Having spent most of the year mothballed, the Brexit Party announced in November 2020 that it would be relaunched as ‘Reform UK’ and would contest this year’s May elections, saying: “There are 5,000 local council seats up for grabs, and we are going to be targeting as many of those as possible”.
Speaking to The Telegraph, the party also revealed that in just the 11 days since its relaunch announcement it had received over 3,000 applications to stand in these elections, and that candidates were asked to pay up to £50 to cover a “vetting fee”.
This charge on candidate applications may well have raised over £100,000 for the Reform UK’s coffers, and even more as further applications came in.
Fast forward five months, and with just two weeks to go until election day, the party is fielding just over 400 candidates across all of the various elections in May, including just 270 of the roughly 5,000 seats on English councils.
Worse still, there is little sign that the “vetting fee” was used for its supposed purpose. Yet again, the party has fielded a number of candidates for whom a simple Google search or social media check would instantly reveal their unsuitability for elected office.
Take Padmini Nissanga, a Reform UK candidate for Kent County Council. Googling her name immediately reveals that Nissanga, previously elected as a UKIP councillor in Swale, is best known for extreme social media posts calling for Remainers to be executed.
The outcry around her comments, revealed in 2019, have not tempered Nissanga’s language. A scroll down her Facebook profile shows that in October 2020 she was calling for migrant boats to be “destroy [sic] in [the] English Channel” and describing Enoch Powell as “a great man”. Earlier posts still visible on her profile ask if “all our political traitors must hang on the streets?” and call for “Remainer traitors” to be deported to Saudi Arabia.
Nissanga is not the only embarrassment. Despite standing 11 candidates for the regional Police and Crime Commissioner posts in May, Andrew Peterson, representing Reform UK in Hampshire County Council, has described the police as “Stasi SCUM”:
Peterson has also claimed that “stupid Muslims” are to blame for the COVID-19 pandemic, asked whether 007 had been sent to kill George Soros and claimed that the vaccine programme is an “evil NWO plot for World Dominance”.
Some of the current crop of candidates were already familiar to us. John Booker, a 2019 Brexit Party candidate for Penistone and Stockbridge was revealed as having shared and liked a number of bigoted Facebook posts, including racist abuse of then-Lord Mayor of Sheffield Magid Magid. Despite the media coverage at the time, the party has selected him to stand for Sheffield council this year.
Booker was just one of the appalling crop of 2019 Brexit Party candidates, when the party was charging not £50 but £100 for vetting fees. HOPE not hate discovered candidates who claimed to have been born on the Syrius star system, a Nazi Vampire tribute act and an array of antisemitic, anti-Muslim and otherwise bigoted candidates.
Each of these cases could have been discovered through the briefest of Google searches and a quick scan of the candidate’s social media pages. All of which begs the question: was Reform UK’s “vetting” process shamefully incompetent, did the party decide that their views were fine and dandy, or were the fees just an excuse to milk supporters?
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