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Nigel Farage could now lead the Tories

Clacton's new MP? Credit: Getty

June 3, 2024 - 5:45pm

And so, there it is: the Conservative Party’s worst nightmare has come to pass. Nigel Farage has taken over as leader of Reform UK and will stand for parliament in Clacton, the one constituency where he has a genuine chance to finally enter Parliament at his eighth attempt. It is a potentially seismic moment in British politics reminiscent of Enoch Powell’s endorsement of the Labour Party in 1974. Ted Heath would forever blame Powell for costing him the election that year, dragging him from power and eventually clearing the way for Margaret Thatcher. Rishi Sunak might well be thinking similarly dark thoughts today.

In the end, the truth is Farage simply could not resist standing. He had already been flirting with the idea for months. In March he told me he was “edging towards” running, only to seemingly be caught on the hop by Rishi Sunak’s snap election announcement. Having initially ruled himself out of the running, the new Reform leader seems to have realised what he was giving up and changed his mind: visions of glory no doubt flashing before him. Fortuna had intervened.

The immediate consequences of Farage’s announcement are obvious. According to the latest mega poll, Farage stands a better chance than ever of entering parliament. One poll released before his announcement put him ahead of both the Tories and Labour in the seat. This alone is significant. Beyond this, Farage’s assumption of the leadership will also act as a shot in the arm for Reform’s campaign nationally, potentially bringing a handful of others seats into play.

But here’s the really transformational prospect that must now be seriously considered: there is now a genuine, non-negligible chance that Nigel Farage will not simply enter parliament in July, but eventually lead a new Reformed Conservative Party into the next general election.

Such a scenario might not be likely, but it is certainly now plausible. Imagine the situation on 5 July with the Conservative Party reduced to a rump of just 100 seats or so and Farage and one or two of his colleagues sitting alongside them on the opposition benches. Many of the prospective replacements for Rishi Sunak have lost their seats and the ones who are left hardly fill the membership with excitement.

Might Farage immediately enter negotiations to fold his party into the Conservatives? As I wrote back in December, Reform is not a normal party where such a decision would have to be put to the membership. Reform is a company owned and controlled by Nigel Farage — it would be his decision and his decision alone.

Even if this did not happen, the Conservative leadership election would be dominated by the simple question of whether Farage would be admitted into the party. The winner of this election is likely to be one of the candidates who answered yes. But from this point, the only story in Westminster would be the eventual leadership of Farage himself.

There are plenty of reasons to question this chain of events coming to pass. Farage may narrowly lose again. The remaining Conservative MPs may circle the wagons to stop Farage joining. They may allow him to join but refuse to put him forward for the leadership or allow the new leader of the party to be removed.

In October 1974, Enoch Powell reentered parliament as an Ulster Unionist MP with hopes that he may still become leader of the Conservative Party and eventually Prime Minister. Until 1974, the Ulster Unionists had taken the Tory whip and so were effectively one parliamentary party. With Powell, this changed and his path to the Tory leadership was blocked. He had helped drag the party from power and so could not be permitted to lead it, even as it was dragged towards Powellism under Margaret Thatcher.

Might history repeat itself with Farage? Will he eventually fall short of his desire to take over the Tories only for Faragism to do so ideologically? Perhaps. But much as there are parallels with the past, there is a volatility to today’s politics incomparable even with the 1970s. A Faragiste takeover of the Tory party should not be ruled out. The Tory party is a fundamentally weaker organisation today, far more at risk of a hostile takeover.

There is of course another omen. Nigel Farage is today hoping to use Clacton as his launchpad to power in Westminster. And it was from Clacton that Enoch Powell first entered the debate about Britain’s future in Europe in 1969. Europe and immigration: the explosive mix with the potential to upend British politics for the past half century. Maybe Farage will go one better than his inspiration.


Tom McTague is UnHerd’s Political Editor. He is the author of Betting The House: The Inside Story of the 2017 Election.

