Reform UK launches Blackpool by-election campaign

A former street preacher and charity founder has launched his election campaign for the Reform UK party in the by-election in Blackpool.

Father-of-four Mark Butcher, 55, was accompanied by Lee Anderson, who defected to Reform UK from the Conservative Party earlier this month, for the party’s launch in the Blackpool South constituency.

The by-election has been prompted by the resignation of Scott Benton in the wake of a lobbying scandal.

Speaking at the launch, Mr Anderson said: “It’s a pleasure to be here with Mark today because, and I’m going to keep saying it, I want my country back. It’s not just about Blackpool or this by-election.

“I’m sick to death of people in this country apologising for our history, our heritage, our culture. I’m sick to death of people ripping flags down, statues down.

“We’re fed up of our capital city being taken over by Islamists on a regular basis.

“I’m not going to apologise to Sadiq Khan while I’ve got breath in my body.”

Mark Butcher, the newly announced Reform UK candidate for the forthcoming Blackpool South by-election, in Blackpool during a campaign event
Mark Butcher, the newly announced Reform UK candidate for the forthcoming Blackpool South by-election, in Blackpool during a campaign event (Peter Byrne/PA)

Mr Butcher, a local businessman, has for the past 12 years set up and helped run a soup kitchen, Amazing Grace, and more recently, The Big Red Night Bus to help homeless people in the Lancashire resort.

Mr Anderson and the candidate got on a Reform election battle bus for a tour around the town, passing miles of shuttered shops and closed and dilapidated hotels and B&Bs.

Blackpool is one of the poorest towns in England, with eight wards being in the 10 most deprived neighbourhoods in the country, according to 2019 indices of multiple deprivation produced by the Government.

Lee Anderson, left, and Mark Butcher travel through Blackpool on an open top bus during a campaign event
Lee Anderson, left, and Mark Butcher travel through Blackpool on an open top bus during a campaign event (Peter Byrne/PA)

Mr Butcher said: “The real reason I’m standing, and it’s born out of frustration this, is I’m sick of seeing the neglect. I’m sick of seeing people treated unfairly.

“Not just homeless people. People who are living in poverty get treated terribly bad.

“There’s no dignity for them.

“We’ve helped thousands and thousands of people at Amazing Grace, some local, some from out of town. But it’s time we started to look after our own.

“I’ve got homeless people outside a four-star hotel that’s full of foreign immigrants. And those homeless people were told by Housing Options (the local council homeless service) that they couldn’t be helped because they’ve got no local connections.

Mark Butcher, left, and Lee Anderson in St John’s Square, Blackpool
Mark Butcher, left, and Lee Anderson in St John’s Square, Blackpool (Peter Byrne/PA)

“Do those foreign immigrants staying in that hotel have any local connections?

“Why do the same rules not apply to them as to our own people that we are refusing to assist?

“It’s the reality of it.

“The councils, both councils, the Conservative Party and the Labour Party are to blame for the absolute neglect that Blackpool South has endured.

“I’m in this to win it. I think we are definitely going to give them a bloody nose.”

Mr Butcher said Blackpool has some wards with the lowest life expectancy in England, 10 years lower than the average, and claimed that despite 18 million tourist visitors annually, £2 billion of public sector investment had been wasted on “vanity projects”.

He added: “We need change. We cannot keep putting these same parties in. It’s time to stand up and be counted. That’s why I’m here today.”

Voters will head to the polls on May 2.