Who are Reform UK’s candidates? The underbelly of Britain’s own MAGA movement

Reform UK is now the third largest political force in the country.   According to the BBC’s latest figures, the party is polling at around 11%, half that of the Conservatives, more than the Liberal Democrats, and double that of the Greens.

As we head towards a general election on July 4th, Reform is set to field a candidate in every seat across England, Wales and Scotland. Indeed, over 510 of these aspirant MPs are now in place.

Yet, despite all this, very little is known about Reform UK.

Having analysed the 242 candidate statements that were pinned to the Reform UK website at the start of May, this article seeks to address that imbalance.

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Reviewing the people of the Reform UK though their own words, we take one of the deepest dives yet, to try to understand what makes our newest political party tick.

What we find is something quite removed from anything Britain has seen before.

The background of the party’s candidates, the language they use, and their disparate (and sometimes conflicting) policy priorities are the very antithesis of the traditional political machine.

Instead we give you the underbelly of Britain’s very own ‘MAGA’ movement.

A very different type of candidate…

Pitching itself as the antidote to the political establishment, Reform UK has attracted a very different type of political candidate.

Amongst the most interesting, this crop of Reform candidates includes an interior designer who has once worked with the Houses of Parliament (Beverley England, South Suffolk), a former blackjack dealer at the then Playboy Casino in Park Lane (Antony Love, Ipswich), and a contracted Immigration Overseas Escort (Steven Adelantado, North East Hertfordshire).   Bucking the trend in coming from the corporate world, Martin York (Congleton) informs everyone that he was once a ‘direct report’ to the late Steve Jobs of Apple fame.

Where Polimapper’s recent Class of 24 study showed the mainstream political parties to have selected a sixth of their new candidates from those with a background in academia or the law, with close to another third having spent their working lives in and around politics, this is emphatically not the Reform UK way.

Amongst our pool of 242 Reform candidates, there are double digit numbers of teachers, nurses, sales people, IT developers, accountants and engineers.  With tradesman (electricians, plumbers, builders) accounting for the largest number of Reform UK candidates, our sample also threw up 2 lorry drivers, 2 chefs, a black cab driver, a tree surgeon, a driving instructor and a pub landlord.

On top, a sixth of our Reform candidate pool (15%) are military veterans, triple that of any other national political party, and quadruple that seen across the population as a whole.

Within these candidate’s personal statements, there is also a notable army of returning ‘ex pats’.  Indeed it is striking quite how many Reform candidates reference their time working and living abroad. So much so, that you can’t help thinking that these experiences must be part causal to the political outlook on offer.

Yet where most new MPs can’t swear themselves into Westminster fast enough, this isn’t as yet a given with Reform UK….

Paul Hopkins (North Warwickshire and Bedworth) states that, “I don’t want to be a politician, I have no choice”.  Nick Taylor (Norwich North) tells us that “I don’t need a new career in politics”’ before adding, “Frankly I’m busy enough already”. Introducing himself to the voters, Darren Selkus (Hertsmere) draws on a double negative with a pitch that goes, “I’m not politician and to be honest don’t want to be one”.

Very different political language

Beyond the contrasting make-up of this candidate pool, the second factor that demarcates Reform UK from the field is the language deployed by its aspirants for public office.

Reading through these 242 personal statements, each of which is hosted no less on the official Reform UK website, you are struck by the bluntness, and indeed basic hostility, within some of the messaging.

Cutting straight to the chase, Robert Reaney (Bolsover) describes how he is sick of watching “car-crash politics”, lambasts “ambulance-chasing politicians, who leap on the latest disaster to score some minor political point”, before going on to ask in terms of law making, “how much further on are we than the Magna Carta?”

Steve Attridge (Coventry South) rails against the “Westminster feeding frenzy of salaries, expenses, privileges”, whilst Saba Poursaeedi (Harpenden and Berkhamsted ) accuses the political class of “robbing us blind and selling off the rest at half-price”.   Bill Piper (South Leicestershire) and Ian Edward Hayes (Leicester West) are just two who echo the Trump mantra of needing to clear the “swamp” not the people.

