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Two Thirds of Reform UK’s Councillors Come from Conservative Defections

Despite heavy media focus on the party, only a handful of Reform UK’s councillors have ever been elected on their ticket

MP for Ashfield Lee Anderson defected from the Conservatives to Reform UK after making comments about London mayor Sadiq Khan that were deemed racist. Photo: Tejas Sandhu/SOPA via ZUMA Press Wire

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Lee Anderson’s defection to Reform UK has increased its number of elected representatives across the country by a hefty seven per cent – from 15 to 16. 

Except of course for the fact that Anderson was not elected for the Tice/Farage party, but for the Conservatives. In that, he is similar to most of Reform’s other elected men (all but one are indeed men).  

Despite the media fanfare, just a handful of councillors have been elected for Reform UK since the party was renamed from the Brexit Party in 2021, Byline Times analysis shows.

Nine councillors currently represent Reform UK, while another six represent the party jointly as ‘Reform Derby’ in the East Midlands city. Reform Derby is registered as a separate party with the Electoral Commission but runs on joint tickets and backs Reform UK policy. 

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However, of the nine councillors solely representing Reform UK, not a single one was elected for the party. And several of them joined after various alleged misdeeds emerged…

All 9 Councillors (Solely) Representing Reform UK – via Open Council Data UK:

  1. David White, Barnsley councillor (Rockingham) – defected from the Conservatives in 2022 
  2. Philip Rose, Derbyshire councillor (Alfreton and Somercotes) – defected from the Conservatives after allegedly sharing anti-Semitic posts
  3. Alexander Stevenson, Derbyshire councillor (Greater Heanor) – defected after being suspended from the Conservatives “after defending MP Andrew Bridgen’s comments in which he dubbed Covid vaccination the “biggest crime against humanity since the Holocaust”
  4. Maria Bowtell, East Riding of Yorkshire councillor (Bridlington Central and Old Town) – defected from the Conservatives this month. In switching sides, she became Reform UK’s only female councillor 
  5. Lucian Fernando, Hastings councillor (Silverhill) – up for election this May – defected in 2023 from the Conservatives
  6. Mike Jordan, North Yorkshire councillor (Camblesforth & Carlton) – defected from the Conservatives…and then the Yorkshire Party last year
  7. Robert Bromley, Runnymede councillor (Addlestone North) – up for election this May – defected from the Conservatives, apparently over immigration
  8. Paul Donaghy, Sunderland councillor (Washington South) – up for election this May – defected from the Conservatives in 2023
  9. Bill Hopkins, Worcestershire councillor (St. Chads) – defected from the Conservatives after being elected in 2021 

In total, 31 individuals were elected while the party was known as The Brexit Party, but almost none have been elected after their rebrand, according to analysis of Democracy Club data.

Since the party’s rebranding to Reform UK in 2020, there have been 972 candidates who stood for election under the new party name. Just a couple succeeded, on the joint ticket in Derby. 

It’s not clear how many candidates will run for Reform UK at a local level in England’s local elections this May. More current data on the number of candidates standing in the upcoming elections will be available in April when the Statements of Persons Nominated (SOPNs) are released.

Dr Martin Baxter who runs Electoral Calculus said Reform has the difficulty that “their support is not small, but it’s fairly evenly spread.”

“Under First Past the Post that can mean it’s hard to win. But other smaller parties do win councillors – the Green Party used local success to win their MP in Brighton,” he added. 

“Precursors of Reform UK never demonstrated that local strength in actual elections. It’s a proven route to follow, to build up local councillor strength,” Dr Baxter said. But he noted the party did little in last year’s local elections. 

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A year ago in national polls Reform UK were garnering around five per cent support. But since Boris Johnson resigned over lying to Parliament, significant numbers of Conservative voters have moved over to the hard-right party. 

Without local councillor success however, “it looks like their impact on the General Election will be to split the centre right vote and block Tory seats,” Dr Baxter added. 

“Labour have overcome their divisions on centre left. The Conservatives are mired in new divisions. Reform could lower the Tory seat tally quite a lot. If they want to destroy the Conservative party, they’re proceeding on that basis. But to win seats, they are not following the obvious strategy” – in other words, building local support bases. 

The polling expert noted that if Reform defector Lee Anderson MP stood for re-election as the non-Conservative candidate in a snap by-election – with all attention on him – he might win. “It would be a signal that Reform could win an election. But it’s a missed opportunity. They’re short on election victories at any level. If their aim is to replace the Tories, they need to start winning something,” he added. 

Election expert Lewis Baston told Byline Times Reform UK do stand some chance of picking up seats – though probably not on the scale of UKIP’s suite of councillor elections in 2013 and 2014. The election watcher expects the party to win a few seats where they have well-known candidates. Reform UK might get more than five per cent in London and therefore qualify for a PR-elected London-wide Assembly Member.

But as a private company – and not a membership-based party – “Reform isn’t geared up with the sort of local membership and structures to select and campaign for a big slate of local candidates,” Baston said. 

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Josiah Mortimer also writes the On the Ground column, exclusive to the print edition of Byline Times.

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