As part of our series focusing on candidates for the London mayoral elections, Emily Prescott speaks to the former actor about his ambitions to change education and jobs in London
Laurence Fox hates confrontation. This may not be immediately obvious if you’ve seen the footage of the actor metamorphosing into a political brand on Question Time while accusing an audience member of racism after she called him a “white privileged male”. But he tells me although he is morally opposed to wearing “face nappies” to prevent the spread of coronavirus, he occasionally acquiesces — just to avoid arguments on the tube. Besides, as he is getting a lot of attention for setting up his political party, Reclaim, and running for London mayor, masks make for a good disguise.
When I walk into Reclaim’s office in London Victoria, Fox is finishing off his lunchtime plate of chips and his son is sitting at a laptop in the corner. Fox apologises, explaining his son isn’t allowed into school as he is supposed to be isolating.
Fox, 42, shares an office with one of the few right-wing comedians, Leo Kearse, who helps Reclaim with social media and Stephanie Kowalski, his executive assistant, who he met after she messaged Reclaim’s website. They seem to get on well with Fox, Steph’s only complaint is that he overshares and so people take advantage of him. They are part of a core team of three, which sometimes becomes twelve, making up his new Reclaim party. That’s excluding the people who have already been fired.
The internal recruitment hiccups seem unsurprising given the divisive nature of Fox’s work. His party has been characterised as ‘UKIP for culture’. Curiously, on the weekend that former UKIP leader Nigel Farage announced he was stepping back from politics, Fox announced he was stepping up and running for London Mayor. Fox doesn’t entirely reject their similarities but stresses that, unlike Farage he’s not focused on immigration. Fox, who voted for Jeremy Corbyn in 2017, says he would encourage a policy of “assimilation.” “I’m not like out on the Channel with a boat saying ‘go home’. Not my vibe,” he adds.
So, what is his vibe? He says he hates the lockdown rules as they stand in opposition to his love of freedom. “They’re ruling us and I don’t want to be f**king ruled,” he tells me like a rebellious adolescent. I start to think of him as the Right’s Russell Brand. The comedian who, while learning about politics in the glare of the public eye in 2015, briefly attempted to start a revolution by suggesting people shouldn’t vote. But unlike Brand, Fox isn’t just words, he’s extremely proactive — and his message is clearly resonating. More than 30,000 people have already signed up to Reclaim and businessman Jeremy Hosking has donated £5million to the party and is bankrolling Fox’s run for mayor.
I wonder then, is he more akin to Boris Johnson who served as London mayor en route to Number 10? But aside from their well-to-do backgrounds and passionate patriotism, they have very little in common. Boris plays the class clown while trying to advance his own career, whereas Fox tries to be a serious politician, to the detriment of his (former) career. Also, unlike Johnson, Fox doesn’t seem to care for an Oxbridge following. Fox doesn’t infuse sentences with classical allusions and he is quick to tell me about his contempt for cyclists. Critically, Fox is a far more ardent libertarian when it comes to lockdown.
Fox is particularly concerned about the impact of lockdown on jobs and the economy and is focusing his mayoral campaign around this issue. He says: “We did polling and found out that 75% of people are worried that local small businesses are going to close.”
“It’s costing over £1billion a day which is crap, 50,000 lost jobs on Oxford Street, 700,000 jobs lost nationwide. I think it’s really sad but I think more importantly, people need to get out and be together and have fun again and remember what it’s like to be alive,” he sighs.
He also says children should have never been taken out of schools. On education more generally, Fox, who was ultimately expelled from Harrow for having sex at the sixth-form ball, hopes to raise the quality of all state schools across the country and doesn’t think much of private schools. But on this policy area, he is more attitude than detail. “I hate paying private school fees for my children. If it was my choice, I wouldn’t be doing it because I just think it’s a waste of money,” he says of his two sons, from his tumultuous relationship with actor ex-wife Billie Piper. “What’s the point in spending money so you can teach them all to be posh and hang around with other elite parents? Boring.”
Although he doesn’t know specifically how to improve all state schools, he is happy to delegate to the experts and he says, “I’m just fairly logical. So just go, what’s the logical solution to this problem?”
One thing he is sure about is that calls to decolonise the curriculum are problematic. Advocates of decolonisation want to interrogate the historical cannon and include a wider range of perspectives. But Fox says, if anything, we “need to recolonise the curriculum” so there is a greater emphasis on British history. “Rather than being taught to look at history through a lens of race or gender, they should probably be taught to look at history through a lens of identity and home,” he explains.
He believes firmly in a culture war and the ultimate aim of Reclaim, he says, is just to shift the “Overton window” — the range of ideas that voters find acceptable. “We live in a kind of two tier system in this country ‘the morally superior’ and the ‘deplorables’,” he says he represents the latter. I wonder how he takes the temperature of the nation and how he plans on measuring the movement of the window.
