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By Ben Guerin
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Labour Shadow Cabinet Minister Thinks Nigel Farage Could End Up Tory Leader

Nigel Farage speaks at The Reform Party Conference (Alamy)

5 min read

Labour's Emily Thornberry believes that former UKIP and Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage could be a future Tory leader because the Conservative party is "moving to the right".

Speaking at a recording of PoliticsHome podcast The Rundown at Labour conference in Liverpool on Sunday, the shadow attorney general predicted that Farage, who was a Tory member until the early 1990s, would be allowed to rejoin the party and from there would be in a strong position to win over the ardently pro-Brexit, right-leaning Conservative membership when they choose a future leader.

Thornberry said it appeared at last week's Tory conference in Manchester that "a number of people" had thrown "their hat in the ring" to be Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's successor if he is forced to stand down in the face of a Tory election defeat. The next general election is expected to take place next year and Labour currently has a strong enough poll lead to suggest they could become the next government.

Thornberry said she would "include Nigel Farage" in the group of people who could mount a future bid to lead the Conservatives.

"If Nigel Farage is allowed into the Tory party, which looks like he will be, and if he's then given a seat, then he could end up being leader of the Conservative party," said Thornberry.

Farage, who played a leading role in the 2016 Brexit campaign as leader of the UK Independence Party, was present at Conservative party conference in Manchester last week and was seen dancing with senior Conservative figures including former Home Secretary Priti Patel.

He has since ruled out rejoining the Tories, describing them as "virtually indistinguishable" from Labour, while party chairman Greg Hands said he would not approve a Farage return to the Conservatives as he has campaigned for other political parties for many years.

However, the sight of Farage at the Manchester conference, as well as the positive reception he received from some party members, was seen as a sign that the Tories could move further to the right in the event of being defeated at the next general election in 2024. Farage currently campaigns for The Reform Party, which is led by Richard Tice.

George Osborne, the former Conservative chancellor, said on a recent episode of his podcast Political Currency it was not "inconceivable" that Farage could rejoin the party after a general election defeat, and go on to be elected leader by the Tory members.

Elsewhere in her appearance on The Rundown, Thornberry said she did not want to "think" about the prospect of Donald Trump being re-elected to the White House when asked about the next UK general election potentially coinciding with the US presidential election in 2024.

"I want Keir to be Prime Minister but clearly it would not be in the interest of anyone for Donald Trump to become President," said the Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury.

Shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry (Alamy)

Thornberry acknowledged that Labour needed to put more "flesh on the bones" of their plan for power, but insisted the party had to be "honest" with the general public about what it would be able to achieve in the first term of government if it wins the next general election.

Labour is currently regarded as the likely winner of the next general election, which must be called by the end of next year, having enjoyed large, double-digit leads over the Conservatives in the opinion polls since around this time last year.

Leader Keir Starmer's hopes of winning a majority in 2024 were given a boost on Friday morning when Labour pulled off an emphatic victory over the Scottish National Party (SNP) in the Rutherglen and Hamilton by-election. The 20 per cent swing from the SNP to Labour exceeded expectations, and indicated that Labour could return to being the largest party north of the border at the next general election.

Starmer is under pressure, however, to spell out in more detail what he will do with power if he is indeed elected to 10 Downing Street next year, with recent research suggesting many voters remain unsure about what the leader of the opposition stands for.

Thornberry insisted that between now and that general election, 80 per cent of Labour's messaging would be focused on explaining how the party would fix the problems facing the country if elected to government, while 20 per cent would be spent criticising the Conservative record.

But she said that Labour would not be able to achieve all of its plans for government in five years and would need a second term in government to do so.

"A lot of the things that we want to do we are not going to do in the first year, the second year or the fifth year. They are signposts, this is where we are going. This is why we want to get there, and we may well take two terms to get there," said the Shadow Cabinet minister.

"It's a recognition by Labour that we can't do everything straight away," she continued.

"The Tories have not just squandered 13 years, they have been managing a decline. If we want to turn that around, it's not going to happen immediately.

"But we are clear about how we want to do it and why we want to do it and where we want to get to. Yes, we need to continue to put some flesh on the bones, but also be realistic about the kind of financial circumstances that we are likely to meet."

The shadow attorney general acknowledged that Labour needed to "work on" its messaging heading into the 2024 general election, telling The Rundown it is "much easier" to come up with a "negative" slogan that attacks your political rival, than a "positive" one.

"If there was a three word slogan that we had ready now, then we would be using it," she said.

The slogan for Labour's Liverpool conference is: 'Give Britain Its Future Back'.

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