Reading the electoral runes in a tough week for the movement

Laurence Fox tried to combine civic nationalism with anti-lockdown politics but was badly beaten in the London Mayoral election, polling 1.9% and losing his £10,000 deposit.

As the final results were declared today in local and regional elections across most of the UK (with the exception of Northern Ireland) we can begin to draw the lessons – some very predictable, others not.

The real losers of these elections (so far as ‘our’ side of politics is concerned) are very clear. The principal outcome was the demise of UKIP and its various offshoots, remnants of Nigel Farage’s movement that changed British history by forcing David Cameron to hold the Brexit referendum in 2016, then forcing successive Tory leaders to follow through with Brexit in 2019/2020.

UKIP’s largest faction followed Farage into his Brexit Party in 2019, and with Farage’s retirement from electoral politics this has been rebranded into Reform UK under the leadership of property tycoon Richard Tice.

These elections were an absolute catastrophe for Tice and Reform UK.

He decided to focus mainly on seeking election to the Greater London Assembly via the proportional list system, which benefits smaller parties and helped the BNP’s Richard Barnbrook to get elected to the GLA in 2008 as well as electing two UKIP members to the GLA in 2016.

Tice needed to poll somewhere around 6% to get elected: he managed a fraction under 1%, less than one-sixth of the vote that UKIP had achieved in 2016.

Reform UK leader Richard Tice (above right) with his political mentor Nigel Farage

Even the rump of UKIP scraped together a slate that defeated Reform UK on the GLA list by polling a fraction over 1%. Humiliatingly both Reform UK and UKIP were beaten by a gaggle of fringe parties including the Christian People’s Alliance; the Animal Welfare Party; Rejoin EU; and the Women’s Equality Party!

One of UKIP’s GLA members elected in 2016 was David Kurten, a half-Jamaican who broke away to form the Heritage Party during UKIP’s many internal wrangles. Kurten’s slate polled a mere 0.5%, and he took 0.4% in the London mayoral election (where Tice didn’t stand).

Reform UK and UKIP were also hammered in the Welsh Parliament (Senedd) elections, where UKIP had won seven seats in 2016, again thanks to a proportional list system.

This week neither Reform UK nor UKIP came close to winning a single Welsh seat. In each region UKIP polled slightly higher than Reform UK, but even UKIP’s highest vote was 2% in the South Wales East region (where party leader Neil Hamilton headed the slate). In this region five years ago UKIP were runners-up with 17.8% and won two seats!

Heritage Party leader David Kurten was one of many civic nationalists whose political careers have surely been ended by this week’s defeats

The picture was almost uniformly grim for the spectrum of Brexiteer parties across the English council elections, where they saw most of their votes devoured by Boris Johnson’s Conservatives.

Only in Derby did Reform UK win two council seats. One of these was a former UKIP councillor re-elected under his new colours, the other was a local businessman who was given a free run by the Derby Conservatives choosing not to put up a candidate in his ward.

So across the whole of England only two Reform UK councillors were elected. Elsewhere most Reform UK votes were so poor that they will struggle to discern any evidence of even a modest electoral base on which to build.

It will suffice to mention a handful of examples typical of the nationwide picture. In Queensbury ward, Bradford, once held by BNP husband-and-wife team Paul and Lynda Cromie, Reform UK polled only 2.6% and the Tories easily won the seat.

In Wakefield a Reform UK candidate managed just 5.2% in a ward where UKIP had taken 36.6% in 2014.

UKIP couldn’t take any factional schadenfreude from their rivals’ defeats: in another Wakefield ward that had been won by UKIP in 2014, this year’s candidate managed only 3.1%.

A curiosity particular to Wakefield is that the best of the old UKIP candidates had chosen to join the smallest of its factional breakaways. Cliff Parsons, who had polled 40.5% in the Normanton ward as recently as 2019, defected to the Alliance for Democracy & Freedom, founded by former UKIP MEP Mike Hookem, and was the best of the Brexiteer candidates in the borough this year, but even he only polled 7.1% this time.

Today’s Tories are ordered to shun the ‘racist’ legacy of Enoch Powell, but the Tory surge in many White working class areas this year was in some respects Powellite

The West Midlands mayoral election might have seemed tailor-made for Reform UK. There were only five candidates, and Reform UK’s Pete Durnell was the only one that might be considered to the right of the Tories. Incumbent mayor Andy Street is on the far left of the Conservative Party and (for the minority of voters who care about such things in 2021) is openly homosexual.

And this is a region that includes not only multiracial Birmingham but many White working-class areas such as the ‘Black Country’ boroughs of Sandwell and Dudley. In short, this is what was once considered ‘Enoch Powell country’, and includes numerous council wards once held or targeted by the BNP in the 1990s and 2000s.

Yet even here, and with an electoral system that favours smaller parties by giving voters two preferences, Reform UK only polled 2.2%.

The inescapable conclusion is that Reform UK failed to get any coherent message across to voters. And one reason for that is that the party’s ideology (even were it more clearly expressed) is unlikely to appeal to large numbers of White working-class voters.

