Who is Lee Anderson? As former Tory MP accused of ‘stoking division and hate’ joins Reform UK

Former Tory deputy chairman Lee Anderson has defected to Nigel Farage’s Reform UK party after he was suspended by the Conservatives over racist remarks directed at London mayor Sadiq Khan.

He announced his switch to the right-wing populist party at a press conference on Monday alongside party leader Richard Tice in London.

Mr Anderson said: “I will start by saying I want my country back. Over the last year or so I’ve had to do a lot of soul-searching on my political journey.”

He was recently suspended from the Tory party after comments he made about Mr Khan which were described by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer as an “appalling racist and Islamophobic outburst”.

In a previous outburst Mr Anderson said that asylum-seekers who do not wish to be housed in the government’s Bibby Stockholm barge should “f*** off back to France”, leading Mr Khan to accuse him of “stoking division and hate”.

The defection of the Ashfield MP will heap yet further pressure on Rishi Sunak as the populist party could potentially split the right-wing vote at the next election.

Who is Lee Anderson?

Born in 1967, the 56-year-old had quite a political journey even before he entered politics.

Having left John Davies Primary School in Huthwaite and Ashfield School in Kirkby with several O-levels, he studied shipping management at Nottingham Technical College. After college, he worked a number of local jobs, including labourer in a concrete factory, before following his father into the Nottinghamshire coal mines where he worked for 10 years.

With some of his relatives said to have taken part in the 1984 miners’ strike, Mr Anderson also joined industrial action when John Major’s government was closing mines in the early 1990s. But now he considers it “a pointless gesture”, urging striking workers to “put the family first, not the union” in an interview with the Daily Telegraph.

Mr Anderson said he left the pits – at one point working seven 12-hour shifts a week – in 1997 to devote his time to his two sons, who he raised as a single parent for 17 years. During that time he was forced to sell his car to make ends meet.

Mr Anderson has a history of controversial comments (Lee Anderson)
Mr Anderson has a history of controversial comments (Lee Anderson)

The father-of-two then began volunteering at the Citizens Advice Bureau, where he worked for 10 years, also working in hostels for homeless care leavers, before holding a role as office manager for Gloria De Piero, the former Labour MP for Ashfield.

After serving as a Labour councillor in the constituency from 2015 for three years, he defected to the Conservatives in what he claimed was a response to the “hard-left” takeover of the party under Jeremy Corbyn.

A month prior to his defection, he was suspended by the local Labour party after being handed a community protection warning by the council for placing boulders to deter travellers from setting up camp at a site in the area, Mansfield and Ashfield Chad reported.

His second wife, Sinead is also a Conservative councillor in Mansfield, who has represented Eaking ward since 2019.

Election as MP after controversy on campaign trail

Mr Anderson was elected to represent Ashfield in July 2019 with a majority of 5,733. He became the constituency’s first Tory MP in 22 years after a campaign which saw him post a video claiming that “nuisance tenants” should be forced to live in tents and pick potatoes.

That episode – which saw him accused of “entrenching division” – was not the only controversy of his campaign.

Minutes before bringing a journalist to the door of one prospective constituent, Mr Anderson appeared to forget he was wearing a microphone as he told them: “Make out you know who I am ... you know I’m the candidate, but not a friend, alright?”

Earning the nickname ‘30p Lee’

Mr Anderson’s fondness for contentious comments only grew once entering parliament, where he has become known to critics as “30p Lee” after claiming “there’s not this massive use for food banks in this country”, insisting that “generation after generation ... can’t cook a meal from scratch [and] cannot budget”.

To illustrate his point, he decided in January to tweet a picture of a member of his staff with details of her earnings and outgoings, claiming she was an example of someone earning less than £30,000 who did not need to use a food bank.

The move was heavily criticised, and Mr Anderson was accused of “a form of bullying” by Labour MP Dawn Butler, who said she had reported him to the Commons authorities.

During the Euro 2020 competition, Mr Anderson said he would boycott watching England’s games, over the players’ decision to take the knee in an anti-racism gesture.

What does Mr Anderson say about his approach?

Mr Anderson has defended his approach to such issues, telling The Spectator: “I can say it because I was a single parent for 17 years with two boys. I struggled ... so I’ll take no lectures from anybody about being hard up and struggling for survival.”

“Maybe some of my colleagues think I’m a little bit too divisive,” he said. “But I’m of the mind that half the population will hate you, whatever colour you wear.”

Urging the government “to start promoting personal responsibility as well as aspiration”, he told The Telegraph in January that a “can do” spirit is “the mentality of the Red Wall”.

“It is your family, you provide for them. Make sure that you live in a safe, decent country with good education, a good health-care system and a good police force,” he said.

Deputy chairman of the Conservative Party Mr Anderson has been defended over his barge remarks (PA Wire)
Deputy chairman of the Conservative Party Mr Anderson has been defended over his barge remarks (PA Wire)

Promotion to Tory deputy chair

The outspoken Ashfield MP has become well-loved by the Conservative Party’s grassroots, emerging in a ConservativeHome survey of Tory members as their favourite backbench MP of 2022.

In his bid to unite the fracturing party he inherited from Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, Rishi Sunak appointed Mr Anderson as Tory deputy chair in February this year.

That move prompted some concern among colleagues, as it came just a week after leaked messages from a Tory MP WhatsApp group reportedly saw Mr Anderson liken the government to “the band on the Titanic” on the issue of small boat crossings, “playing the same tune and ignoring the obvious”.

Just days after his appointment, No 10 was forced to remind journalists and the public that Mr Anderson, while deputy chairman, was not actually a member of the government after he backed the return of the death penalty in an interview with The Spectator.

Despite his promotion within the Tory ranks, Mr Anderson continued in a similarly combative vein even this week as he told Mr Farage there was “no doubt about it” that Mr Sunak’s government has “failed” in effectively “stopping the boats” – one of the PM’s five key pledges.

Mr Anderson has now become the latest Tory MP to be granted his own show on GB News, where he names a “wokey of the week” and features a “token lefty”.

So far he has spoon-fed a fellow MP baked beans and sought to convince fellow presenter Michelle Dewsbury to eat cat food.

Resignation and defection to Reform

Mr Anderson resigned as deputy Tory chairman in January after an ongoing row over Rishi Sunak’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Just a month later he was suspended from the Conservative Party after he claimed “Islamists” had “got control” of Mr Khan and London.

In an appearance on GB News, Mr Anderson said: “I don’t actually believe that the Islamists have got control of our country, but what I do believe is they’ve got control of Khan and they’ve got control of London… He’s actually given our capital city away to his mates.”

The comments caused outrage and he refused to apologise, saying that it would be “a sign of weakness”.

Despite being widely condemned he did find support from Reform leader Mr Tice who said in a statement: “Lee Anderson may have been clumsy in his precise choice of words, but his sentiments are supported by millions of British citizens, including myself.

“I do not and will not give a running commentary on any discussions I have with any MPs, but those MPs have my number.”

Despite Mr Anderson previously saying Mr Tice was a “pound shop Nigel Farage” and said Reform was “not a proper political party”, he joined them in March.