TomMcTague

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Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
21 days ago

I appreciate Farage’s on-going struggle to stand up to the status quo, both in Europe and in Britain. I wish him all the success in the world.

Sam Hill
Sam Hill
21 days ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Yes….but. It is hard to avoid the sense that once there’s a Labour government Farage just becomes an irrelevance. He can communicate all he wants to: a Conservative Government has found it can’t really ignore him but Keir Starmer with a 200 majority most certainly can. It just feels like those old leftists who had a liking for an ideologically pure glorious defeat.
And indeed it is worth adding that whilst Reform’s website has some good thinking it’s not entirely clear to me that they are entirely above the centrist norm. I can’t see any mention of triple locked pensions on their website for example.
I don’t like it any more than the next man but at some point there has to be an acknowledgement that punishing the Conservatives (righteous at that is) works out lovely for Keir Starmer and his merry band of identity activists – it’s not neutral. For all I know of course it might work out and Keir Starmer might come good – I’d be surprised. But to say the very least it leaves a bad taste in the mouth to think that disdain for the Conservatives ends up strengthening a man who knelt for BLM.
But the weakness of the current Conservative Party really isn’t healthy and a one man band is no better. Think of it this way, if Farage was Tory leader who would be his Deputy?

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
21 days ago
Reply to  Sam Hill

Suella.

Bryan Dale
Bryan Dale
21 days ago
Reply to  Sam Hill

Farage might just help reduce the Labour majority.

Nick Faulks
Nick Faulks
20 days ago
Reply to  Bryan Dale

Labour with a 300+ majority are quite likely to tear themselves apart.

David Harris
David Harris
21 days ago
Reply to  Sam Hill

Yes, but we need to take the long view. In five years at the following election anything is possible. NF said he will work for at least that long to rebuild the Right with or without the Tory party. It took Labour 18 years to get back in 1997, Five is not so much. Vote Reform in ’24.

Sam Hill
Sam Hill
20 days ago
Reply to  David Harris

I’d dispute very little of that. The idea of a ‘long view’ is just about the only thing that lets me reconcile the idea of voting for Reform. But that is very, very risky and, with respect, it would be remiss to gloss over it. 18 years? We could be back in the EU and in the single currency in that time scale. Granted: Starmer’s majority is likely wide but thin and he’s probably not going to have the scope for anything too radical. Indeed a Starmer that needs to be cautious electorally might not be a terrible outcome. This could be 2005, not 1997. But there’s a lot of ifs, buts and maybes in there. And for all the talk of a ‘Reformed Conservatives’ there’s nothing to stop Starmer and Labour forming a coherent coalition of voters in a changing landscape – tough, but not implausible.
If the ‘Reformed Conservatives’ project fails then what? The most right-of-centre we’d have in this country is parts of the Liberal Democrats. Someone for example points to Suella as deputy leader, but would the ‘Reformed Conservatives’ project allow the perceived taint of someone from the ‘old Conservatives’ (a cabinet minister at that) to take a position of leadership. And that’s assuming Suella gets elected. It’s not hard to see how the internal splits would open up. I’m just struggling to see how a ‘Reformed Conservatives’ sells itself to the public at large in practice. The Reform website gives some clues, but as I said earlier, that looks somewhat hit and miss.
Indeed looking at UKIP, a party established enough to take leadership of a council, the question of who follows Nigel (who is now 60) looks far from theoretical.
Don’t get me wrong here – I get it, we’ve had 14 years of corporatism, continuity Blairism and centrist slop with a triple lock thrown in. It’s been doubly bad because if some conservatives had just calmed down a bit and come off hyperactive mode they might have got somewhere – a terrible waste and it shouldn’t have been like this. And yes I couldn’t name one of the current crop I’d rate to do any better.
But I make no apologies for fearing that some of the more gung ho takes on the Conservatives at this election look to me like some people may want to be careful what they are wishing for.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
21 days ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

After the elite globalists get a hammering in the EU elections, the new MEPs might want Nigel as the next EU President 🙂

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
21 days ago

Farage certainly shares the bug-eyed looniness of Powell, as well as his bigotry and racism.
Are the Tories so far gone that they would consider him as a leader? Probably…

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
21 days ago

The thing to do here is list some of the racist things Farage has said. That’s kinda how discourse works. I know very little about Farage. Maybe he is a racist. But I’m very skeptical when a progressive ideologue just smears someone without even attempting to back it up.

