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Rain On My Parade

June 3rd 2024

Barbara Streisand, famously, enjoyed her ‘farewell’ retirement tour so much that she repeated the experience on multiple occasions over the following decade or so. There’s always been something of the diva about Nigel Farage - a man who truly believes that politics is showbusiness for the aesthetically challenged - and, just like Barbara, in the end the call of the spotlight has trumped the desire for an easier life.


This afternoon Farage announced his candidacy for Parliament and his return to the leadership of Reform, having previously ruled himself out of a candidacy and vacated the leadership to bouncy financier Richard Tice. He will be running in Clacton - a seat that used to have a UKIP MP, had a very heavy Leave majority in 2016, and which also returned a Brexit Party MEP in the European Parliamentary elections which followed. It is one the seats most likely to return a Reform MP, should any Reform MPs be returned.

But it is vanishingly unlikely - as things stand - that any Reform MPs will be elected, including Nigel Farage. The truth, as seven-time failed candidate Farage knows all too well, is that it is very hard for fourth party candidates to break through under First-Past-The-Post. And the conditions that spurred the victory of the Brexit Party in those European elections of 2019 (held under PR rather than FPTP) no longer exist as starkly. There is no comparable argument to ‘Brexit must be done’ available for Reform. Their blended message - a mix of economic libertarianism and social conservatism - undoubtedly has an audience, but it is smaller than the 52% or so of voters who were potential Brexit Party backers.

That said, today’s announcement will worry Rishi Sunak and the Conservative Party. Farage has undoubted appeal with a subsection of Tory voters - and he is particularly attractive to the kind of Red Wall voters who Rishi desperately needs to hold on to in order to have any chance at all of maintaining a majority. Add to the mix the potential to split the centre-Right vote in some Blue Wall seats, letting Lib Dem and Labour candidates come through the middle, and it’s a heady brew. Running for Parliament lends broadcasters the legitimacy they will feel they need to give Farage plenty of airtime. He goes from being a semi-detached quasi-commentator to (in theory, at least) a candidate for Prime Minister.

Aside from the direct electoral implications, the psychologically destabilising effects on the wider Conservative Party will be real. For the rest of the campaign, MPs and activists on the Tory Right will have to watch the leader of another, different party, campaign in the style and on the platform that (deep down) they wish was theirs. An already exhausted and unenthused party, the Tories will become even harder to manage and motivate now that Farage is in the mix.

We have mentioned before, in these notes, the way in which Rishi Sunak feels let down by the universe. He’s worked hard and put in his all and has nonetheless found himself the victim of a giant, relentless, cosmic joke. As Nigel Farage promises to cement his summer of humiliation, one could forgive Sunak for staring back at the void and calling out - plaintively - ‘Papa, can you hear me?”.

Meanwhile, Nigel Farage will enjoy the meltdown his return to the spotlight will elicit. He thrives on drama and gets a thrill out of being the centre of attention. Ultimately, he doesn’t need to win a seat (although obviously, he would love to). His objective is both simpler and easier to achieve than that - he wants to show the Conservative Party that it cannot win unless it unites the right, and he wants to convince Tories that they will have to do so on his terms.

His ultimate message is that if they want to recover from the coming defeat, the Tories are going to have to suck it up and send in the clowns.