On 6 May, elections across England, Scotland and Wales will see thousands of seats up for grabs.
This includes roughly 5,000 positions across 143 local councils, 129 members of the Scottish Parliament, 60 members of the Welsh Senedd, 25 London Assembly members, 39 Police and Crime Commissioners, 13 elected mayors (including the London mayor) and a Parliamentary by-election in Hartlepool.
The political landscape has altered significantly since most these seats were last contested in 2016 and 2017, with Brexit, two general elections and the COVID-19 pandemic having come to pass.
Anxieties surrounding the pandemic and subsequent government measures have exacerbated an existing pessimism and mistrust in institutions among sections of society, which the far right and conspiracy theorists have attempted to exploit over the past year.
Despite this, the electoral radical and far right is fragmented, and broadly remains poorly-equipped to take advantage of these conditions.
Below is an overview of the radical and far right, and the conspiracy theorists, contesting the 2021 elections.
Reform UK (REFUK) is a populist right party formerly known as the Brexit Party, until recently led by former UKIP leader and Trump ally Nigel Farage. Having lost its raison d’etre with the UK’s exit from the European Union last January, the Brexit Party spent much of 2020 “mothballed”, before being relaunched and renamed in November.
Now without its primary campaigning point (Brexit) and its talismanic leader (Farage), and with an uncharismatic new head, Richard Tice refocusing the party on parliamentary reform, REFUK is unlikely to stir the same passion and unite its target demographics as it did in the 2019 European Elections.
The party is standing just 400 candidates across the various elections. This is despite the party telling The Telegraph that 3,000 people had applied to be candidates in the first week after its relaunch alone, with prospective candidates asked to pay up to £50 as a “vetting fee”.
The party’s woefully inadequate vetting process during the 2019 general election meant that it was rocked by near-daily racism scandals, many of them uncovered by HOPE not hate. Despite this, the party has again chosen to field the likes of John Booker in Sheffield (West Ecclesfield ward), who was exposed for a series of anti-Muslim social media posts during his 2019 candidacy for the Brexit Party.
The party has a particularly strong showing in Derbyshire, contesting over 20 seats at local and county council level. However, there appears to be little logic in where candidates are standing. For example, there are no REFUK candidates in Barnsley, where the Brexit Party came second place in two constituencies in the December 2019 General Election, and received its highest vote shares, pointing to the contraction of the party’s reach.
UKIP has suffered a remarkable implosion since 2016, with swathes of its membership having defected to Reform UK or various microparties. However, despite being thoroughly tainted by bigotry, incompetence and internecine struggles, the party limps on under the leadership of disgraced former Conservative MP Neil Hamilton. The party is fielding a drastically lower number of candidates than in previous years, contesting fewer than 150 council seats, compared to 1,400 in 2019.
The party is fielding strong slates in Sunderland, North Tyneside and Staffordshire, as well as significant numbers for the Holyrood and Senedd elections.
In Scotland, the party is contesting all eight regions and several constituencies, and is represented in South Scotland by Patricia Mountain, UKIP’s former interim leader. Mountain led UKIP to a disaster in the 2019 General Election, in which the party polled 1.1% in the seats it contested, and took just 0.1% of the overall vote.
Also standing in Central Scotland is Mark Meechan (AKA Count Dankula), a former UKIP candidate now representing the Scottish Libertarian Party. Meechan remains best known for teaching a pug to perform a Nazi salute and to react to the phrase “gas the Jews”, for which he was convicted of causing “gross offence” under the Communications Act in 2018, and subsequently fined.
UKIP’s candidate for the London mayoral race is Peter Gammons. According to his website, Gammons is “one of the world’s most famous and in-demand inspirational and motivational speakers”, and he has reportedly voiced his hopes to establish high-speed underground transport pods across the capital with the help of Richard Branson and Elon Musk. A recent poll has Gammons at 1%.
For Britain, a far-right political party headed by the anti-Muslim activist Anne Marie Waters, is contesting 60 council seats, up from 42 in 2019. Despite poor results overall, For Britain won two council seats in 2019, in Hartlepool and Epping Forest, its first electoral victories.
Waters is standing in the De Bruce ward of Hartlepool, as is Karen King, who won a De Bruce seat in 2019 with 49.5% of the vote. Despite this, For Britain has declined to stand in the Hartlepool Parliamentary by-election, a decision that has proved controversial among members.
In total, For Britain is only standing three candidates in Hartlepool, and just one candidate in Leeds and one in Sandwell, down from eight and four respectively in 2019. Darryl Magher, For Britain’s former national Fundraising Officer, is standing as an Independent in Sandwell’s Great Barr with Yew Tree seat.
For Britain’s strongest showing is in the West Sussex County Council election, where it is fielding eight candidates. The party has found candidates in several new areas, for example contesting Bradford, Basildon, Barnsley and Newcastle-upon-Tyne for the first time. Among the figures representing the party is Frankie Rufolo in Exeter, best known for setting fire to a Quran in the 2019 campaign.