He doesn’t have Facebook, which I suggest might be a better way to reach potential followers, but he says: “Twatter feed gets looked at quite frequently.” He knows it’s an “utter sewer of a place” and while he used to get offended by the comments when he first joined the platform in 2009, he insists now they don’t upset him. Ironically, it was fellow Lewis actor Rebecca Front who encouraged him to sign up, though they have since had a very public falling out on the site.
Fox blames social media for the rise of what he calls “wokeism” and he says he pities the “very serious and pious” generation who are growing up in the digital age. He also says there’s an awful lot of “virtue signalling” on the site. He references actor Ralf Little who denounced Fox on Twitter but was quiet when Fox threatened to expose some “horrendous” stories. He says he has had quite a few “showbiz people” criticise him on Twitter and then privately message an apology saying, “that’s the way the game works”. Indeed, since launching his political career, his acting agent has dropped him.
As a member of the “Fox Acting Dynasty” – including agent Robin, his sons Edward, James, Robert, and next generation actors Emilia, Freddie, and Jack – Laurence is not an outlier. He comes from a long line of entertaining and divisive eccentrics. In 2016 for instance, Edward told The Daily Mail: “Manhood is up against it now, because they’re not being asked to be proper men… Men are more animalistic than these metropolitan, so-called ‘civilised’, ‘good’ people.”
Laurence Fox tells me he was raised in a matriarchy. “I didn’t even know about the patriarchy until about three years ago. I didn’t even know there was a tyrannical patriarchy,” he shrugs. He certainly doesn’t think it is something he has benefitted from: ”Yeah, there’s a lot privileges that females get, there’s definitely some male privileges as well. I think overall, we’re equal.”
When I dare to ask him the naughtiest thing he’s ever done he cites his respectful attitude towards women: “You know how some of these people get into power and then you suddenly find out that they’re a bit handsy with women. I’m so grateful now I’m working in the political arena that I’ve never been that way inclined.” He suggests the naughtiest thing is probably drugs, although he doesn’t think they are that bad, either that or punching a photographer.
Fox is used to being scolded by the media for his rebellious behaviour but setting up Reclaim and launching a bid for mayor has led to a constant onslaught of what he perceives to be unfair criticism. Before we met, he had an interview with The Times’s Andrew Billen. Fox bet me £100 that Billen would paint him as a suicidal divorcee just looking for a reason to live or an Oswald Mosley type. He also says Billen pointed to the way he disciplined Blaze the Labrador and Sparky the Jack Russell to suggest he might be an angry man. Indeed, Billen writes that while speaking to Fox, images of the facist popped into his head.
Fox doesn’t seem to be motivated by a thirst for power, rather he is driven by a sense of victimhood and it seems feelings of love rather than feelings of anger. “We live in the free-est most tolerant, progressive society on earth and everybody has renounced that,” he says. His anti-COVID-regulation views come from a place of love. “A mate of mine died in a hospital, choked on her vomit because no one put a f***ing heart rate monitor on her finger.” While he doesn’t blame the NHS for her death, he says there are more important health issues than coronavirus.
Indeed, love is inked over his body. On his hand, he has a rose “because I am sometimes quite animated with my hands as you can probably see when I’m waving my hands so it’s to say there is love behind it.” He has a tattoo commemorating his two boys. Throughout the interview he keeps telling the potentially contagious yet very well behaved son that he loves him. Fox also has a cover-up of a wedding tattoo, as well as his mum’s maiden name which was Piper, “awkward”.
His mum died in April and he shows me a dove of peace on his arm which symbolises her going to heaven. The words on his hands are an ode to his mum’s favourite expression: “I just want freedom and space”. I felt for his loss. “No, don’t worry about it, it’s not your fault,” he says.
It’s been a challenging year for Fox, he’s lost his mum and his acting career and has had so many death threats, he now has a bodyguard. ”Sometimes I wake up and think when is one of these days going to be like, chilled,” he sighs. Entrance into the political arena may be taking its toll and despite his previous protestations, he seems to have an almost masochistic taste for confrontation.
The “chilled” days aren’t going to happen particularly soon as the battle for London Mayor is going to be tough. But he tells me he’s not worried about the “other two”. “Sadiq Khan is Boris’s stooge isn’t he? Because he’s with Boris, he’s like, more lockdowns, longer, and I don’t know what the Conservative dude is on about except doing even more controversial Tweets than I do.” What about the Green’s Sian Berry, I ask? “Who’s Sian Berry?” he says.
I wrap up the interview and he opens the door for me, “I guess this is toxic masculinity,” he says with a friendly wink. He is sardonic and charismatic, and from the perspective of an interviewer, his candour is refreshing. He is a lifelong entertainer and so it is easy to see him as the joke candidate. But Count Binface he is not.
His defenders would point to the need for plain-speaking in a society where ‘wokeism’ is on the rise but for many he has crossed a dangerous line, both in the manner of his speech, and in his attitude to public health. Now Fox is really throwing his hat into the political ring, he will rightly face more scrutiny than ever before.
Photo credit: Martin Pope