John Swales
John Swales, Reform UK

Reform UK and the Harrogate and Knaresborough seat

27 June 2024

The Harrogate and Knaresborough seat in Westminster has traditionally as a Conservative v Lib Dem battleground, but this election is very different.

The Lib Dems have openly said that it is a target seat for them, but Labour have now said they are targeting Harrogate, despite previously seeing it as non-priority.

The Green Party have agreed an pact with Lib Dems, with the aim of getting the Conservatives out of power locally, and pave the way the way for proportional representation.

There is also a strong independent candidate with Paul Haslam. Paul is a known face in the area, as a councillor and campaigner in the Bilton area, to oppose the relief road, and to keep the Woodfield School.

John Swales is standing as the Reform UK candidate, and is a new face to local politics.

We have put a few questions to John, ahead of the vote on the 4 July 2024.


What made you want to stand to become the MP for the Harrogate and Knaresborough constituency ?

Firstly, without talking politics, I am born and bred Harrogate, and want the best for the Harrogate and Knaresborough district.

The Lib Dems and Labour Party have helicoptered in candidates from outside the area – surely there must have been local candidates ?

Also, the other main parties are not the parties that they used to be, and their views are not aligned with my own.

I have been involved with Reform UK locally for a number of years, and their views and beliefs are very much the same as my own. We have had a developing manifesto, or contract as we prefer to call it for many months. That was recently formally published, and reaffirmed that I was with the right party.

Are some of the policies of Reform UK controversial and divisive for some ?

I think a few might be, but most of that is down to pre-set ideas as to what we are about. We also live in a world where even mentioning some problems can provoke a really strong reaction from some.

If you take immigration Reform UK acknowledges that asylum is needed for those in genuine risk, and that immigration, at the right level, and bringing the right skills, is also needed. But what isn’t needed is an uncontrolled open-door policy to the UK, that is costing the country in many ways, from the benefits they receive, the services they have access to, housing, healthcare, dentistry and jobs.

Some of what the party is saying can be challenging to the status quo, not to just be challenging for the sake of it, but because change is desperately needed in our country.

We have found a further surge in interest in the party since Nigel Farage put his hat back in the ring to be a candidate, and to lead the party. But some that voted against Brexit can not forgive him for that. Incidently Reform is still fully behind Brexit, but it simply hasn’t been implemented in the right way – Labour and Libdem have been vocally against it, while the Conservatives did implement it, perhaps mainly for political position.

You don’t have any particular political experience, does that put you at a disadvantage ?

Perhaps in some ways, but not overall. If you take campaigning, the world is moving on, and all the other parties are adopting an approach that they have used for years. We doubt that is resonating with the electorate.

As for being an MP without political experience, in many ways that is what Reform UK is about. Part of the problem is the Westminster bubble, or a system that has developed to represent the interests of a few, rather than the majority of voters. I would be a fresh face to represent the area, and I wouldn’t have a whole group of ex-business mates or other politicians that I would be in cahoots with.

But what about local issues, such as the Harrogate Gateway Project, or the planning issues like the Harrogate Spring Water bottling plant extension into the Pinewoods?

I have very much followed both the issues that you mention, and both reflect badly on Harrogate.

Taking the Harrogate Gateway Project first, the budget came with so many strings attached, it make it very difficult to be truly used for maximum benefit. But the project lost focus and became about North Yorkshire wanting to spend the budget at all cost. Also the Lib dem-majority and led Area Committee engaged poorly, and used it for political grandstanding. So the local Libdem councillors could have made so much more of it, but failed.

With the Harrogate Spring Water bottling plant expansion, there are a number of issues. The company is no longer a local Harrogate company, but owned by a corporate, Danone. But for me there are two main questions, does the world need the many more plastic bottles that this plant would produce, and should we really be cutting trees down to enable it.  Although there is outline planning for the site, HSWL/ Danone do not own the land, so North Yorkshire Council could stop this just by not allowing the development on council land – but the council should view themselves as the custodians of that land for the general public, and act accordingly.

Is Reform UK in with much of a chance nationally or locally ?

There was confusion when Rishi Sunak called the election, but many believe that was as a response to the growing momentum behind Reform UK, or they wanted the election before it grew too strong.

Nationally we have gained a strong presence with first Richard Tice and more recently with Nigel Farage returning into more active work with the party.

Polls are not everything, but they are placing Reform UK very strongly.

On a national level there appears to be a growing wave of support for the party.- People want a party with clear and deliverable policies – we offer that.

On a local level we have been delighted and overwhelmed by the level of support that we have received, that’s support online, people coming up to us in the street, and offers of delivering leaflets or more.

Harrogate has been a Conservative seat for many years, and before that Libdem, is it a Conservative vs LibDem seat ?

There is lots of politics around the politics in the town, for sure.

The Libdems would like you to believe it was a vote between them, and the Conservatives, and all other votes are wasted.

However the Libdems have agreed a backroom deal with the Green Party, where the Green Party won’t really fight for the Harrogate seat, and want you to vote Libdem as a tactical, anti-tory vote. I believe that people should vote for the party that they believe in and not play political games.

But if there is a kick-back against the Conservatives, those votes would more likely go to Reform UK – that, plus the profile of Reform UK puts us in a strong position.  I would urge all your readers and voters to consider the future direction of our country and to vote with their hearts.


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