Were Reform UK’s candidates even real?

Mark Matlock has rejected accusations he doesn’t exist (Picture: Mark Matlock/X)

Reform UK has been accused of running General Election candidates who don’t exist.

Some appeared only on ballot papers, their photos absent from election leaflets posted through voters’ doors, and from the party’s website.

One has been accused of being AI-generated, or at least immaculately photoshopped on campaign literature.

A Reform spokesperson said: ‘All our candidates are categorically real. Given the rush, a few are just paper candidates and didn’t campaign.

‘Some people began as paper candidates but then did campaign, and one of these – James McMurdock in South Basildon and East Thurrock – ended up winning his seat.’

Mark Matlock was one of Reform’s 609 candidates on July 4, raking in 4.1% of the vote in Clapham and Brixton Hill, some 100miles from his Cotswolds home.

Suspicions were raised when he failed to appear at the count that night, having posted no photos of himself out on the campaign trail in the weeks prior.

He hadn’t appeared at the hustings, and the Green Party candidate told Byline Times leading up to polling day: ‘I haven’t seen or heard from the Reform UK candidate.’

Shao-Lan Yuen added: ‘I’ve heard suspicions that the image on his leaflets are AI generated.’

Mark Matlock won 1,758 votes for Reform in Clapham and Brixton Hill, which was won by Labour’s Bell Ribeiro-Addy (Picture: Mark Matlock/X)

Mr Matlock claims he did do a leaflet drop in his adopted constituency, saying: ‘The election caught us all on the hop and Rishi Sunak knew that.

‘But we still managed to fill most of the seats with candidates, even if not all of them lived there, and it all contributed to our vote share.’

However, when people took a closer look at his campaign literature, some started to believe he wasn’t real at all.

Was Reform’s candidate just AI?

His photo does have something of a 2D quality – soft edges of his face, a blurred hairline, lack of depth from shadows and lighting, and almost flawless skin.

But Matlock has an alibi.

At 7.43pm on July 4, he shared a post on X saying: ‘Unfortunately I will not be attending the count tonight as I have pneumonia.

‘The hospital I visited was closed before it’s closing time. I said to the nurse on a buzzer I am struggling to breath and she said call a number. Vote reform this is madness.’

Mr Matlock attached a photo to the post – of a ‘temporary closure’ sign outside the hospital’s minor injuries unit, but not of himself.

Richard Tice, a newly elected Reform MP, and leader of the party before Nigel Farage swept him aside, has shared the post to hit back claims Matlock doesn’t exist.

This is the only image Mark Matlock on his campaign material and his X account, which was launched in June (Picture: Mark Matlock/X)

Tice said: ‘All those muppets including The Guardian claiming Mark is not a real person: He was very ill, trying to get into a hospital….

‘But lefties don’t care, just slander folk claiming real people do not exist. Shameful.’

Matlock has echoed this sentiment himself.

In another X post, the Reform candidate said: ‘The extreme left are attacking me, attacking my party because we stand in the way of them controlling you.

‘I am a real person I have real values and this hoax of a witch hunt will be exposed.’

He’s spent several days swaying between revulsion at the accusations, and revelling in the attention, even sharing Scooby Doo and Spartacus memes.

But Mr Matlock is yet to share any other image of himself on X.

The Guardian reported that Matlock showed the paper ‘a copy of the original image’, which he reportedly ‘changed to make his tie a Reform light blue’.

Matlock said: ‘The image is me. Stupidly I had to get it altered to change my tie and suit as I couldn’t get to a photographer on time.’

Mr Matlock has an X account, but appears not to have Facebook or Instagram – and his website no longer loads

The original image was not included in The Guardian’s report.

Private Eye, which looked into the case last week, concluded Matlock’s ‘campaign image is AI-generated’, created due to a lack of photos with him wearing a turquoise tie.

The magazine confirmed that Matlock said: ‘I am a real person.’

Byline Times has also reported it has ‘confirmed Matlock is a real person’, saying: ‘He appears to be an antiques dealer originally from Guernsey.’

The news outlet also highlighted cases of Reform candidates with seemingly zero digital footprint – no photos, no bios, no social media accounts, no sightings on the campaign trail.

As many as 115 people running for Reform were ‘ghost candidates’, according to Tortoise, which described them as ‘men and women standing at the general election who have no profile picture or biography on the site’.

Many of Reform’s candidate profiles look like this, with no photo or biography, which the party blames on ‘institutional capacity’

A Reform spokesperson said: ‘These candidates are not ghosts. This is just an issue of institutional capacity, the sheer quantity of work involved in making everything work.’

Some won thousands of votes in their constituencies, despite it being ‘almost impossible to find anything about them’, as Tortoise, an online news outlet, reported.

One case of a paper candidate in Glasgow prompted a TikToker to do a multi-part series searching for the Reform election hopeful, even going so far as to visit an address in London with no luck.

Analysis by Byline Times revealed only 45% of Reform candidates had a published Facebook page.

Nearly 100% had an email address, many of which were generic local party addresses.

Just 9% had Instagram, 3% had LinkedIn, 8% had TikTok, and 44% had X.

It’s hard to prove a person doesn’t exist, and there is no evidence that any of Reform’s candidate are not real people.

But if any of them did turn out to be fake, it would be a serious electoral offence for the Electoral Commission and the police to investigate.

In order to become an election candidate, you must submit a completed nomination paper, a home address form, your consent to nomination, and authorisation to use a party description and emblem, if standing for a party.

That’s according to the Electoral Commission website, which makes no mention of proof of ID in the nomination process.

General Election nomination papers do not ask for photo ID.

Metro.co.uk has reached out to Mark Matlock.

Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at webnews@metro.co.uk.

For more stories like this, check our news page.

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