Phil Day
Phil Day
21 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

All the *ist, *ism and *phobe insults have been thrown around for so long and so often by people seeking to shut down any opinion but their own (that’s one definition of a bigot by the way) that l doubt it has any effect any more.
Certainly, it just encourages me nowadays.

j watson
j watson
20 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Blimey JV where does one start? About his claim that some Muslim immigrants are ‘coming here to take us over’. Or his agreement with the ‘basic principle’ of Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech (bearing mind Powell proved v wrong too). Or when he said felt ‘uncomfortable’ hearing foreign languages on the Tube. I mean it’s an international tourist destination. Or maybe when asked why he objected to Romanian migrants but not Germans — like his Hamburg-born wife, he responded: ‘You know the difference’. Or perhaps when he blamed immigrants for getting stuck in traffic on the M4 – because of open-door immigration, and the fact the M4 is not as navigable as it used to be.”. Or maybe defending the word “ch***y” to describe a Chinese/East Asian person. May all be a bit blokey but this stuff counts when you have a national audience.
And then the anti-semitism and his references to the US “Jewish lobby” as a concern of his. And his modern day Protocols of the Elders of Zion twaddle with references to New World Order and threat of Globalist Govts whilst singling out Goldman Sachs and George Soros.
Finally his ‘Breaking Point’ poster – labelled as vile even by senior Tories and Bojo himself said “not our campaign” and “not my politics”. 
Pick your side.
Now I think the R and F labels woefully overused. I’m not sure Farage is an F, but I think he’s been a R all his life.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
18 days ago
Reply to  j watson

CS would garner a lot more respect here if he made this comment.

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
21 days ago

Could Farage lead the tory party? Why not put it to the members?

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
21 days ago

More than was done to the members of Reform UK.

jane baker
jane baker
21 days ago

Voting is old hat. Just appoint him. That’s how we do everything these days. I mean if we,the voters,all vote for the wrong ones im sure our betters will pull a Liz Truss on us and APPOINT the one we shoulda won. This Election is FAKE our “voting” is fake and the outcome is already decided.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
21 days ago
Reply to  jane baker

Speaking of betters, Truss is 80-1 for next Tory leader. Worth a flutter, surely?

Chris J
Chris J
13 days ago
Reply to  jane baker

The electorate don’t dictate the leader of the party in government. We would have to change to a presidential style election process to do that.

Bryan Dale
Bryan Dale
21 days ago

The Conservatives don’t believe in giving members a vote.

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
21 days ago

Is Jeremy Corbyn still suing Nigel Farage? And how could Donald Trump hope to win without him?

Jimmy Snooks
Jimmy Snooks
21 days ago

Proper journalism going on here from Mr McTague. Thank you.

Peter B
Peter B
21 days ago

This is just so Ted Heath:
“Ted Heath would forever blame Powell for costing him the election that year, dragging him from power and eventually clearing the way for Margaret Thatcher.”
Zero for self-awareness. None of it could possibly have been his own fault, could it ?
It’s interesting to reflect that in some ways Brexit was the final act in the long-running Heath-Powell feud that started sometime in the 1960s.
Also to recall Powell’s famous quote about the 1970 election as a choice between “a man with a pipe and a man with a boat”. As so often, the prophecy came true as Heath capitulated into prices and incomes policies and central planning – after a failed inflationary blowout for a few short years. Plus ca change …

Andrew Wise
Andrew Wise
21 days ago

A bit fanciful, you’ve got to believe a lot of unlikely things are going to happen first

jane baker
jane baker
21 days ago
Reply to  Andrew Wise

Like unlikely things happen every day now. Like in the Sister Rosetta Tharpe song ‘Strange Things Are Happening Every Day’

Martin M
Martin M
21 days ago
Reply to  jane baker

When I was a little kid, I thought Sister Rosetta Tharpe must be a nun, even though she never seemed to wear the then-appropriate habit. I think I was confused by the fact that The Singing Nun also put out songs during the period of my childhood (and she actually was a nun).

