This article is part of a series of articles that appear in our December 10 print edition under the subheading “Small parties, big ideas. We sit down with the insurgent parties trying to upset the Labour incumbent.” You can also check out our interviews with the Liberal Democrat, Green Party, and Socialist Equality Party candidates.
I never thought I would walk into an interview with a Brexit party candidate and be greeted in Spanish. Hector Birchwood, as many other Brexit party candidates standing in the general election, is not a through and through politician, having gone into politics recently. An LSE alumni and ex-Beaver cartoonist, Birchwood is a libertarian and is standing for the Brexit party in Holborn and St Pancras to challenge Keir Starmer, whom he argues has grown unpredictable and unaccountable by relying on his large majority in the constituency.
He remembers The Beaver fondly, it “was actually a really great place where people just simply discussed ideas. And it was actually a nexus for many different people from many different belief structures to just go and talk.
“In spite of its rather amateurish layout, in spite of all the spelling mistakes we had, it was actually very widely read throughout the city,” he recalls. Birchwood started drawing from a young age, and when he came to LSE, he started drawing for the paper, and his own magazine. He also became the “operations guy” for the paper, running the hardware and background operations of the paper. I could write a whole piece on what we discussed about The Beaver, but politics is what we were sat in the LSE Alumni Centre to discuss. Birchwood is an immigrant; he was born and grew up in El Salvador, after which his family moved to California. In the 90s, he moved to England to study at LSE, where he completed an undergraduate degree and subsequently a masters. After decades living in the country, Birchwood prides himself on being fully assimilated in the UK. When we talk about immigration, he underlines the need to ensure people coming into the country are able to do the same.
After LSE and a brief stint at Morgan Stanley, Birchwood founded his own company Celtic Research, dedicated to finding lost heirs of people who died without leaving a will. His work is documented in the BBC1 reality show Heir Hunters. A proud libertarian, he quips that he loves his work as it helps him deliver money to rightful heirs and avoid it going to the state – what happens when an heir does not claim the inheritance.
As with other small-party candidates running in this constituency, Birchwood is realistic about what he may achieve by standing – a win is near-impossible. I ask him about what the Brexit party can offer to a constituency which is staunchly remain – about 70% according to Democratic Dashboard. The Brexit party, according to Birchwood, aims to deliver the result of the 2016 EU referendum: “People who believe in remain, who voted remain, are not necessarily people who vote against democracy. So, the issue has now changed, it’s that you may not get the outcome that you want in a democratic process. But once that outcome has been decided, democracy works by you accepting what the majority have done.”
When pushed on the fact that people in this constituency may not actually want to leave, he retorts that just in the same way that the referendum wasn’t clear on what leave meant, it wasn’t clear on what remain meant: “Did you vote for the status quo? Did you vote for a full integration into a federal union? Did you vote for a loose confederation of Britain into a federal union? Did you vote for, let’s say, your being completely part of the European army? It’s actually not as easy as people think.”
His pitch to voters is strongly based on what he perceives as a defence of democracy: voters should choose him to ensure that the referendum result is respected. His views echo many of those in the party: he has no qualms with having a free trade agreement, he just wants out of what he deems a political institution with a “corrupt, inefficient and unnecessary bureaucracy”. I ask Birchwood about his association with a party accused of bigotry, or at least racialised campaigning, and his condition as an immigrant himself. He pushes back on the notion that the Brexit party is anti-immigrant. However, he notes that he did not give money to the Leave campaign back in 2016 because he did not agree with the immigration message: “I thought our message should be about sovereignty, freedom, freedom of trade, openness, and globalism.” He is, however, quite pragmatic about the inflammatory rhetoric used by the Leave campaign: “I did not like the message about immigration. But the reason why it was there is because it appealed to many people up in the north of the United Kingdom. It appealed to them. That’s the reality, when we’re talking about a political campaign designed to win.”
Regarding other issues he talked to voters about on the campaign trail, we discussed the Brexit Party’s package for democratic reform at length, but he says that issues like knife crime and housing rank higher in voters’ minds than democratic reform. It is on knife crime that Birchwood’s libertarian credentials are most apparent: he argues that gang violence is caused by a breakdown of family values and a lack of positive male figures, rather than an issue the government can address. And he thus says that he endeavours to explain to voters the limitations of government. Birchwood hopes by standing in such a safe seat to fight against what he sees as a too-comfortable candidate. He argues that his success will be measured in how he is able to convince voters to think about issues, insisting that as long as people stick to logic reasoning, he is happy to disagree on policy solutions. At debates, he says that he endeavours to challenge voters to use reason to avoid politicians framing other candidates into particular boxes. It must be said, however, that in an ostensibly liberal constituency, particularly in advocating for Brexit, he faces an uphill battle.
Learn more about Hector Birchwood at https://www.thebrexitparty.org/