BBC 🔵 Reform UK fake candidate conspiracy theories debunked – Shango Media
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BBC 🔵 Reform UK fake candidate conspiracy theories debunked

By Joe Pike, Political Investigations Correspondent • Phil Kemp, Politics reporter

Reform UK Mark MatlockReform UK

Airbrushing a picture of yourself is not a crime.

But in the case of Reform UK general election candidate Mark Matlock it led to viral – and spurious – claims that he was fake and generated by AI.

Mr Matlock came fifth in Clapham and Brixton Hill last Thursday, and did not turn up to the count because he had pneumonia.

Yet it was his decision to doctor an image of himself, including adding a tie, which fuelled speculation on social media that he was a work of fiction.

“People were very mean online and there’s been a lot of nastiness which is unnecessary,” he told the BBC.

Despite numerous claims on social media, the BBC has found no evidence that any of Reform’s candidates were fake.

However, a curious number of those standing for seats across the UK come from two small Midlands towns.

At least six Reform candidates have ties to Swadlincote in South Derbyshire.

They include Alison Devine, a personal assistant to the party’s chief executive, who came second behind Labour’s Graham Stringer in Blackley and Middleton South, Greater Manchester.

A further three candidates live, or have lived, just 10 miles away in Coalville.

Reform has now conceded that a last-minute rush to find candidates led the party’s staff to recruit their friends and family.

“We were desperate”, a party spokesperson told the BBC.

“Basically it’s friends, relations, office workers. One of the candidates got their partner to stand.”

A Reform election agent told us he had never met the candidate he was responsible for, did not know what he did for a living, but was sure he was not fake.

“I know he is real because he did contact me so we have spoken very briefly,” the agent said.

“He was very frugal. We spent hardly anything.”

So-called « paper candidates » – where a political party selects someone who does no campaigning but appears on the ballot paper – have long been a feature of British elections.

For opposition parties this practice is particularly important for amassing « short money » – the funds handed out by parliament to help them hold the government to account.

A party is awarded £22,295.86 for every seat won at the general election plus £44.53 for every 200 votes amassed.

Before the election, the Labour Party was entitled to £7,527,952.91 per year in funding.

Parties with five or fewer MPs – like Reform UK – are limited to an annual subsidy of £376,230 plus further funds to cover travel costs.

However, Nigel Farage’s party argues that their motivation in selecting as many candidates as possible was about democracy not money.

“People deserve the option to vote for us if they so wish,” said a spokesperson.

“If they didn’t have a paper candidate, that right is taken from them. It’s just putting a name on a piece of paper. There is nothing weird about this.”

The Electoral Commission said there are no rules committing general election candidates to any minimum level of campaigning.

Viral star Mark Matlock is embracing his new-found fame, even if it was the result of online conspiracy theories.

“I love it, a free advertisement. It’s great”, he told GB News.

“I’ve been made like a star on Twitter. I could never have imagined that this would be the case. It’s fantastic”, he said.

“Thank you to all the extremists who’ve done this for me.”

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