Reform UK backs candidates who promoted online conspiracy theories

Reform UK backs candidates who promoted online conspiracy theories

Reform UK has chosen to stand by candidates who have promoted conspiracy theories online, called the climate emergency “make-believe” and expressed vaccine-sceptic views.

Those fringe views, and more, were put forward by a group of seven candidates selected to stand for the rightwing populist party at the next general election – including several who will contest seats that some analyses consider to be their top targets.

Indicating the types of belief that Reform is willing to give a platform to, it said it was “proud” to field them as prospective parliamentary candidates (PPCs) on Thursday.

Among the views the party has publicly backed are Chris Farmer’s claim the climate emergency was invented as cover for a plan to install dictators in positions of power. The PPC for Gloucester also said a group of mayors representing the world’s leading cities was trying to use the climate emergency to justify banning people from travelling by private car.

Reform has also backed Trevor Lloyd-Jones’s promotion of content online relating to the 15-minute city conspiracy theory.

Lloyd-Jones, who is the party’s candidate in Aldershot – identified as one of Reform’s top targets, spread anti-vaccine content on Facebook, as well as a post that falsely claimed the former health secretary Matt Hancock “killed [pensioners] with midazolam and called it Covid”.

The party has also backed Lynn Murphy – their candidate in Easington, another key seat – who referred to a “make-believe climate crisis” and said: “You are deluded if you think the world is going to end due to climate change.”

In recent months, Reform has been forced to drop a host of PPCs for expressing objectionable views, prompting serious questions about the vetting processes of a party some polls have in third place. Earlier this month, the party’s leader, Richard Tice, claimed it had published its candidates list so the media could carry out vetting on its behalf.

But Reform appears to have changed approach more recently, telling the Mirror days later that it was standing by a candidate accused of posting racist messages online – characterising the posts as merely asking “questions of the leftwing establishment”.

Also deemed acceptable behaviour by Reform was Hamish Haddow’s claim the RNLI, which is often called upon to rescue people who have attempted the perilous Channel crossing to reach the UK, has been “working as a taxi service for illegal immigrants”.

Haddow, the party’s PPC in Chipping Barnet, stood down as a Conservative candidate for local elections in 2022 after saying he was rooting for Vladimir Putin. He claimed later he was joking about the reference to Putin. This did not bar his selection for Reform.

The party has also backed Andrea Whitehead, who has posted online about the chemtrail conspiracy theory, which claims vapour trails left in aircraft’s wake are evidence that malign forces are spraying the populace with dangerous chemicals.

Also judged acceptable by Reform this week was Alex Stevenson’s promotion of anti-vaccine content online. In addition, the prospective candidate for the key Amber Valley seat promoted some of the conspiracy theories pushed by the former Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen, who lost the whip in January after comparing the use of Covid vaccines to the Holocaust.

Reform has said it will stand by the PPC Noel Matthews, who is also the party official often given responsibility for dropping fellow PPCs whose views have been judged to be too toxic.

Matthews, who stood unsuccessfully in 2019, was reselected for the next general election in the knowledge he had reportedly defended the convicted fraudster and far-right agitator Tommy Robinson online, as well as saying Islamophobia was “made up”.

Far from distancing Reform from such views as those put forward by the seven PPCs, a party spokesperson indicated some were in tune with official party policy.

A spokesperson claimed the newly uncovered posts amounted only to a “series of people posting mostly comedy memes and questions about issues that affect many people of the country”. The spokesperson added: “Some of their views may be considered eccentric, but none here are malicious.”

The spokesperson confirmed that the party supported opposing “net zero and the climate-change agenda” and believed Covid lockdowns were “damaging to the country, its economy and the wellbeing of its people”.

Whitehead said she viewed the coming to light of her posts about chemtrails as an opportunity for “free publicity”.

Matthews claimed never to have said Islamophobia was made up, adding: “I do not deny that there is unwarranted hatred of Muslims in society and I abhor it.” He said he was quoting someone else when he tweeted the words “Islamophobia is a silly, made up word”. And he did not respond to a request to clarify how his denial tallied with separately tweeting: “Is it Islamaphobia or Islamophobia? I missed it when that word was made up.”

Lloyd-Jones declined to comment. None of Stevenson, Murphy, Farmer or Haddow responded to requests for comment.