We have repeatedly exposed For Britain for attracting extreme elements, a fact starkly apparent in its Epping Forest branch, which is dominated by former figures from the fascist British National Party (BNP). The group’s national election strategy is spearheaded by Eddy Butler, the man behind the BNP’s “Rights for Whites” campaign, who is also standing in Epping’s Loughton Broadway ward; alongside Butler is his wife, former BNP councillor Sue Butler (AKA Susan Clapp – Waltham Abbey North East), former BNP councillor Pat Richardson (Waltham Abbey Honey Lane), and former BNP candidate Lawrence Searle (AKA Jim Searle – Waltham Abbey South West).
Julian Leppert, who won in Epping Forest’s Waltham Paternoster ward in 2019, is contesting Waltham Abbey in the Essex County Council elections, with Myriam and Craig Sohail standing on Clacton West and Tendring Rural East, respectively. Leppert is a former BNP councillor who was slammed in the press last year after admitting that he would “ideally” like Epping to be a whites-only enclave.
Leppert won in 2019 with 41%, which translates to just 321 votes due to the low turnout (23%) in this ward. This underlines that extreme figures can slip in when the majority of the electorate do not exercise their right to vote.
The Extreme Right
Notably, members of the British Freedom Party (BFP) have also snuck onto the ballot in Scotland. Jayda Fransen, former Deputy Leader of the anti-Muslim street gang Britain First, is standing against Nicola Sturgeon in Glasgow Southside, and Jim Dowson, co-founder of Britain First, is contesting Airdrie and Shotts. Joseph Finnie, the group’s Scottish organiser and a former BNP candidate, is also contesting Glasgow Pollok.
Whilst the BFP’s three candidates will appear on the ballot as Independents, as it has not yet registered as a political party, the group is stridently anti-Muslim and Fransen has a string of convictions for religiously-motivated incitement and harassment. Nick Griffin, the Holocaust denier and former leader of the BNP, is editor of the group’s magazine.
Also standing in Glasgow is Alistair McConnachie, a former UKIP organiser who was forced out of the party in 2001 for denying the Holocaust. McConnachie, who is standing for Independent Green Voice, has remained active in far-right politics, for example addressing the far-right TradSoc conference in 2019.
As expected, the relics of the UK’s traditional far right have mustered a dismal handful of candidates across the UK. The BNP is fielding just two, in Croydon (New Addington North ward) and West Northamptonshire (Boothville and Parklands ward). The party has been outstripped by the shambolic National Front, which is fielding candidates in Amber Valley (Langley Mill and Aldercar ward), Burnley (Cliviger and Worsthorne ward), and Calderdale (Todmorden ward).
James Lewthwaite, representing the British Democratic Party, a moribund BNP splinter, is standing in the Wyke ward of Bradford, and Carl Mason, another extremist ex-BNP figure, is contesting the Nunnery ward of Worcester for British Resistance.
Far-right figures standing as Independents include Mark Cotterill, editor of the magazine Heritage & Destiny, who is standing in the Ribbleton ward of Preston. Cotterill, who is also contesting the Lancashire County Council election in Preston South East, has been aided in his campaign by James Goddard, the North West organiser for the fascist Patriotic Alternative, and other PA figures.
The Conspiracy Theorists
A number of conspiracy theorists are also looking to capitalise on the COVID-19 pandemic on 6 May. While they pose no credible electoral threat, such figures will do their level best to use their platforms to misinform and sow division.
Let London Live
Most notable is the veteran conspiracist Piers Corbyn, the brother of the former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who emerged as the face of the anti-lockdown conspiracy theory movement last year, leading confrontational street protests and being arrested numerous times in the process. Corbyn is running for London mayor, and, alongside four others, is also standing for the London Assembly under the banner “Let London Live”.
Let London Live explicitly denies the ongoing pandemic and calls for the immediate cancellation of lockdown, social distancing and the vaccine rollout. The group is also against environmental legislation such as the Congestion Charge, stemming from Corbyn’s longstanding climate change denial. Corbyn was arrested yet again in February 2021 for distributing leaflets likening vaccinations efforts to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
The Heritage Party
Also troubling the ballot in London is the Heritage Party, founded by ex-UKIP London Assembly member David Kurten in October 2020. The small conspiracy theory-minded group is campaigning on an anti-lockdown platform, alongside repealing hate crime laws, curtailing immigration, and rolling back environmental legislation.
Kurten, an anti-vaxxer active within the UK conspiracy theory protest scene, is running for London mayor, and, alongside five other party members, is also running for London Assembly. Claire Martin is also representing the Heritage Party at the Hartlepool parliamentary by-election, and the party is standing 13 county council candidates, and 15 local candidates, with its strongest showing in Woking.
Five Star Direct Democracy Party
Another group to have imploded in the past two years is Five Star Direct Democracy party, formerly known as Democrats and Veterans, a minor UKIP splinter with a history of promoting conspiracy theories.
Despite winning two seats in 2019, the party is fielding just one candidate this year, down from 14 in 2019. Standing in the Holme Valley South ward of Kirklees is James Dalton, a former UKIP candidate who has previously received negative press for a series of offensive tweets.