Alan Osband
Alan Osband
21 days ago

This analysis underestimates how many traditional Labour voters Farage could attract .The writer argues Farage will split the Tory vote and thus lead to a supermajority for Starmer . But that’s not necessarily how things need pan out , if the lack of any positive enthusiasm for Starmer’s Labour Party ,detected by most pundits . proves correct .

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
21 days ago
Reply to  Alan Osband

Not sure why there was a downvote. This is highly likely in the red wall. A huge chunk of ex-Labour voters will now not return to them.

Bernard Brothman
Bernard Brothman
21 days ago

I’d love to see Farage in the UK Parliament. It would make for good TV, and he might get something accomplished.

jane baker
jane baker
21 days ago

Oh God. I don’t want funny,engaging,entertaining politicians. I want stuffy staid boring ones who get on with the job.

Martin M
Martin M
21 days ago
Reply to  jane baker

Unfortunately, what you have now are stuffy staid boring ones who don’t get on with the job.

Chris J
Chris J
13 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

One of the major problems is that most of the “jobs” have been farmed out to quangos run it seems by even bigger idiots than the politicians. Plus they cost the country around 265 billion a year, with little accounting, twice the cost of the state pension that so many complain about whenever it inches up a bit closer to the personal tax allowance.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
21 days ago
Reply to  jane baker

I definitely don’t want stuffy, staid boring politicians. We’ve got plenty of those already. I want politicians with a vision for the country and the ability to inspire. And I want them to be serious people, who don’t put all their effort into pronoun policies while paying lip service to the existential threats we face.

j watson
j watson
21 days ago

Tories will elect a new leader whilst he’s still a member, and perhaps MP, for Reform. That’ll spike his guns fairly quickly and it’ll be good fun watching likes of Badenoch turn some ordnance on this Grifter if they need to.
There would be some benefit to seeing him have to work as a proper Parliamentarian as well as declare all his interests. He won’t be chipping in on PMQs as Reform won’t win enough seats to be able to ask questions, so he’ll be sat grumpy amongst others. Will the ego survive?
And then what happens when he starts to have to answer questions on subjects beyond immigration? The house of cards will collapse.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
21 days ago
Reply to  j watson

If the Conservatives do elect Kemi Badenock – maybe entirely to spike Nigel Farage – then they will have adopted nearly all of his/Reforms policies. I suspect Farage would be absolutely delighted with that outcome. In this scenario he would have again demonstrated real political power.

j watson
j watson
21 days ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

That the same Kemi who resisted the bonfire of EU regs once she’d grasped how stupid that would be?
You’d think by now Right wing supporters would have figured out a key problem with much of what they want/believe is it doesn’t stand 5mins contact with realities when in power.
What they say in an election just involving members and what they have to do when appealing more broadly to a country, v different.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
20 days ago
Reply to  j watson

She’s too bright to reject the EU regulations that work for us, but she’d reject them as soon as that no longer holds. Brexit will be the gift that keeps on giving.

j watson
j watson
20 days ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Agree she was too sensible and rejected the performative nonsense about a bonfire of the lot. Classic example of what happens to rhetoric when meets reality.
In meantime we retained 3000+ bits of EU law. I thought the Brexiteers thought it was all cobblers?
Direction of medium term travel is we’ll be forced to largely follow, albeit having less say. Remarkable bit of taking back control.

