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Making Plans For Nigel: Reform Counts The Cash After Farage's Comeback

Reform UK leader Nigel Farage and his predecessor Richard Tice (Alamy)

5 min read

Senior figures in Reform UK admit they were “blindsided” by Nigel Farage’s comeback as leader but insist they are delighted as the cash rolls in from new members.

“Everywhere I went, people were saying to me: ‘Where's Nigel? Why can't we have Nigel?’ And I think that finally got to him. But did I see it coming? No”, said Baroness Ann Widdecombe, a spokesperson for Reform.  

“No one was expecting Nigel to stand”, Ben Habib, one of Reform UK’s deputy leaders told PoliticsHome. He described the scenes in Clacton at Farage’s candidacy launch as “the Second Coming”. 

Farage had said at the start of the election campaign that six weeks was “not enough time” to find a seat and that he had decided not to make an eighth attempt to become an MP. 

His dramatic change of mind has electrified the 4 July General Election – and led to a flood of new members and cash, say party figures.

“We all recognise that his presence was worth a few more million votes and probably a few more million pounds”, Widdecombe added.

Since Farage’s return, around 7,000 people signed up on the day of Farage’s ‘emergency press conference’ alone, claimed Habib.

“That's 7,000 times £25 which is £175,000 just on that day which is quite cool, isn't it?”, said Habib. Farage revealed on Sunday that the party had reached over 40,000 members which equates to a total of £1m.

That’s a significant injection to a party that had been preparing to campaign ‘on a shoestring’.

Reform UK — unusually for a political party — is also a limited company. Farage, who owns 53 per cent of the stock, is the ultimate kingmaker, controlling the direction of the party and holding the power to appoint or remove directors, including Tice.

Founded in 2018, the party has an unusual structure. Tice, now party chairman, holds a 33 per cent stake in Reform. The remaining 14 per cent of shares are split equally between the party’s CEO Paul Oakden and treasurer Mehrtash A’zami.

One new member Charlie Mullins, founder of Pimlico Plumbers and anti-Brexit campaigner, said he joined Reform two weeks ago because he foresaw Farage’s comeback. “I definitely saw it coming," he told PoliticsHome.

Although Mullins won’t be standing for Parliament in this election, he insisted he would do “as much as I can” over the campaign to support Reform financially. The multi-millionaire businessman attended the press conference last week and joined Farage and Tice backstage.

Reform UK leader Charlie Mullins (Alamy)

Reform has surged in numerous opinion polls since Farage's announcement. YouGov and Redford & Wilton put the party on 17 per cent – just two points away behind the Tories. There is a growing expectation in Westminster that Reform will match, or even surpass, the Conservatives in the coming days.

Habib said it was “increasingly likely” that a cross over would happen. "We've got a really good chance actually. This could be the makings of a new political paradigm," he told PoliticsHome.

Mullins was even more bullish. “If Boris [Johnson] joins up then we’ll be in No 10... The best chance Boris has got of getting back into No 10 is to join Reform.”

(The businessman is also, however, preparing for the worst. “If and when Labour gets in, then I'm done with the UK and I'm applying for residency in Spain and Dubai. My time in the UK will be done if Labour gets in.”)

It has not been all plain sailing for the right-wing party since Farage's announcement, however.

The party's candidate in Bexhill and Battle, Ian Gribbin, today apologised for claiming in 2022 that Britain should have "taken Hitler up on his offer of neutrality". He also described former prime minister Winston Churchill as "abysmal".

A party spokesperson said Gribbin had been "arguing points in long distance debates" and that his point about Britain's approach to the Second World War was "probably true". Tice later said, however, that the party would investigate candidates who has said "daft things".

There is also confusion over the party's election strategy in Northern Ireland after Farage personally endorsed Democratic Unionist Party candidates Sammy Wilson and Ian Paisley.

In March, when Tice was leader, the party agreed a pact with the Traditional Unionist Voice that would see the parties stand aside for one another in Northern Ireland. Paisley, who Farage today endorsed, is going up against TUV leader Jim Allister in the North Antrim constiturency.

This will be Farage’s eighth attempt to become an MP since first standing for Parliament in a by-election in 1994. His most successful attempt to date was in South Thanet in 2015 where he received 32.4 per cent of the vote, beating the Labour candidate but missing out on victory to the Conservatives by just 2,812 votes.  

Farage, often dubbed ‘the UK’s Donald Trump’, was expected to jet off to the US in the Autumn to help Trump win a second term. Widdecombe suggested this would be unlikely if Farage wins his seat in Clacton next month. “I would certainly ditch the States to be the leader of Reform," she said.

During the 2015 campaign, Douglas Carswell successfully stood in Clacton for UKIP and hosted fish and chip suppers with constituents to hear their concerns about immigration. But Farage will likely be more focused on national campaigning, according to his deputy, only going back to Clacton when he needs to. “That’s how I would do it if I were him," said Habib.

Mullins predicted a number of former Conservative MPs would end up joining the party: “I honestly believe that there will be many more MPs joining up.” 

He added: “Just a short while ago, I went to Nigel’s 60th birthday party in Canary Wharf and I was amazed at how many Conservative MPs were there." Former prime minister Liz Truss and Dame Andrea Jenkyns were among those in attendance.  

A new JL Partners poll published on Monday showed Reform eating into the Tory vote significantly following Farage’s return. According to the  survey, the Tories are now losing one in five of their 2019 voters to Reform.

“Reform is Boris Johnson’s legacy”, said Widdecombe, adding that in 2019 “they were totally arrogant and dismissive and have been ever since".

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