Skip to main content

Farage returns (again)

Reform UK
Public Affairs
general election 2024
reform uk

Yesterday the news channels went live to Glaziers’ Hall in London for a Reform UK ‘emergency General Election announcement’. The promise was that one Nigel Farage was making a big announcement. If I’m honest I thought it might be one of those anticlimaxes, like when Rishi Sunak set up the lectern outside Number 10 last October only to make a speech about uniting the country.  

After a younger man introduced him, Richard Tice treated us to a long introduction. Just when attention was waning, he casually let out that he had invited Nigel Farage to become party leader again and Farage had accepted. Then Farage came up to announce he would be contesting Clacton constituency. A U-turn, but according to Farage, U-turning isn’t always a sign of weakness, it can also be a sign of strength 

Among the challenges facing the Conservative Party is the Reform Party having a mini revival as the government appears tired after 14 years in office. Reform is a bit of a sleeper hit; its impact not immediately obvious to even keen political watchers. Yet my contacts in some outer London boroughs tell me Reform is harming the Conservatives a good deal more than Labour is. The redoubtable psephologist John Curtice thinks Reform could cost the Conservatives 60 seats by splitting the right-of-centre vote. 

One emerging Conservative strategy to avoid catastrophic defeat was to lean further to the right and concentrate on the issues – principally immigration and taxes – that often drive voters to Reform. Farage’s announcement is likely to increase media coverage for Reform, so increasing the Conservatives’ strategic headache. 

Clacton itself is probably one of the ever-decreasing number of constituencies the Conservatives could be confident of holding on 4 July. The incumbent Giles Watling had a 24,700 majority in 2019 (Reform didn’t stand) and is standing again this time round. Crucially, there is no indication from the other main parties that they think they have a chance of improving on their distant second and third. We are in deepest blue Essex and Brexit-tinged politics has increased the distance. The Lib Dems just about retained their deposit in 2019 for the first time since 2010.  

Yet the choice was rather obvious. In the Tendring District Council area, which covers all of Clacton plus some, 70 percent of voters plumped for leave. Despite being in the south of the country, it captures the ‘left behind’ mood of so many Brexit areas, and contains the poorest area in England, Jaywick. The former MP here, Douglas Carswell, won twice as a UKIP candidate and so, there is a precedent. Farage has chosen a seat in which he can run to win (should he wish to) rather than one where the focus is any outcome as long as it harms the Conservatives, who could do without having to give resources to defend what should be a safe seat. Farage’s latest pledge is that he would be a “bloody nuisance” in Commons. 

It all adds to a sense of the governing party buffeted on all sides.