Peter B
Peter B
21 days ago

Let’s have another go – this comment has been censored for the last 12 hours or so … hard to imagine just why.
This is just so Ted Heath:
“Ted Heath would forever blame Powell for costing him the election that year, dragging him from power and eventually clearing the way for Margaret Thatcher.”
Zero for self-awareness. None of it could possibly have been his own fault, could it ?
It’s interesting to reflect that in some ways Brexit was the final act in the long-running Heath-Powell feud that started sometime in the 1960s.
Also to recall Powell’s famous quote about the 1970 election as a choice between “a man with a pipe and a man with a boat”. As so often, the prophecy came true as Heath capitulated into prices and incomes policies and central planning – after a failed inflationary blowout for a few short years. Plus ca change 


Peter B
Peter B
21 days ago

Let’s have a third attempt – this comment has been censored for the last 12 hours or so 
 hard to imagine just why. What the hell is wrong with this site ?
This is just so Ted Heath:
“Ted Heath would forever blame P.well for costing him the election that year, dragging him from power and eventually clearing the way for Margaret Thatcher.”
Zero for self-awareness. None of it could possibly have been his own fault, could it ?
It’s interesting to reflect that in some ways Brexit was the final act in the long-running Heath-P.well feud that started sometime in the 1960s.
Also to recall P.well’s famous quote about the 1970 election as a choice between “a man with a pipe and a man with a boat”. As so often, the prophecy came true as Heath capitulated into prices and incomes policies and central planning – after a failed inflationary blowout for a few short years. Plus ca change 


j watson
j watson
21 days ago
Reply to  Peter B

Not following all this either PB. Heath won in 70 despite Powell. Powell much less a factor come 74.
As I think you note the Barber Boom did implode and was a lesson not grasped by likes of Mad Liz c50 yrs later. But pre election of 70 Heath promised a switch to more indirect taxes, incl on wealth and unearned wealth, away from direct taxes. He then didn’t implement. That may have been one of the big errors, but whatever we think of the difficult 70s what would we do for the growth rates then as opposed to now. Intriguing.

Peter B
Peter B
21 days ago
Reply to  j watson

The 1970s were a total disaster. Just about old enough to remember it all. “Growth” is meaningless if – as in the 1970s – it was all unsustainable and we were simply compounding error upon error. Who today still thinks that prices and income policies and government price fixing are the answer to anything ?
It doesn’t matter what Heath promised (any more than what Starmer promises – and he’s promised just about everything at various times now). It’s what he actually did. Come the crunch, he couldn’t walk the talk.
Heath turned out to be just another fake Tory. To think, I used to admire the man.
We’re about to repeat all the same errors … don’t say you haven’t been warned.
So Powell had no impact in the critical swing seats in the West Midlands (where he came from) then ? This’ll be news to the historians.
You’ll keep denying this, but politicians like Johnson, Trump, Farage and Powell have a way of cutting through to ordinary people that others simply do not (even if they’re far from ordinary people themselves). I don’t think this is necessarily a question of the policies as much as it is the ability to really engage with people rather than just patronise them. I don’t believe Heath was an election winner any more than Theresa May or Rishi Sunak.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
19 days ago
Reply to  Peter B

We’ve read your same comment three times now – so perhaps not censored!!

Bryan Dale
Bryan Dale
21 days ago

I know Farage himself has talked about taking over the Tories, but the party is so far to the left of Reform I can’t see it happening. Unless Reform has significantly more seats than the Tories, the leftist Tory MPs would bring down Farage as they have brought down multiple Tory leaders before him,

Tom K
Tom K
20 days ago

God willing, he will. The current crop of Tory MPs, with their snivelling pronouns, multicloured lanyards and electric SUVs, deserved to be wiped from the face of the earth.

David B
David B
20 days ago

It will take more than Farage to reform the leftist blob that the Conservative Party has become. It will swallow him up, or change him into one of its own.

Mangle Tangle
Mangle Tangle
20 days ago

Nigel Virago. What next?