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Nigel Farage No Show Overshadows Reform's Election Campaign Launch

Reform UK leader Richard Tice

5 min read

Growing questions over the political future of Nigel Farage dominated a Reform UK press conference launching the party's preparations for the 2024 general election.

Reform leader Richard Tice said Farage was still "assessing" what role he would play in the right-wing party's general election campaign when the country next goes to the polls. 

At the same event, Tice said he was "absolutely categoric" that he would not "under any circumstances" stand aside for the Tories in certain seats at the next general election, presenting another headache for Rishi Sunak as he tries to avoid defeat.

"We will stand everywhere in England, Scotland and Wales. Absolutely," said Tice.

Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party and the Brexit Party, has been strongly linked with a return to frontline politics with a general election on the horizon. There have been suggestions that he could take over Reform as leader, but he may decide against that option and opt to play a prominent role in the party's campaign instead. 

Speaking at a press conference in Westminster on Wednesday, Tice said he was "very confident" that Farage would play a formal role in Reform's election campaign, but said that the leading Brexiteer was still considering what exactly that would be. Farage, who recently competed in the reality TV show, I’m a Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here, was not present at the event in Westminster. 

"We've been talking over the Christmas period and he's giving a lot of thought to the extent of the role that he wants to play in helping Rerform UK save Britain," said Tice.

"He is still assessing that and as of when we have collectively come to a decision, we will look forward to letting everybody know.

"I'm not a poker player, but I know a good poker play doesn't show their hand too early.

"Nigel is the master of political timing. But I am very clear, the job at hand of saving Britain is so big that any help Nigel is able to give in the election campaign, frankly, the better."

As PoliticsHome reported over the festive break, there is a belief among many political figures that Farage playing an active role in Reform's election campaign would transform the right-wing party into a more significant electoral threat to the beleaguered Conservatives.

"How Reform is polling when Nigel Farage is not in charge of it is one thing, but the question is what happens when or if he is," said Rachel Wolf, founding partner at consultancy Public First and co-author of the Tories' 2019 general election manifesto.

Reform has grown as a talking point in recent weeks as its support has grown in a number of opinion polls.

Launched in 2018 to replace the Brexit Party, Reform initially struggled to make an impact in Westminster with the UK's exit from the European Union having deprived it of an obvious message. But the Conservative government's perceived failure to reduce immigration has seemingly given Tice's party an opportunity to fight Sunak's Tories from the right.

Tice, a businessman and former member of the European Parliament, this morning renewed his attacks on the Conservatives, accusing the party of having "broken" Britain and "betrayed" the general public on issues like controlling immigration and the economy.

Lee Anderson is worried, he's terrified that we are basically going to put him out of a job.

Speaking to PoliticsHome over Christmas, Tice said Tory MPs were "shitting themselves" about the prospect of Reform taking support from the Conservatives and costing them their seats.

This was a point he was keen to stress this morning. Asked about Lee Anderson, the Conservative party deputy leader, urging voters to reject Reform, Tice said the Conservative MP is "terrified" about the right-wing party costing him his seat at the general election.

"Lee Anderson is worried, he's terrified that we are basically going to put him out of a job.

"He admitted yesterday he agrees with 80% of our principles.

"The honest truth is there are quite a number of Tory MPs in a similar position. Stop staying with the toxic Tories, stop defending the indefensible. Be brave, be bold. Come on over.

"We want quality. Lee's a good man, he's just in the wrong party."

He claimed that "a lot of very disappointed and disgruntled" former cash donors to the Conservative party were getting in touch with him to ask "How can I help?".

Having spent weeks strongly criticising the Tories, Tice this morning launched a new attack on Keir Starmer's Labour Party, which opinion polls continue to suggest is likely to win the next general election. Tice said the opposition party would "bankrupt" Britain and take the country closer to the EU, describing the prospect of a Labour government as "Starmergeddon". The Conservatives and Labour are "both as bad as each other", argued Tice.

However, Tice struggled to address the claim put to him by several reporters that by standing in every seat in Britain at the next general election, Reform would make a Labour victory more likely by taking votes from Conservative candidates. He argued that Reform offered a credible alternative to both major parties and was now the party of the working class. 

He refused, however, to set a numerical target of how many constituencies Reform could win, acknowledging that the First Past The Post electoral system makes picking up House of Commons seats "difficult" for Reform. In 2015, UKIP won nearly 13% of the national vote but returned just one MP —  and they, Douglas Carswell, had defected to UKIP from the Tories.

"We all know that the First Past The Post electoral system is completely the wrong system. It's a disastrous system. We want proportional representation. That's a fairer system," he said.

"We're not saying that it's easy. It's difficult."

"But one thing is clear: if you're not on the ballot paper, you've got no chance."

Ben Habib, Reform UK's deputy leader who was today confirmed as the party's candidate in the upcoming Wellingborough by-election, said at the same event that Reform could win "a dozen or more" seats when the country next goes to the polls. 

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