The election will get a lot of media attention over the coming weeks. Much of that focus will be the two-horse race between the favourites for the seat – Labour’s Kim Leadbeater (Jo’s sister), and the Tories’ Ryan Stephenson. But there’s another angle to this race which is vital to understand: the presence of far-right and radical-right candidates, plus candidates who, while not right-wing, are outright divisive.
The by-election is being viewed as a particular opportunity by the far right due to recent protests held against a teacher at Batley Grammar School. The teacher was suspended after showing a caricature of the prophet Muhammad to pupils. After receiving death threats and going into hiding with his family, the teacher has been cleared of causing deliberate offence following an independent investigation. The far right, however, is seeking to further inflame tensions and exploit press interest on this issue.
There are five far-right or radical-right candidates in this election. None stand any chance of coming close to winning, or even securing a respectable share of the vote. What they are seeking instead is the chance to gain attention so they can recruit new supporters, and stir up division and hate in the community to exploit for their own ends.
For Britain is a far-right political party led by the anti-Muslim activist Anne Marie Waters. HOPE not hate has repeatedly exposed For Britain for links to extremists, including entire branches dominated by former BNP figures, and fielding actual nazis in previous elections.
We have previously profiled Waters, but it is worth repeating just some of the stances she has taken:
Her campaign has been strongly backed by the extremist and serial criminal Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson) and she has welcomed him as her “right-hand man”. Lennon is seeking to revive his flagging career, which has run into the ditch after being deplatformed across mainstream social media companies, going to prison (again), and declaring himself bankrupt ahead of a libel trial.
Yaxley-Lennon and Waters are planning an action day on 26 June.
Jayda Fransen is an anti-Muslim extremist and former Deputy Leader of Britain First, the racist street gang best known for carrying out “mosque invasions” in the UK. She has a string of convictions for religiously-motivated incitement and harassment.
Now the leader of the British Freedom Party (BFP), she was recently humiliated twice in one week during the Scottish Holyrood elections in May: first by Nicola Sturgeon, who embarrassed her in public when Fransen tried to confront her when out campaigning, and then with a comprehensive drubbing at the polls, where Fransen won a mere 46 votes.
The BFP is an anti-Muslim and Christian fundamentalist splinter of Britain First, formed after Jim Dowson and later Fransen fell out with Britain First leader Paul Golding. The party’s ‘newspaper’, The Britannia, is edited by former British National Party (BNP) leader Nick Griffin. Fransen will appear on the ballot as an independent, however, as the BFP has not yet registered as a political party.
Fransen has previously stood unsuccessfully in the 2014 Rochester and Strood by-election, the 2016 London Assembly election and the recent 2021 Scottish Parliamentary elections. She gained notoriety in November 2017 when Donald Trump retweeted three anti-Muslim videos shared by Fransen on her Twitter account, causing a media firestorm.
Fransen has a string of convictions:
Fransen has said that that Islam and the Qu’ran should be banned in the UK and that anti-monarchists should be hanged for treason. The BFP is against abortion and gay marriage.
Now an electoral irrelevance, UKIP under the leadership of Neil Hamilton remains a toxic presence, having embraced a variety of far-right figures.
Thomson is the coordinator for Young Independence (UKIP’s youth group) for North of Tyne. He ran for North Tyneside mayor, coming last with 2.8% (1,753 votes), and for North Tyneside council (Chirton ward), where he came last with 146 votes.
The young activist wrote an article for the far-right group Hearts of Oak last year in which he claimed that he came across UKIP in late 2018, stating: “I was very fond of their policies. Also, Gerard Batten had the right confidence, charisma and energy I believe a Prime Minister should have”. Gerard Batten is a veteran anti-Muslim activist who embraced far-right street politics during his spell as UKIP leader.
Thomson also wrote: “My interest grew a lot when Tommy Robinson became involved with the party. I had watched many of Tommy’s videos and he too was a man of principle and his incredible devotion to this day cannot be matched by anyone else.”
The English Democrats are a far-right English nationalist group led by solicitor Robin Tilbrook. Having previously called for English independence from the UK, it now calls for the creation of an English parliament. The party has welcomed former BNP members into its ranks.
Hirst came second in the 2016 Batley and Spen by-election, although only scored 5% (the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Greens did not contest the election out of respect for Jo Cox). Hirst also stood in the 2021 elections as the West Yorkshire Mayoral race, getting 1.5%.
Unsurprisingly, the English Democrats have signalled their intention to exploit the Batley Grammar School issue.
The Heritage Party is a minor populist-right party founded by ex-UKIP figure David Kurten in October 2020. The small conspiracy theory-minded group campaigns on an anti-lockdown platform, alongside repealing hate crime laws, curtailing immigration and rolling back environmental legislation. Kurten is an anti-vaxxer active within the UK conspiracy theory protest scene.
The party is fielding former UKIP candidate Susan Laird. Laird recently represented Heritage in Kirklees (Holme Valley North ward), coming last with 27 votes (0%).
Galloway is unlike other candidates in this briefing in that he is not on the right, but he has become increasingly divisive in his politics and his language.
Since leaving Parliament, Galloway has achieved media notoriety with fiery rhetoric – and divisive language. In 2019, he was sacked from his role on TalkRADIO after making a comment that saw him condemned by Tottenham Hotspur Football Club for “blatant anti-Semitism”.
More recently, Galloway was strongly criticised after telling Scottish Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf: “You’re not a Celt like me.”
Galloway is another example of someone from outside the area who is seeking to come in and take advantage of local circumstances to further his own career – and ego.
HOPE not hate is limited in its campaigning in the seat because of spending limits placed on groups like ours. While our volunteers will be active on the ground in the run-up to election day, most of our work will focus on the aftermath.
During the election, we will focus on what the candidates in this briefing say, and we’ll be calling on those with big platforms to help ensure the damage done by their presence on the ballot paper is limited:
The next few weeks will be tough for people in Batley and Spen. It shouldn’t be this way, but the cynical, hate-driven politics of the likes of Jayda Fransen and Anne Marie Waters risk making this election a circus. If they’re allowed to succeed, it will be the people of the area who will be left to pick up the pieces.
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