Searchlight analysis: Fascist and far right candidates in local elections, May 2023

By Searchlight Team

Photo: David Hyden, so-called Independent candidate for Cannock South, on the campaign trail with fellow ex Patriotic Alternative activist, Connor Marlow, one of the leaders of the Homeland Party split.


British fascists remain confused and divided in their approach to electoral politics, even allowing for the large proportion who have always preferred bombs to ballots. But, as ever, there is a sprinkling of Nazis, fascists and far right activists to be found seeking the votes of the electorate.

The British National Party elected dozens of councillors and two MEPs in the millennium’s first decade but hasn’t fought a serious election campaign for years. No one was surprised to see that there were no BNP candidates in this year’s elections.

One party, or rather cash cow, which is running, is Britain First, whose leader Paul Golding learned the art of fleecing racists from former BNP fundraiser Jim Dowson. At least Britain First gives its donors something (though not much) for their money. In the run-up to these elections Golding promised dozens of candidates, but delivered only seven. Their big effort will again be in Salford, where Golding’s partner and party chairman Ashlea Simon is standing again in Walkden North, having taken 21.6% last year.

Paul Golding himself is standing in Dartford, alongside former BNP candidate Nick Scanlon who stood in Greenwich last year. Britain First claims to be ‘non-racist’ but has attracted an assortment of hardened extremists who have bounced around other failed factions and splinters on the far right. Scanlon was one of the leaders of a failed attempt to set up a British version of the European group

Generation Identity. Such affiliations cause no difficulties within BF, who are happy to preach ‘anti-

racism’ on their website while recruiting hardcore nazis such as veteran Chelsea football hooligan Andy Frain (aka ‘Nightmare’) who is paid to act as minder for Golding and Simon. BF has two elderly candidates in Bideford, Devon, but the remainder are isolated activists in New Milton (Hampshire), Hockley (Essex), and Altrincham (near Manchester).

Patriotic Alternative, which has eschewed electoral politics, has recently suffered a split with the breakaway Homeland Party eager to get out on the election trail again. One of their number, David Hyden, is running as an independent in Cannock South, Cannock Chase. But for the time being, they will largely have to be content with offering support to election candidates from other sectors of the fascist scene including some, but not all, candidates for the British Democratic Party.

This year’s main BDP campaigns are again for Jim Lewthwaite in Bradford and Julian Leppert in Waltham Abbey (Epping Forest). Leppert is aiming to be re-elected in the seat he won as a For Britain Movement candidate in 2019. For Britain was an Islamophobic party founded by the former UKIP leadership candidate Anne Marie Waters in 2017, backed by a handful of former BNP activists including Leppert, Eddy Butler, and former BNP filmmaker Tony Avery.

As well as Lewthwaite and Leppert, the other three BDP candidates this year all have BNP backgrounds. Chris Bateman, already a parish councillor, is standing in Basildon. Dave Haslett is fighting Saffron ward, Leicester. And Steve Smith, well known to Searchlight readers from his role alongside Butler in the notorious East End BNP during the 1990s, is standing (or more likely staggering) in Kursaal ward, Southend.

The once mighty National Front is now moribund, though it can boast that despite everything it just about outlived the BNP. This year there is just one NF candidate, Tim Knowles in the old Derbyshire pit village of Codnor (Amber Valley). That puts the NF on a par with micro-parties such as Patria, founded by ex-BNP organiser Dr Andrew Emerson, who is standing once again in Chichester, defying assumptions that he had given up politics following a string of feeble results.

The newest far-right outfit is the National Housing Party, which seems to be pitching for Tommy Robinson’s supposedly non-racist, EDL Islamophobes, though it also has ex-BNP activists on board such as Paul Rimmer in Liverpool and Gary Bergin in Birkenhead. The NHP has just three candidates this year, including its highest profile leader John Lawrence in Hollinwood (Oldham), Gary Bergin in Wirral, and Callum Leat in the Gloucestershire village of Dodington. NHP is typical of the confused kaleidoscope of Britain’s far right in 2023. Bergin and Rimmer found their way to the party via Waters’ For Britain Movement and the English Democrats (both claiming to be non-racist) despite their BNP roots.

For a short while about a decade ago, BNP dissidents including Eddy Butler had a brief sojourn in the English Democrats, tolerated by the EDs’ founder and funder, Essex solicitor Robin Tilbrook. That faction either moved on to the For Britain Movement (and subsequently other small parties) or quit. So Tilbrook is left with just a few true believers in his campaign for an English Parliament. There are only five ED candidates this year, including Robin Tilbrook himself and the perennial Bury candidates, husband and wife Steve and Val Morris. Two former ED candidates in Barnsley have defected to the smaller but more conspiracy-minded English Constitution Party.

Tilbrook had hoped to benefit from the collapse of UKIP, but the EDs seem well down the pecking order among pro-Brexit parties and splinters. By far the largest successor to UKIP is Reform UK, supported by Nigel Farage and some of his colleagues at the right-wing broadcaster GB News. They have 480 candidates this year including a full slate in Derby, where they had six seats on the outgoing council. Reform UK has recently recruited a few defectors from Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party, including several councillors in Amber Valley, another Derbyshire borough council.

Conspiracy theories (including anti-vaccination paranoia) are rife in UKIP-style politics, where some of the wilder anti-vaxxers find Reform UK leader Richard Tice too moderate. Some have opted instead for the more hardline ‘freedom’ campaigners in the Heritage Party (who have 65 candidates this year) and the Alliance for Democracy and Freedom (23 candidates this year). The ADF’s three Oldham candidates are all in Royton, where the party’s registered office is located. They include a former BNP activist, octogenarian Royton builder, Colin Burrows.

UKIP itself, now led by the very right-wing ex-Tory minister Neil Hamilton, has been reduced to just 48 candidates nationwide this year. It seems to have just one serious functioning branch, in the Bexhill-on-Sea area covered by Rother District Council, which accounts for ten of these candidates.

Although there is a wide range of far-right options for ageing fascists, one or two have chosen to go it alone. Former BNP County councillor Graham Partner, who was courted by the British Democrats, is instead standing as an independent in Coalville, Leicestershire.