What sort of school could possibly want to have an unapologetic racist on its governing body? GENE BRODIE, our education correspondent, reports that some on the far-right are trying to ‘normalise’ their conduct by infiltrating community organisations
Earlier this week, readers of the free morning newspaper Metro were treated to a story about Daniel Rudd, the Brexit Party’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Stoke North.
Before he deleted his Twitter account, Rudd’s hate-filled tweets included no-doubt spittle-flecked rants about “gimmi-grunts”, Hindus and Muslims, and suggesting that cosmetic testing should not be carried out on laboratory animals, but on Remainers instead.
A closer examination of one of Rudd’s obscene outbursts showed that he was quoting a tweet posted by Croydon’s Michael Swadling, which suggests Rudd was following him on Twitter.
But why would someone in Staffordshire follow the account of a south Londoner? A likely answer is that Swadling is a handy filter and distributor of some of the worst that the interweb can offer.
Swadling was himself quoting and retweeting a report published by the notorious far-right hate website, Breitbart.
Underneath that web post which Swadling had so keenly re-circulated are comments from like-minded fascists, ranging from, “If you open an Indian/Pakistani restaurant you are allowed by law to discriminate against the native English”, to “Another thing is the number of mosques being built as bridgeheads for islamic plotting”.
Breitbart News has form for this. It has published falsehoods and conspiracy theories, as well as intentionally misleading stories, as part of an intentional strategy to manipulate media narratives via disinformation.
Breitbart also provides an opportunity for its far-right followers to share and foster hatred and lies and, by normalising this, builds a platform for what history tells us can and does happen, as evidenced by events in Germany and Rwanda.
So why does that matter to Croydon?
Swadling has dabbled on the fringes of respectable politics in Croydon for some time.
A former member of the Conservative Party and then of UKIP (remember them?), he was the Nigel Farage party’s parliamentary candidate in Croydon North in the 2017 General Election. There he polled a grand total of 753 votes (Steve Reed OBE, returned as MP for Labour, had 44,213 votes).
Swadling has also stood as a UKIP council election candidate in the South Norwood by-election in 2017 (fifth of five candidates, with just 78 votes) and in New Addington South at the 2018 Town Hall election (eighth of eight candidates, 80 votes).
So the good people of Croydon have clearly rejected Swadling and all that he stands for on a number of occasions.
Not that Swadling has managed to get the message.
Indeed, he appears to have become calloused to the opinion of the public: earlier this year, when Labour MP Jack Dromey tweeted about the murder of Jo Cox and threats to other MPs, Swadling added his own commentary in a piece of grandstanding social media:
“Keep up the great work Nigel Farage, the bastards are scared,” Swadling shared with his 16,500 followers on Twitter.
Even today, Swadling has been spreading a meme using a typical far-right trope intended to divide and cause hatred, in which he accuses David Lammy, the prominent BAME Labour figure, of being a… racist.
But undaunted by his lack of popularity at the polls, Swadling’s been a regular attendee at the self-proclaimed Croydon Communities Consortium, run by Sanderstead’s Elizabeth Ash, and where another sometime Croydon UKIP election candidate, Peter Staveley, was its vice-chair.
CCC is another organisation which has had trouble in the past with its officers using social media to spread vile racial hatred, although unlike even the Brexit Party and Daniel Rudd, Ash and her mates never took any disciplinary action.
In 2016, Swadling was the Croydon borough manager for the Vote Leave campaign – yes, that’s right, the campaign fronted by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove and which is now under police investigation for breaking strict election spending rules. Vote Leave was also accused of using falsehoods and conspiracy theories, as well as intentionally misleading stories, all as part of an intentional strategy to manipulate media narratives via disinformation. Sound familiar?
Since the disintegration of UKIP (last known leader: Dick Braine), Swadling has become the driving force behind something called the Croydon Constitutionalists. The Constitutionalists, who meet regularly in the South Croydon Conservative Club, are “Bringing Classical Liberalism to South London”, and are supporting Jayde Edwards in today’s Fairfield by-election.
Swadling has used his Twitter account to share Breitbart stories more than once, and it cannot have escaped his notice that the other people who read them express the kinds of opinions that would not be acceptable in polite company, in the workplace, or in front of impressionable young children.
Therefore, it may come as a nasty surprise – not least to governors, staff and parents – to learn that Swadling sits on the governing bodies of two Croydon schools.
He is the vice-chair of Winterbourne Nursery and Infant School and he is also the deputy chair at St Giles’, the special school in South Croydon.
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