Otto English on his attempts to discover who Nigel Farage’s parliamentary candidates – announced by the Brexit Party leader last month but never formally identified – actually are.
A Fishing Expedition
Back in early June, Duncan Henderson (not his real name) was recuperating from surgery in a hospital in west London.
On the same ward, there was a man in his 60s, also recovering from an operation, who I shall call Roger Vaincone. Roger was, in Duncan’s estimation, “an insufferable prick”. Loud, self-important and obnoxious, he blathered noisily all day to a steady stream of guests, nurses and doctors about all the tedious things he had done and all the boring people he knew.
Roger was particularly keen for anyone within earshot to know that he was a “prospective parliamentary candidate for the Brexit Party” who had landed the gig because he had once gone bass fishing with Nigel Farage off the coast of Cornwall.
When I approached him to confirm or deny that he was standing, he rather oddly responded by asking me to guess what clothes he was wearing.
It would seem from Roger’s bragging that if you too wished to be a Brexit Party MP candidate, going bass fishing with Nigel Farage is a good place to start.
Now, of course, with a lot of political parties, it’s not what you know but who you know.
The Conservative Party’s ‘chumocracy’ is well-documented and Labour too has been accused of nepotism. Ed Miliband got his entry into politics thanks to his Dad’s old mate Tony Benn giving him a leg up. But, the Brexit Party is supposed to be different. It claims to be shaking things up and changing the way that politics is done.
Instead, the party seems hell bent on doing the same thing as everyone else – but even more opaquely.
In Plain Sight
Opaque, sums up the Brexit Party perfectly.
Take its prospective parliamentary candidates. Despite parading his first 100 PPCs at the Birmingham NEC at the end of June, Nigel Farage still has not revealed who any of them are. Not one single name. It’s like announcing Academy Award winners on Oscars night, only for the cards inside the envelopes to be blank pieces of paper.
The Brexit Party has no national executive and no local party structure and so there have been no hustings. Nigel Farage, the unelected leader, is clearly happy for his parliamentary candidates to be chosen by a small committee including Lesley Katon, late of communications consultancy Pagefield, thriller writer Toby Vintcent and Brexit Party chairman Richard Tice MEP.
There was famously an online invitation to stand as a Brexit party MP and thousands of hopefuls signed up, as I covered in Byline Times last week. But, that process looks increasingly like a meaningless PR stunt with a £100 non-refundable fee tagged on.
Since then, I have tried to find out who the 100 prospective candidates paraded at the NEC were. With the help of some Twitter chums, I pored over the video of the Big Vision rally and tried to spot faces. I’ll be honest – it was a seriously challenging task. “Like looking for nobodies in a crowd,” as one wag put it.
For starters, it seems that the Brexit Party can’t count. Excluding staff, at least 112 processed into the NEC and up on to that stage. Of these, 85 were male and 27 female. There were just seven non-white faces. The majority seem well advanced into middle age.
Presumably these Brexiters – without a hint of irony – want their politicians to be anonymous and unaccountable.
Duncan told me that he spotted Roger towards the front of the throng, but identifying the rest of the overwhelmingly white, middle-aged men would be like trying to distinguish between individual sheep in a field.
However, after hours of studying it we managed to establish a few dead certs.
First up – Nikki Page. Ms Page was a candidate in the EU Elections and is frequently described as an “ex-Vogue model”. She is perhaps best known as the fun-loving Tory MP John Redwood’s ex-partner. During their five year romance, she famously convinced the Spock-like former Welsh Secretary to pose for some excruciating photographs in Hello! magazine.
Next, come the usual suspects from the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP).
I have written previously about the apparent infiltration of the ranks of the Brexit Party by the RCP, its in-house magazine Living Marxism (LM) and its bastard child Spiked Online. Earlier this month, one of the people in that network, Lesley Katon, a founder reader of Spiked, told the magazine PR Week: “I’ve been putting the candidates list for the general election together for the Brexit Party, which is a fascinating and enormous task.”
He was a “prospective parliamentary candidate for the Brexit Party” who had landed the gig because he had once gone bass fishing with Nigel Farage.
This could explain why two former RCPers, Alka Sehgal Cuthbert and John Heartfield, were in the cavalcade of hopeful MPs. Whether their prospective constituents will care to vote for ardent players in an organisation that unapologetically defended IRA atrocities is perhaps another matter.
Much was made by the Brexit Party of ‘Labour party politicians’ joining the ranks, but Alan McCarthy and Colin Lambert – two councillors from Rochdale – are hardly household names. A third former Labour politician, Tom Bewick, was also present. Mr Bewick, from Hove, had his allocated 15 minutes of fame last year, when one of his tweets went viral for all the wrong reasons. During a football match he tweeted: “Watching the big cup final – national anthem playing, God Save the Queen. My six-year-old daughter says she doesn’t know it! That’s how anti-patriotic and PC our schools system has become. Shocking really.”
Also spotted in the arena was James Bartholomew, who once described black inner-city neighbourhoods as having “a culture of physical violence, selfishness and predatory sex”.
Then there was Ann Widdecombe, the increasingly unhinged former Tory Minister who looks as if she might be giving Westminster another shot. Louis Stedman-Bryce – another MEP – was also among those introduced as a prospective MP.
Vishal Kahtri, failed MEP candidate and an ‘aviation professional’ was there, as was ex-Tory councillor Katherine Harborne. Ms Harborne is an environmental scientist with passionate views on climate change and you have to wonder how she ended up in a party where denial of such issues seems to be the norm.
Then there were the ‘possible sightings’. Chief among those was Philip Cunliffe, a lecturer at the University of Kent – the spiritual home of the RCP and my own alma mater. Mr Cunliffe is tight with many of the Spiked Online circle and is a vocal Brexiter. Certainly a man who looked like him strode through the NEC and onto the stage, but when I approached him to confirm or deny that he was standing, he rather oddly responded by asking me to guess what clothes he was wearing. Mind you, at least he replied. None of the dozens of other people I have approached have bothered to.
85 were male and 27 female. There were just seven non-white faces. The majority seem well advanced into middle age.
A woman who may or may not have been Pauline Hadaway – yet another Spiked Online networker – was quite possibly there too. Catherine Blaiklock, the former leader of the Brexit Party, who famously carried a picture of her black husband around during the 2017 General Election – to prove she wasn’t a racist – also seemed to be present.
Of the rest? Who knows. But, this guessing game begs a very big and important question.
Anonymous and Unaccountable
Why all the cloak and dagger stuff? Why the complete lack of transparency? Why were they so secretive when interviewing prospective representatives in Vauxhall last week? What are Nigel Farage and Richard Tice so afraid of?
Are they scared that something will get unearthed? And, if so, why parade the 100 about the NEC in the first place?
It’s like announcing Academy Award winners on Oscars night, only for the cards inside the envelopes to be blank pieces of paper.
Several times in the last 10 days I have put out a call on Twitter for anyone who applied to be a Brexit Party MP candidate to get in touch and, failing that, for anyone who recognised faces to contact me. Some people did respond and told me they remained hopeful that they would get selected. But, even asking the question seemed to enrage some Brexit Party backers who began suggesting that I was ominously drawing up a list.
Presumably these Brexiters – without a hint of irony – want their politicians to be anonymous and unaccountable. Me? I prefer transparency.
Or as John Lennon once sang: “All I want is some truth – give me some truth.”
Meet Otto English at the Byline Festival
This article was updated on 15 July 2019 to correct the status of Catherine Blaiklock’s partner and the year she stood as an MP.