A former actor turned culture war-advocating populist has crashed and burned in London’s mayoral contest, despite having sizeable financial backing and being treated with fascination by the UK’s right-leaning newspapers.
Laurence Fox, whose best claim to fame is once playing a supporting role in a Sunday-evening murder drama beloved by boomers, received a humiliatingly miniscule 1.87% of the vote, and lost a £10,000 deposit after falling well short of the minimum 5% threshold.
The result placed Fox behind YouTuber Niko Omilana, whose main policies appeared to be reducing the price of a Freddo to 5p, and only marginally ahead of satirical candidate Count Binface, a “space politician” who pledged to vaporise the other candidates, and Brian Rose, a former banker who has promoted COVID conspiracy theories and has drunk his own piss for attention.
Incumbent Labour Party mayor Sadiq Khan won re-election with 55.2% of the votes once second preferences had been allocated. The Conservatives’ Shaun Bailey, whose campaign was marked by a series of gaffes, came second with 44.8% after second preference votes had been allocated. The Green Party candidate Sian Berry came third with 7.8%.
Fox stood on a platform of ending the coronavirus lockdown in London even as Britain’s national restrictions ease on a path to ending pretty much completely on the 21st of June, just over six weeks after polling day.
During the campaign he constantly used his social media platform to spread COVID misinformation. He has described facemasks as “woke burqas,” urged people not to wear them despite it being a requirement to wear a facemask when actually voting, and made a point of not wearing a mask while entering shops when he was campaigning, despite the wishes of shop owners he was canvassing. In April he tweeted a screengrab of his invitation to be vaccinated, saying “There’s no need to ‘vaccinate’ the healthy.” The tweet was marked as “misleading” by Twitter.
Fox’s Reclaim party, which he launched in September 2020, had a reported £5 million warchest backing it, and reportedly spent almost £19,000 in Facebook advertising in one week, although there is a spending limit of London mayoral elections of £420,000. The party’s main funder is multi-millionaire Brexit supporter Jeremy Hosking, who is worth £375 million. Hosking has said that the party was founded “to fight the Culture War [sic] which many of us see as the most important issue of our time” and that Fox’s candidacy stood for “the vital agenda of arresting the subversion of Britain’s history, traditions and culture by our universities, woke activists and privileged media outlets such as the BBC.”
Fox’s candidacy was endorsed by Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage.
He received miniscule public support despite being the third most recognisable name on the ballot according to one poll. According to a YouGov poll, 16 percent of voters either had a good idea of who Fox is and what he stands for, and 18 percent had a vague idea. This was in a London mayoral election with the highest number of candidates ever, in which most Londoners didn’t know who 14 of their 20 candidates were.
The former actor entered the political scene after a controversial appearance on BBC panel show Question Time, in which he accused a woman of racism for calling him a “white, privileged male”, after he disputed the idea that the media’s treatment of Meghan Markle was racist.
Fox, who went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) after dropping out of public school Harrow, became something of a household name following the appearance, and became a right-wing figurehead as an “anti-woke bad boy”.
In this role, Fox achieved significant media notoriety, which may account for his high recognition among voters. Sometimes his desire to provoke has landed him in hot water. He has hit the headlines because he is being sued for libel by three people he called “paedophiles” on Twitter, in comments that have since been deleted. Fox has used his platform to argue that “free speech” is under threat, but has also threatened to sue a Time Out journalist for libel for calling him a racist.
Fighting the election campaign scored Fox further media attention, including boosterish coverage in the Telegraph, where the right-wing broadsheet’s Chief Political Correspondent Christopher Hope said, “There is something in what he says that resonates with people in the streets”, which turned out to be untrue for the vast majority in a city Fox has described as “a Cathedral of wokery”.
The campaign also brought his message beyond his usual audience, being interviewed for London free-sheet newspaper the Evening Standard and centre-left weekly magazine the New Statesman.
Incumbent mayor Khan has found himself a target of the far-right at times, the Muslim mayor coming to personify a city that many reactionaries see is irrevocably diverse, politically left-wing and socially liberal.
After Khan first won the mayoralty in 2016, Paul Golding, then leader of far-right party Britain First turned his back on Khan during his victory speech.
Khan became an international hate-figure for the far-right during the US Presidency of Donald Trump. When the President visited London in 2018, Khan gave permission for a blimp of Trump as a baby to be flown by protesters. Two months later Khan gave permission for a blimp of himself to be flown by pro-Trump protesters. The feud continued when Donald Trump called Khan a “stone cold loser”.
Khan has said “I'm not interested in a culture war or any wars. That's not the job I applied for. That's not what I stood for.”
Throughout his campaign Fox gained attention from his bizarre statements on social media. On the Tuesday before the election Laurence Fox was trending on Twitter along with the soubriquet “Waitrose Tommy Robinson” – referring to an up-market supermarket chain and far-right activist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, better know as Tommy Robinson. This was because Fox tried to pick a fight with Dr Benjamin Janaway, an NHS psychiatrist, who had joked that Fox was “literally the 1%” in reference to his poor polling.
Janaway told VICE World News that he had received some abuse from Fox’s online supporters but that this was “something I’ve come to expect”.
Janaway has been working for the NHS during the pandemic and said: “There were times when I was looking after psychiatric wards that were COVID psychiatric wards and I would say that the effects that COVID has had on people that were already psychiatrically unwell was not something that I’d ever wish to see again.
“It was terrible seeing them struggling with their breathing, already paranoid or very depressed, and feeling like you’re trying to deal with one, a huge issue they’ve had in their mental health and two the severe effects of illness which some people don’t recover from… for me that’s been a tremendous challenge. And when you see people like Fox protesting against lockdowns – which is fair enough, none of us want them – this could drive a resurgence of the virus, you think back to your patients who at three in the morning are gasping for breath and you kind of think ‘God what are they doing?’”
Green Party candidate Berry was slightly less recognisable than Fox according to YouGov, despite her years serving on the London Assembly. She admitted that the attention garnered by Fox had been “frustrating”.
Berry, one of the few candidates to rent rather than own her home in a city facing a calamitous housing crisis, said: "We have run a really positive and popular campaign, and we are confident our ideas have resonated with Londoners. In contrast to some candidates, we have also done the real work behind our policies, and I have a real track record in City Hall – so Londoners know they can trust us with their vote.
"It is frustrating when fringe candidates are given a platform in the media which they don't deserve, but voters are ultimately interested in substance, not sensationalism and soundbites. Greens have been winning seats at every level of Government all over the world by rolling up their sleeves, and getting to work on the things that really matter."
Writing on Twitter, Fox congratulated Khan and Bailey despite the latter coming second, and said he was looking forward to a nap.