Tice’s party is essentially neo-Thatcherite, and while Thatcherism in its heyday had some appeal to workers in the Midlands and South, times have changed. Such voters now prefer Boris Johnson’s interventionist and socially conservative brand to the small-state, tax-cutting, libertarian stance of the neo-Thatcherites.

In the North of course, even Thatcherism at its peak had limited appeal, so why would today’s voters opt for a second-rate imitation of Thatcherism, peddling a set of ideas long past their sell-by date?

Other splinters from UKIP attempted to present slightly different varieties of post-Brexit populism but had smaller resources than either Reform UK or UKIP and seem likely to fizzle out quickly. The Democrats & Veterans Party (founded by former UKIP leadership candidate John Rees-Evans) has been rebranded as the Five Star Direct Democracy Party. Their sole candidate this year – James Dalton in Holme Valley South ward, Kirklees – had polled 14.1% as D&V candidate in 2019, but this fell to just 1.0% for the rebranded party this year. Vicky Felton – elected as D&V councillor for Monk Bretton ward, Barnsley, in 2019 now sits as an independent and the rebranded party had no candidate in her ward this year.

Alongside Reform UK and UKIP, the other clear losers of this week’s elections are the anti-lockdown parties. Easily the most high-profile candidate from this camp was television actor Laurence Fox, who founded his own party ‘Reclaim’, funded by a former UKIP and Tory donor, and stood for Mayor of London.

Due to his earlier celebrity, Fox secured disproportionate media coverage but was unable to turn this into votes, despite being endorsed by Tice’s Reform UK who didn’t put up their own London Mayoral candidate.

While his initial political interventions at the start of 2020 had been anti-‘woke’ and in defence of ‘British values’, and during the past year he was a vocal opponent of ‘Black Lives Matter’ extremists, Fox increasingly drifted into being primarily an anti-lockdown and Covid-sceptic candidate.

As such he was one of several in the London race who were pushing some combination of anti-lockdown and/or anti-vaccination politics, sometimes indulging to a greater or lesser extent in what some would term ‘conspiracy theories’.

Piers Corbyn was yet another anti-lockdown candidate whose defeat illustrated the limitations of this form of politics

It’s now clear beyond doubt that (whatever the rights and wrongs of the Covid and vaccination issues) this form of politics was not a sound electoral strategy.

Fox polled only 1.9% in the London Mayoral contest, despite the system allowing voters two Mayoral preferences, beaten not only by the main four parties (Labour, Conservative, Green, and Liberal Democrat) but by a 23-year-old YouTube ‘star’ who specialises in ‘prank’ videos.

At least four other Mayoral candidates were pushing similar ideas on Covid, but they fared even worse. US-born YouTube conspiracy theorist Brian Rose polled 1.2%; Piers Corbyn, who has specialised in getting himself arrested at anti-lockdown demos but is still best known as brother of the former Labour leader, managed 0.8%; UKIP’s Peter Gammons just 0.6%; and as mentioned earlier, David Kurten of the Heritage Party, 0.4%.

Some H&D readers might argue that this was just a London phenomenon, and that surely elsewhere in the country there would be a more receptive audience for anti-lockdown politics. But the verdict of the ballot box is inescapable.

Dozens of candidates stood in local or regional elections for the Freedom Alliance, a single-issue anti-lockdown party. Without exception they polled microscopically tiny votes. Their highest Welsh regional vote was 0.7%, despite the list system favouring small parties.

Even where there was no competition for the ‘protest vote’, Freedom Alliance candidates polled poorly, for example 2% in Tong ward, Bradford; 1.3% in Coalville South, Leicestershire; and 1% in Tottington ward, Bury.

In an old BNP target area – Balderstone & Kirkholt ward, Rochdale – the Freedom Alliance approached credibility with 3.6%, but the fact that this was one of their best votes indicates the scale of electoral defeat that the anti-lockdown movement has suffered.

Freedom Alliance put together an impressive-looking slate of twenty county council candidates in Devon, but their results ranged from 0.7% to 3.7%.

From an electoral point of view, the anti-lockdown movement is dead and buried.

Anne-Marie Waters (above left) and her brand of Islam-obsessed politics is damaged by association with the crooked yob ‘Tommy Robinson’ (above right), founder of the EDL.

We now turn to the third and less obvious set of losers from this year’s elections: the Islam-obsessed wing of nationalism.

Here the evidence is more mixed, and right up to polling day H&D expected that the For Britain Movement, founded by former UKIP leadership candidate Anne-Marie Waters, would win several seats and would emerge from this year’s elections as the strongest force in the broadly-defined nationalist movement.

While For Britain is not a racial nationalist party, and Ms Waters herself is explicitly ‘anti-racist’ with political roots on the left, there are several longstanding racial nationalists in the party, including Epping Forest Councillor Julian Leppert and the party’s chief electoral strategist Eddy Butler, both of whom were senior BNP activists for many years. Former BNP councillor Graham Partner was For Britain candidate for Coalville North, Leicestershire this week, polling 4%; while another well-known BNP figure standing for For Britain was Lawrence Rustem in Shepway South, Maidstone, who polled 2.6%.

