Election complaint over Reform’s ‘ghost’ candidate in Croydon

STEVEN DOWNES, who looks nothing like this byline photograph, reports on the growing suspicions surrounding some of the far-right’s nominations for the General Election

The Reform UK candidate in at least one Croydon seat at last week’s General Election is subject to a formal complaint submitted to the Electoral Commission, Inside Croydon can reveal.

It has been reported today that the election authority has received multiple complaints over “phantom candidates” for Reform UK – candidates who were never seen at hustings, never attended the count or election declaration, and whose online presence was non-existent.

<img decoding="async" aria-describedby="caption-attachment-180349" data-attachment-id="180349" data-permalink="https://insidecroydon.com/2024/07/09/election-complaint-over-reforms-ghost-candidate-in-croydon/screenshot-2024-07-09-at-17-31-08-no-deal-with-tories-says-reform-leader-richard-tice-as-he-slaps-down-nigel-farage/" data-orig-file="https://i0.wp.com/insidecroydon.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/07/Screenshot-2024-07-09-at-17-31-08-No-deal-with-Tories-says-Reform-leader-Richard-Tice-as-he-slaps-down-Nigel-Farage.png?fit=833%2C519&ssl=1" data-orig-size="833,519" data-comments-opened="1" data-image-meta="{"aperture":"0","credit":"","camera":"","caption":"","created_timestamp":"0","copyright":"","focal_length":"0","iso":"0","shutter_speed":"0","title":"","orientation":"0"}" data-image-title="Screenshot 2024-07-09 at 17-31-08 ‘No deal with Tories’ says Reform leader Richard Tice as he slaps down Nigel Farage" data-image-description data-image-caption="

Deform UK: party funder Richard Tice and founder Nigel Farridge

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Deform UK: party funder Richard Tice and founder Nigel Farridge

Reform UK is funded by millionaire backers, including party chairman Richard Tice, who won a parliamentary seat in Skegness. The new party was seeking to put up candidates in seats across the country – but in its rush to find more than 600 willing volunteers, they managed to put forward several with very dodgy backgrounds and beliefs.

But Byline Times is reporting today that there is a strong suspicion that some of the candidates were not even notional “paper candidates”, in an elaborate effort for the party – which is actually a limited company – to net hundreds of thousands of pounds in extra public cash, or “Short money”, and hike its national spending limits.

“Paper candidates” are a common election scam, practised by most political parties, providing a presence on a ballot paper but without even the pretence of any campaigning beyond, perhaps, an obligatory leaflet and a couple of selfies.

But as Byline Times reports: “It is rare for almost no information to be available about candidates online.”

The news website says that there have been calls for an urgent investigation into the allegations of potential “fake” candidates. On national television last night, Tice rejected such allegations, but failed to produce any proof that some of the named, mystery candidates do actually exist.

Extraordinarily, in our broken, post-Johnson, Brexit Britain, the nation’s voters now have to produce more detailed identification when turning up at polling stations than anything required of election candidates when being nominated.

“A bizarre loophole in electoral law means that, even if a candidate does not exist, officials must accept their nomination ‘at face value’ and are barred from investigating anything suspicious,” Byline Times reports.

<img loading="lazy" decoding="async" aria-describedby="caption-attachment-180351" data-attachment-id="180351" data-permalink="https://insidecroydon.com/2024/07/09/election-complaint-over-reforms-ghost-candidate-in-croydon/mark-matlock-ai/" data-orig-file="https://i0.wp.com/insidecroydon.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/07/Mark-Matlock-AI.jpg?fit=590%2C350&ssl=1" data-orig-size="590,350" data-comments-opened="1" data-image-meta="{"aperture":"0","credit":"","camera":"","caption":"","created_timestamp":"0","copyright":"","focal_length":"0","iso":"0","shutter_speed":"0","title":"","orientation":"0"}" data-image-title="Mark Matlock AI" data-image-description data-image-caption="

Too good to be true: Mark Matlock, according to his Reform UK profile

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Too good to be true?: Mark Matlock, according to his Reform UK profile, which generated suspicions he was AI generated

Reform UK was registered at Companies House in 2018 as a limited company, with Tice and Farridge among its directors. It is  the successor to UKIP, the party which Farridge represented for several years as an MEP, when he played the EU’s public funding game for all it was worth.

In Britain, tax-payers foot the bill for the nation’s political parties in a significant manner.

“Political parties receive £42.82 in public ‘short money’ for every 200 votes gained per candidate,” Byline Times explains.