With consensus politics having exited the building, Sam Woods-Brass (Houghton and Sunderland South) describes how the word Conservative turns his “stomach into fits of rage”, whilst his colleague Peter Storms (Bournemouth West) writes how “A Labour government, being communists at its core, wants to destroy Great Britain”.

Before we go on, remember that according to the BBC figures, this is the UK’s third largest political force.

Yet as these candidates ratchet many notches away from the mainstream of UK politics, we have seen little if any scrutiny of the phraseology being deployed within the Reform UK personal statements.

Nowhere is that more prevalent than on immigration.

Detailing his thoughts on the official Reform UK website, Michael Bagley (South Devon) asserts that, “the dependents of migrants tend to be non-working and reliant on state support”.  Jonathan Thackray (Dewsbury and Batley) advances that “illegal immigrants don’t have to worry about putting bread on the table”. Helen Rose O’Hare (Sherwood Forest) bemoans hotels full of illegal immigrants who are “almost entirely fighting age males”.

The drive to net zero is also on the receiving end of this style of Reform UK treatment.  Characterised as a “dangerous false ideology” by Robert Hall-Palmer (Newark), it is a “demented” distraction for Barry Morgan (Barrow and Furness), and “Net Stupid” for Andy McWilliam (Loughborough).   Turning words into action, Prabhdeep Singh (Feltham and Heston) details his recent week long “hunger strike” outside Uxbridge tube station, all in the name of ULEZ opposition.

With many a Reform UK candidate hell bent on tackling the ‘woke revolution’, so the theme continues.

Anthony Mack (Clacton) fumes of “discrimination against the people of Britain in favour of foreign arrivals or minorities”.  Martin Hess (Hove and Portslade) maintains that “the wokerati have made us a more colour conscious society through their obsession with white guilt and critical race theory”.

As Simon Evans (West Lancashire) likens “woke doctrine” to the arrival of the “Orwellian state”, Barry Morgan (Barrow and Furness) abhors the Equalities Act such that he will press “to expunge from these shores all reference to the divisive antiphrastic diktat of diversity, equity and inclusion”.

If they had been uttered within an alternative UK political party, a good number of these statements would likely have cost their proponent the party whip, or led to candidate de-selection.  Lee Anderson MP (Ashfield) can testify to that.

Yet having been published on the party’s main website, in the world of Reform UK, it seems there is little for a Reform UK candidate to worry about. Not least of course, because within Reform UK, there is also no such thing as a ‘party whip’.

A very different approach to party policy

This very different approach to collective policy is the third factor which so differentiates Reform UK from the political mainstream.

Paul Donaghy (Washington and Gateshead South) champions the “NO whip system” as the basis for him being “free” to make decisions that are in the best interests of his constituents, in turn begging the question as to how Reform UK expects to magic up decisive government.

In practice, this ‘no whip’ system also serves as a convenient approach for the party.

Based on the ferocity and diversity of the personal statements that we have reviewed, it is hard not to conclude that Reform UK would simply be ‘unwhippable’.

For although many of the candidates hail from a Conservative background, with 19 in our sample referencing their former Conservative Party membership (including the onetime Chairman of David Cameron’s constituency association), they are not universally so.   Amongst the candidate pool we also found at least three former Labour Party members.

Bridging the divide, James Crocker (Stratford on Avon) can probably claim a political first by simultaneously stating that his “heroes and influences” include both Milton Friedman and Brian Clough.  The first being the free market monetarist economist once so adored by Margaret Thatcher, the second being the late football manager to whom socialism famously ‘came from the heart’, and whose comments are tweeted out by Jeremy Corbyn.

With the term collective responsibility absent from the index of the Reform UK playbook, we also discover a whole variety of tunes being sung out.

Christopher Thornhill (North East Cambridgeshire) considers himself an “environmentalist” and writes about the “need to ween ourselves off fossil-based fuels”.  Noting how it “might sound contradictory” to Reform’s more commonplace attitude toward net zero, James Grice (Rushcliffe) references his business interest in renewable energy.

