Becky Morton,Political reporter, @beckyrmorton

Nigel Farage announced as Reform UK leader and Clacton MP candidate

Nigel Farage has announced he will stand in the general election for Reform UK and is taking over as the party’s leader.

He will be Reform’s candidate in Clacton, after previously saying he would not stand in July’s general election.

The former UKIP and Brexit Party leader said he had changed his mind after spending time on the campaign trail, adding he did not want to let his supporters down.

The Essex seat, which was the first to elect a UKIP MP in 2014, has a Conservative majority of 24,702.

Mr Farage said he wanted to lead a “political revolt,” adding: “Yes, a revolt. A turning of our backs on the political status quo. It doesn’t work. Nothing in this country works any more.”

He predicted the Conservatives will be in opposition after the general election.

He said: “They are split down the middle on policy, and frankly, right now they don’t stand for a damn thing.

“So our aim in this election is to get many, many millions of votes. And I’m talking far more votes than UKIP got back in 2015.”

In a further blow to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, two polls suggested the Tories are on course for a huge defeat.

A YouGov poll for Sky News of almost 60,000 people, carried out between 24 May and 1 June, suggested Labour is set for its biggest election victory in history, winning 422 seats, with the Tories down to just 140.

Meanwhile, a More in Common poll of 15,000 people, conducted between 9 April and 29 May, predicts Labour will win 382 seats, compared to 180 for the Tories.

Both are MRP polls, which project results in each individual constituencies, and were carried out before Mr Farage announced he was standing as a candidate.

General election 2024 banner

After Mr Sunak unexpectedly called a general election for 4 July, Mr Farage told the BBC six weeks was “not enough” to fight a constituency while campaigning for the party around the country.

In a statement on 23 May, the founder and honorary president of Reform UK had said he would “do my bit to help in the campaign”.

But he suggested his priority would be helping his friend, Donald Trump, return to the White House, describing the US election in November as having “huge global significance”.

However, Mr Farage told a news conference in central London that since talking to voters he saw “there is a rejection of the political class going on in this country in a way that has not been seen in modern times”.

“The other thing that really shook me in a way last week were the number of people coming up to me in the street saying ‘Nigel, why aren’t you standing?”‘ he said.

“I simply couldn’t help feeling that somehow they felt I was letting them down.”

He told the audience: “I genuinely believe we can get more votes in this election than the Conservative Party. They are on the verge of total collapse.”

Mr Farage has been a high-profile figure in Reform’s campaign so far.

He has stood to be an MP unsuccessfully seven times, most recently in South Thanet, Kent, in the 2015 general election, when he finished second behind the Tory candidate.

Reform had already selected a candidate for Clacton, but Mr Farage said he had known for “many months” that it was a “possibility” he could be replaced.

The constituency was previously held by UKIP after former Tory MP Douglas Carswell defected to the party and triggered a by-election, which he won.

More than 70% of voters in the constituency backed Brexit in the 2016 referendum – the fifth highest figure in the UK.

In 2017 Conservative Giles Watling unseated UKIP, gaining the seat with a majority of more than 15,000.

By 2019, with no UKIP or Brexit Party candidate standing, Mr Watling’s majority grew to 24,702. He is defending the seat again in July for the Tories.

Mr Watling told the BBC: “I will be pleased to show Nigel around Clacton so he can see what it is really like, but I am not prepared to see the constituency of Clacton sacrificed on the altar of his vanity.”

Many Conservatives fear a prominent role for Mr Farage in the campaign could be damaging for the Tories.

In 2019 Reform’s previous incarnation, the Brexit Party, stood aside in more than 300 seats previously won by the Tories, amid concerns it could split the pro-Brexit vote.

However, Mr Tice has said there will be no deals with the Tory Party for the upcoming general election and the party is contesting 630 seats across England, Scotland and Wales.

Reform had one MP in the last Parliament, Lee Anderson – who defected from the Tories in March.

A Conservative Party spokesman said Mr Farage “risks handing Keir Starmer a blank cheque”.

“Farage knows that Reform won’t win any seats, but he doesn’t seem to care that a vote for Reform only helps Labour,” he said.

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper: “Rishi Sunak’s constant pandering to Reform has horrified former lifelong Conservative voters in the centre ground.

“Sunak must show some backbone and rule out Farage ever joining the Conservative Party in future, including if he gets elected to be an MP.”

The other candidates announced as standing in Clacton so far are:

Giles Watling, Conservative Party

Jovan Owusu-Nepaul, Labour Party

Matthew Bensilum, Liberal Democrats

Natasha Osben, Green Party

A full list will be published on the BBC News website after nominations close on Friday

Source link