“Standing more candidates therefore puts parties at a financial advantage… Spending limits also increase for parties based on their number of candidates. Parties are entitled to spend £11,390 per candidate standing, plus 8p to 12p per registered parliamentary elector, depending on the type of constituency.

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The real thing: how Mark Matlock appeared on television earlier today

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The real thing: how a larger-in-life Mark Matlock appeared on television earlier today

“This equates to around £20,000 in local spending permitted per seat.

“But national spending limits are also set based on the number of candidates a party puts up. For every candidate a party puts forward, parties can spend an extra £54,000 nationally (this material is not allowed to mention local candidates or areas).”

It is this system which has, for decades, underpinned the election campaigns of Labour and the Tories, while often seeing newer parties, such as the Greens, short of cash.

It was the last Conservative Government, under Boris Johnson, that stripped the Electoral Commission of its powers to launch prosecutions. The Electoral Commission now maintains that if a false statement was provided on nomination papers, it is a matter for a police investigation.

In the run-up to this year’s General Election, ordinary voters from across the country noticed that the candidates standing for Reform in their constituency often had no online presence and even had a blank page on the party’s website.

Across Croydon and Sutton, there were six candidates nominated by Reform UK, one for each of the constituencies.

Their party produced generic leaflets for distribution across the country, featuring national slogans and photographs of Tice and Farridge, but nothing more localised than the candidates’ name and the constituency.

Mostly, the candidates didn’t show for pre-election hustings, and only a couple turned up for the count and declaration on election night.

Nothing much was ever seen of Elizabeth Cooper, the Reform candidate in Carshalton and Wallington, who somehow attracted nearly 6,000 votes.

Ryan Powell, the candidate in neighbouring Sutton and Cheam, is thought to exist. Plenty of real people (5,787) voted for him.

In Croydon East, the Reform candidate was Scott Holman, someone who is actually on the electoral register in New Addington. Despite winning the trust of 5,862 people – enough, had they voted Tory, to have made the outcome very close – Holman didn’t bother to show up for the declaration.

“Is Mr Holman here?” Katherine Kerswell, the returning officer, asked, to no one in particular in the early hours of Friday morning.

“No one’s seen him throughout the campaign,” said Jason Cummings, the Tory candidate, probably smarting from the damage that Reform had done to his prospects of becoming an MP.

Vinayak Malhotra, Reform’s candidate for Croydon West, did turn up for the count, so he definitely exists. “He is like a little lost lamb wandering around, all alone,” according to one of iC’s reporters at the count. Yet Malhotra did noticeably worse than party colleagues who had made themselves scarce: he got just 2,148 votes, just enough not to lose his deposit.

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No computer enhancements: Bob Bromley. A real person. Probably

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No computer enhancements: Bob Bromley. A real person. Probably

But it was man of mystery Bob Bromley, Reform’s Croydon South candidate, who has attracted a formal complaint to the authorities by officials from another party.

Bromley managed 4,149 votes, despite no one ever seeing him at any point in the campaign. “Even the name sounds made up,” according to an official of another party.

Bromley has contested elections before, and was even elected in 2021 as a councillor in a Runnymede local election. He was standing for the Conservatives then, though. His photograph doesn’t appear to have undergone any AI enhancements, either.

Another name that sounds as if it was made up, Mark Matlock, standing for Reform UK in Clapham and Brixton Hill, turned out to be real. Although the very flattering, age-less AI pictures of him used during the campaign attracted much suspicion. “Do you think anyone would notice if I used a picture of Tom Cruise on my election material?” one party’s cynic asked iC today.

Matlock actually lives about 100 miles from south London, and was off sick with pneumonia on the night of the election count at Brixton Town Hall.

Private Eye, last week, was the first to confirm that Matlock does actually exist, despite his computer-generated graphics making him look like Max Headroom’s bastard nephew.

“I am a real person and that is me in the photo,” Matlock told The Independent.

“The photo of me was taken outside the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. I had the background removed and replaced with the logo and they changed the colour of my tie. The only reason that was done was because we couldn’t get a photographer at such short notice – but that is me,” he said.

Tice, Farridge and Racist UK may now be expected to prove the bona fides of several other, more elusive candidates.

Jolyon Maugham KC, director of public interest legal campaigners Good Law Project, told Byline Times: “This isn’t just a story about troubling and potentially unlawful practice by the Reform Party. It could also have real-life consequences: if there is a ghost Reform candidate whose nomination might plausibly have affected who was elected, there may need to be re-run in that seat.”


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