March 11, 2024 - 4:00pm

“The party leaving guy who likes leaving parties left a party?” was the reaction of the Economist’s Bagehot columnist, Duncan Robinson, to this morning’s news of Lee Anderson’s defection from the Conservative Party to Reform UK. It’s only been six years since his move from Labour to Conservatives, but Anderson’s latest departure could play a pivotal role in the upcoming election. Between his criticisms of the Tories and his eyelash-fluttering at their rivals to the Right, however, Anderson hasn’t always been entirely complimentary of Richard Tice’s party.

Speaking in January to GB News, which pays him a six-figure salary to present a weekly show, Anderson said that “Reform is not the answer. It leaves the door open for Sir Keir Starmer to get into Number 10 and undo all the hard work we’ve tried to do so far.” In the same interview, he warned Tice to “be careful what you wish for” because Reform’s rise “runs the risk of a Labour government ruining this country”.

The former Tory also claimed last year, in remarks leaked to the press, that Tice’s party offered him “a lot of money to join them” (a suggestion Tice denies), yet this indiscretion clearly didn’t deter Reform from its pursuit. Nigel Farage, who led Ukip and the Brexit Party and is now Reform’s Honorary President, offered Anderson a route out of the Tories last month after the Ashfield MP had the whip suspended for suggesting London Mayor Sadiq Khan was under the “control” of “Islamists”. In the following days, Anderson refused to rule out a defection, saying he had “been on a political journey” since leaving the Labour Party in 2018.

But while Anderson has in the past praised Farage (even suggesting that the I’m a Celebrity alumnus should lead Reform himself), he has been less gushing about the party’s current leader. Earlier this year Anderson called his new boss a “pound shop Nigel Farage”, while Tice has publicly said that the ex-Tory is “desperate” and accused him of lying. Reform deputy leader Ben Habib probably didn’t help matters last month when he insisted that Anderson “clearly hasn’t got a grasp […] of the language required to identify and address the problem [of Islamic extremism]”.

Budding Tory rebels can perhaps now ignore Anderson’s recent advice to stick with Rishi Sunak, and will be especially curious about whether he stands by his 2020 vote in favour of MPs calling a by-election should they switch parties. Speaking to the media today as he announced his defection, Anderson argued that politicians can be “as trustworthy as journalists in what they say and do”. Give it a few months, and his new friends at Reform may realise just how true this is.

is UnHerd’s Assistant Editor, Newsroom.