Reform candidate defects to Tories over racism row

5 hours ago

By Harry FarleyPolitical correspondent • Kate WhannelPolitical reporter

grey-placeholder Reform candidate defects to Tories over racism row10711120-36e9-11ef-90af-adc850895fb9.jpg Reform candidate defects to Tories over racism rowReuters

A Reform UK election candidate has disowned the party and is instead backing the local Conservative candidate.

Liam Booth-Isherwood, who is standing in Erewash, said there was a “significant moral issue” in parts of the party following what he called “reports of widespread racism and sexism”.

He added that the failure of the party’s leadership to address the issue means he no longer wants to be associated with it.

Reform UK’s chairman Richard Tice claimed Reform candidates were being offered jobs and inducements “to persuade them to talk badly of Reform, stand down and then endorse the Tory candidate”.

He said there were “dark forces at play by desperate Tories”.

Earlier this week the party distanced itself from two activists filmed by Channel 4 apparently making racist and offensive comments.

And over the weekend it said it had disowned itself from three candidates over other offensive remarks.

Earlier in the day, Reform UK leader Nigel Farage addressed a rally in Birmingham where he said his party would become the “voice of the opposition”.

He labelled the prime minister “slippery Sunak” and said Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer had the “charisma of a damp rag”.

Mr Farage admitted his party “had a few bad apples” but insisted: “The bad apples are gone.”

However, he also attacked Channel 4 and the production company it used to produce the report on Reform, which included footage of one of its canvassers, Andrew Parker, using a racial slur about the prime minister.

Another activist, George Jones, was also filmed making offensive comments. Reform has said Mr Jones is “no longer involved” in the party’s campaign.

While addressing supporters, Mr Farage reiterated his claim that Mr Parker was an actor and that the Channel 4 programme was part of the “biggest put-up job and smear campaign in my entire life”.

Responding to a similar attack from Mr Farage on Friday, Channel 4 said it stood by its “rigorous and duly impartial journalism”, adding that it met Mr Parker for the first time at Reform UK party headquarters and had not paid him any money.

In a statement, Mr Parker said he wanted to “apologise profusely to Nigel Farage and the Reform Party if my personal views have reflected badly on them and brought them into disrepute as this was not my intention”.

The BBC has contacted Mr Jones for a comment.

In a statement released on Sunday, Mr Booth-Isherwood said he was leaving Reform and suspending his campaign “with immediate effect”.

“Whilst I have campaigned alongside many decent, honest and hardworking people during the course of the general election campaign in Erewash, the reports of widespread racism and sexism in Reform have made clear that there is a significant moral issue within certain elements of the party.

“The failure of the party’s leadership to not only take this matter seriously, but also to fundamentally address it, has made clear to me that this is no longer a party I want to be associated with.”

He said he was backing the Conservative Party candidate, Maggie Throup, saying: “Only she can stop Labour.”

Although Mr Booth-Isherwood is suspending his campaign it is legally too late to change him as candidate and he will still appear for Reform on the ballot paper.

In response to Liam Booth-Isherwood’s decision, a Conservative Party statement said that he “knows a vote for Reform is a vote for Keir Starmer”.

It added: “If just 130,000 voters like him currently considering a vote for Reform or Liberal Democrat voted Conservative, it would be enough to stop Labour’s supermajority.”

Following the Channel 4 report, Mr Farage appeared on the BBC’s Question Time Leader’s Special, where he faced several hostile questions about racism in his party.

Mr Farage later claimed the BBC had “rigged” the programme with “hand-picked” audience members.

A BBC spokesperson said: “We refute these claims”, adding that the audience was “made up of broadly similar levels of representation from Reform UK and the Green Party, with the other parties represented too”.

“There were also a number of people, with a range of political views, who were still making up their mind.”

On Sunday, Mr Farage intensified his criticism of the BBC saying it had “abused its position of power” and was becoming a “political actor” in the election.

He received loud cheers from his supporters when he said his party would campaign to abolish the licence fee.

grey-placeholder Reform candidate defects to Tories over racism row038a1020-36f2-11ef-a044-9d4367d5b599.png Reform candidate defects to Tories over racism row

When Mr Sunak called the election on 22 May, Mr Farage initially said he would not stand as an MP.

However, he later changed his mind and said he would not only be running as a candidate but was taking over as leader of Reform.

Addressing enthusiastic supporters in Birmingham, he said he “couldn’t bear to stand aside” while the election campaign took place.

He said he didn’t think his party would get many seats on Thursday, but said the election was the “first major step” on the way to creating a “mass movement”.

Earlier in the day, Mr Farage dismissed as “cobblers” allegations there could be Russian interference in the election.

The Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC) has said it identified five Facebook pages with a combined 190,000 followers promoting a Kremlin perspective and sometimes posting support for Mr Farage’s Reform UK party.

Conservative Party chair Richard Holden has written to the UK’s top civil servant and National Security Adviser asking for an investigation into claims that Russian actors are interfering in the general election.

Deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden said the report was “gravely concerning”.

In response, Mr Farage said: “How dare he – when their party has taken millions of pounds of Russian money over the last few years.”

You can find a full list of candidates for Erewash on the BBC News website.

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