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Thursday, May 02, 2024

The trashing of honour in politics

To be fair, there has always been dirty tricks in politics. Reading an account of the life of Alexander Hamilton and other founding fathers not so long ago, I was struck at how similar the politics of that era was to the Trumpian world we have today. 

While in Britain, it was fairly common to buy votes and intimidate people into casting their ballot the right way right up to when Gladstone introduced the secret ballot, though there is little doubt it went on well past that time, though not so publicly.

There have been rotten boroughs, slanderous pamphlets and other tricks of the trade for as long as there have been elections, and the internet took all that to a new level with deep fakes to contend with as well.

I commented a few days ago on Conservative party staff and activists secretly operating a network of Facebook groups that have become a hotbed of racism, misinformation and support for criminal damage, while another staffer was caught red-handed buying up domain names for his bosses rival and using them to direct traffic to sites favourable to his cause.

Now, the Guardian reports that 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.

The paper says that 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 analysts 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.

Well, at least they are being up-front about the type party they are. When it becomes really worrying is if one of these individuals is actually elected.

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