Cllr Leppert was not up for re-election this year, but contested the Waltham Abbey division of Essex County Council, finishing fourth with 6.8% in a race where he had been thought to have a chance of winning. The party’s lead candidate in Epping Forest this year, former BNP councillor Mrs Pat Richardson, had at the start of the campaign been expected to win the Waltham Abbey Honey Lane ward, but finished third with 18.2%; while the other three For Britain candidates in Epping Forest polled between 3.2% and 5.8%.

Cllr Julian Leppert (above right with controversial columnist Katie Hopkins) was hoping to become For Britain’s first county councillor this year

The party’s other elected councillor Karen King – in De Bruce ward, Hartlepool – is from its ‘anti-racist’ wing and is a close ally of Ms Waters, who moved to Hartlepool to stand as a second For Britain candidate for the three vacancies in this year’s all-out council elections in the town.

Far from gaining seats, For Britain lost the one they were defending: Ms King polled 23.4% (the party’s highest vote) but lost her seat despite the Conservatives only having a single candidate for the three De Bruce ward seats. Ms Waters finished more than 150 votes further down the field.

And these (together with Mrs Richardson’s Epping Forest result) were the best For Britain performances!

The rest of their results ranged from modest to disastrous, as our published list confirms.

One result in particular illustrates For Britain’s big problem. In Keighley West ward, Bradford, there was a crowded field of nine candidates, and the resurgent Tories gained the seat from Labour. This was the original ‘grooming scandal’ town, and if there were to be anywhere in the country where For Britain’s special emphasis on anti-Islam politics was to gain traction it should have been here.

Yet For Britain’s Keighley candidate polled only 1.4%, beaten not only by the major parties but even by the candidate of the dying UKIP, who polled 2.7%.

During the last 24 hours senior figures within For Britain have begun blaming each other for the scale of their defeat, but we suspect that individuals within the leadership are not personally at fault.

The evidence suggests two conclusions:

(1) Whatever the variety of nationalism on offer, most of our target voters this year chose to ‘reward’ Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party for the government’s handling of both the pandemic and Brexit – and it seems likely that there was nothing we could have done in the short term to hold back that tide. The medium-long term situation could of course be very different, and there is every reason to think that some form of nationalist politics has the potential to rebuild within a year or two.

(2) As H&D has long argued, obsessive anti-Islam politics has limited appeal to White British voters, who unlike their counterparts in the USA and some European countries, are no longer accustomed to thinking of politics in theological terms. By all means criticise individual or collective Muslim behaviour when appropriate, but it is toxic in British politics to be seen as some sort of obsessive ‘nutter’ on religious topics, which are seen by most White Britons as part of the private sphere not the party political.

What’s far worse is that within the last few years anti-Islam politics has been tainted both by yobbery and by the personal dishonesty of several leading anti-Islam campaigners – notably the EDL founder ‘Tommy Robinson’, who is both a yob and a money-grabbing crook.

We have no doubt that Ms Waters and her colleagues are – unlike ‘Tommy Robinson’ – honest, sincere and decent individuals. But if For Britain is to be part of a realignment of nationalist politics its approach will have to be more nuanced and less obsessed with Islam.

Ex-serviceman Pete Molloy, a former BNP activist, achieved this year’s only nationalist election victory, winning a Durham County Council seat as an independent

So where do we find positive lessons from this grim set of results?

The good news is that (as ever) hard work and sensible campaign literature can make a positive difference. Independent nationalist candidate Pete Molloy won an impressive victory in Spennymoor ward, Durham as well as re-election to Spennymoor Town Council; fellow independent Mark Cotterill (H&D‘s editor) polled 15.7% in Ribbleton ward, Preston, despite another of this year’s typical Tory surges in such depressed White areas; former BNP official Chris Roberts achieved far better results than other anti-lockdown candidates, polling 9.3% in Boyce ward, Castle Point; and Eddy Butler’s well-organised team in Epping Forest (despite falling well short of the expected victories) polled far better than most of the other For Britain candidates nationwide.

Other signs that there remains (even in this week of excellent Conservative votes) a public appetite for politics to the right of the Tories, included the 9.8% vote for English Democrats leader Robin Tilbrook in the contest for Essex Police Commissioner; the 26.3% vote in Bablake ward, Coventry, for defending councillor Glenn Williams, who came close to retaining his seat despite having been thrown out of the Conservative Party for ‘racism’ (his particular crime having been to praise Enoch Powell); and the victory of Andrew Walker who was elected in Darwen South, Blackburn with Darwen, as a Conservative despite the party having disowned him (again for ‘racism’) a few days before polling day.

It will be interesting to see whether Cllr Walker chooses to sit as an independent or seeks to join another party.

There are still a handful of election results to come. H&D will continue to digest the results and will reflect further on their lessons, both here on this website and in the May-June edition of the magazine which will go to press within the next 48 hours.

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