slip[ping] through the net that shouldn’t have done” – as Farage has claimed (and as has happened with the other parties) – it would be unfair to dwell on this. But it isn’t.

The Times has revealed that Reform candidates include Hugo Miller, a racist who referred to black people as “jungle bunnies”, and Marc Burca, who suggested Ghislaine Maxwell did her teenage victims “a favour”. Several of those hoping to be elected hold misogynistic and anti-Semitic views. Some are believers of outlandish conspiracy theories, others deniers of man-made climate change. One has claimed the King is controlled by global elites and compared the Covid vaccine roll-out to the Holocaust.

At least 41 Reform UK candidates – close to one in ten – are Facebook friends with Gary Raikes, a former organiser for the British National Party and the leader of the New British Union, a fascist group that sees democracy as an “obstruction” and wishes to see it replaced by dictatorship. Ian Gribbin, Reform’s candidate for Bexhill and Battle, has claimed the UK would have been “far better” off if it had “taken Hitler up on his offer of neutrality” during the Second World War. Oh, the irony that Gribbin’s Reform photo has him standing by a war memorial surrounded by poppies. Equally shocking is Leslie Lilley, who said he would “slaughter” migrants arriving on small boats and “have their family taken out”.

Mostly, Farage’s party has responded to allegations about candidates with a combination of shoulder-shrugging, victimhood and counter-accusations of a vetting stitch-up. In Farage’s conversation with our editor Jason Cowley in these pages, he took no responsibility for those standing alongside him: “I have no idea who they are! I’ve never met any of them.” He added: When he called the election [Rishi] Sunak knew that Reform was in no state to fight any election.”

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Reform UK branded the Times “a clear example of the depths to which… the chattering class around Westminster [will] stoop”. When another Reform candidate, Jack Aaron, was found to have called Hitler “brilliant” and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad “gentle by nature”, Farage dismissed the row as “nonsense”, saying that acknowledging Hitler’s ability as an orator was not the same as agreeing with his views. Defending a tenth of his candidates being social media friends with a fascist, Farage told LBC: “I apologise that not all of our candidates have been to Eton.” He said that he would “probably not” withdraw support from a candidate who said “Islam and Nazis are the same thing”, adding: “Winston Churchill… thought the same.” And as for Ian Gribbin, “It’s a blooming stupid thing to do”, Reform’s leader said, but “his name’s on the ballot paper, I can’t remove it”. True. But Reform could have withdrawn support, leaving Gribbin as an independent. Farage says he will be “much stricter” in the future.

Reform kicked out several candidates prior to nominations closing on 7 June. Another, Grant StClair-Armstrong, resigned after historic posts emerged of him calling for people to vote for the BNP. Those believing Farage would act swifter than Sunak if their candidates are faced with allegations of wrongdoing should think again. It took Reform weeks to withdraw its support from Lilley and Robert Lomas, the latter of whom said asylum seekers had it “in their DNA to lie” and “black people of Britain” should stop acting “like savages”.

There is now a full-scale row between Channel 4 and Reform, which alleges that the main protagonist in the undercover investigation – a party activist – was an actor. The broadcaster denies this. I don’t believe Channel 4 would ever pay an actor to discredit a political party. Irrespective of the details, the British public judged the footage credible. It is easy to believe a Reform activist could refer to the Prime Minister as a “f**king P***” because of what we have learned about so many other candidates during this election campaign. Let us not forget the film also contained footage of Farage’s close team referring to the Pride flag as “f**king degenerate” and pledging to “bring back the noose”.

“Do you ever ask yourself… what was it about you, Nigel Farage, that first attracted these racists and homophobes and anti-Semites to your party?” Trevor Phillips asked the Reform leader. “Ironically, destroying the BNP means people who are minded that way don’t any longer have a home to go to, and some will gravitate in our direction,” Farage answered. But why did people with these views feel they would be welcome? Farage had no proper response.

None of this is to say that people in Britain don’t have a right – or good reason – to be fed up, or to feel disillusioned with politics and politicians. Much needs fixing. But Reform is not the answer. It is your right to protest: spoil your ballot, or vote for a smaller, yet established party. Don’t be fooled by Farage’s charisma and oratory. For, as our political editor Andrew Marr put it, his party attracts people with some “really dark, extreme, racist, nationalist views. And some of them with outright Nazi views.”

[See also: Inside the shadow Tory leadership election]

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This article appears in the 02 Jul 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Labour’s Britain