On constitutional matters, one has the suspicion that Roger Clark (Harrow East) is going further than many of his colleagues, when he states that “many serious reforms are urgently required at every institutional level” adding the “Head of State and the Royal Family” to his list.

Far from pampering to the concept of laissez-faire government, one that is so revered by many a Reform UK candidate, others appear to have taken an economic branch line. Chris Eynon (Sunderland Central) references the “national shipbuilding strategy”, whilst Teresa De Santis (Chichester) writes how “Reform will rebuild Great Britain by investing in industry like the British Steel we were once so proud of”.

This freedom for Reform UK candidates to espouse their own personal programmes for office, all published on Reform UK’s own website, exudes none of the stage management that typifies the launch of a conventional party manifesto.

Moreover it also throws up a very wide range of random policy priorities.

Raj Forhad (Ilford South) urges investment in “free mobile gyms for young generation”. Leslie Lilley (Southend East and Rochford) – not incidentally the only candidate who loves a capital letter – focuses on the “need to deal with the FLOUIDE in water (POISON English Dictionary)”. James Crocker (Stratford on Avon) is animated about “uncoordinated roadworks”, whilst Sarah Wood (Spen Valley) lambasts the banking sector for “when and how I may withdraw my money”.

Looking to the past as well as the future, Jack Brookes (Birmingham Erdington) advocates “bringing back the gold standard” to tackle inflation, whereas Ash Leaning (North Dorset) asks, “What happened to national service?” before positing the question (post Brexit), “Why do I need a visa to go on a slightly longer holiday or travel in Europe?”

And so we could go on, but I suspect you get the gist.

The grass roots movement and the absent leader?

Across the 242 personal statements we sampled, the comparison with the ‘Make America Great Again’ movement is striking.   Rather than being driven and united by an ideological belief system, these disparate candidate statements are better seen as being tied together by their emotions, variously venting out both fury and indeterminate sentiments of despair.

Joseph Kirby (Birmingham Edgbaston) and Pamela Walford (Maldon) are amongst a number whose very call to arms is “Let’s Make Britain Great Again!” Andrew Southall (Dudley) exhorts, “I want my country back. I want to prise it out of the hands of the woke, globalist establishment and give it back to the citizens of this country”.

For American born Teressa De Santis (Chichester), we are told that the 2024 general election is a “once in a lifetime vote to save Great Britain”.  Fortunate then, that her colleague David Robert Burgess-Joyce (Wallasey – and one time Chief Officer of the Merseyside Police Special Constabulary), believes that there is a “strong chance Reform UK will win big” in the impending contest.

Yet in this ‘Make Britain Great Again Movement’, there is currently, no Donald Trump.

Although the party’s formal leader, Richard Tice (previously Hartlepool – now suddenly Boston and Skegness) has been slightly more visible this year on our television screens, there have long been questions as to whether a grass roots movement like Reform UK could meaningfully ever progress without a heavyweight political figurehead.

Known by 98% of the public, and according to YouGov still popular with 38% of them, in Honorary Party President, Nigel Farage, Reform UK had its potential Donald Trump.

Flashing like a beacon on the Reform UK website, Boston and Skegness, the highest ‘Leave’ voting constituency in the whole of the UK, has for some time been lacking a Reform UK candidate.

Having written here recently about how all the cards appeared to be coming together for a future Farage roadmap, reflecting therein on the extent to which Nigel Farage appeared to be (so brilliantly) ’gaming’ the Conservative Party, yesterday’s draft of this article was penned with the conclusion that the Boston and Skegness seat was surely being reserved in his name.

But in the end I was wrong.

Having “thought long and hard”, Nigel Farage has just announced that he won’t be joining the collective of Reform UK candidates standing for election on July 4th.

As Honorary Party President, Farage can of course still be expected to make a few choice media appearances during the upcoming campaign, but ultimately, actions speak louder than words.

Even for one of Britain’s most canny and successful political operators, the prospect of leading the folks in Reform UK, appears to be, just one challenge too many.

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