Nigel Farage speaking

Why do parties run ‘paper candidates’ in elections?

The Reform Party has been criticised over allegedly running ‘paper candidates’ in constituencies across the UK.

In the 2024 general election, five candidates were elected as MPs for Reform, and it picked up more than four million votes across the country. This was the third largest vote share of any party.

Numerous candidates standing for Reform appeared to have no profile beyond their name and constituency, leading to accusations the party may have listed fake or even AI-generated candidates.

Ferret Fact Service explains. 

Ferret Fact Service | Scotland's impartial fact check project

What are paper candidates?

A paper candidate is a person who is put on the ballot paper primarily to allow a party to stand in a constituency. They are not expected to do any campaigning and often have little to no connection to or profile within the constituency. 

This is a common tactic used by smaller parties without local branches or infrastructure to select active candidates in areas across the country.

Reform selected candidates across nearly every constituency in the UK, and many of them could be described as paper candidates. Some in Scotland had no contact details or even pictures. 

According to the Glasgow Times, there was no visible presence of Reform candidates at the election count in Glasgow, nor did candidates appear on stage when their constituency results were declared.

Using paper candidates is common in UK elections. For example, local branches of the Green Party of England and Wales have actively advertised for paper candidates to stand in council seats they are not targeting in the past.  

How can they be spotted? 

Often a paper candidate will have little to no public profile, and will not appear at hustings or provide statements to local media. They may not be active on social media, or their social media feeds may not mention or promote the party they are standing for. 

Paper candidates may not live in the local area, and can have little to no connection with the constituency in which they are standing. There may be very little local campaigning from the party or candidate. 

Did Reform run a fake AI candidate? 

There were claims online that one of Reform’s candidates standing in London, Mark Matlock, was in fact a fake candidate whose picture was created using an AI generator. This is false. 

Matlock appeared on TV news channel, GB News, and his identity was confirmed by The Guardian newspaper. Sky News also reported the Metropolitan Police had “confirmed the candidate’s identity”. 

Matlock, the Clapham and Brixton Hill candidate, told The Guardian the image had been altered to change his suit and alter the colour of his tie to Reform Party colours. 

Why do parties run them? 

There are a few reasons why parties run paper candidates in elections when they have almost no chance of winning. 

It gives voters the ability to register support for the party in the widest number of constituencies. This will increase a party’s national vote share, and can be useful for it to decide where it should focus resources in future. 

Parties running candidates in more than one sixth of the seats available in the election are granted a party political broadcast, which will appear on one or more of the major television channels. 

There is also a financial advantage to standing in as many seats as possible. So-called “short money” is financial assistance given to opposition parties in the House of Commons.

Short money is available to any opposition party that gets two seats, or one seat and more than 150,000 votes, at the previous general election.

Each seat won is worth £22,295.86 in short money, plus £44.53 for every 200 votes gained by the party across the country. 

This is offset against the £500 deposit that is paid for each candidate to stand. This is returned if the candidate receives at least five per cent of the vote. 

Is this allowed?

Paper candidates are perfectly legal, as long as the person exists, represents themselves correctly, is eligible to run as a parliamentary candidate, pays the deposit and gathers nominations from 10 local constituents.

It is illegal to “make a false statement” about your identity or eligibility to run as a candidate on your nomination papers. You also cannot stand in more than one constituency in the same election.

The only details that need to be given to the public about a candidate is their full name and the constituency where they live. 

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0

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