Artillery Row


Nigel Farage takes centre stage and everyone else is sidelined

“It’s interesting, isn’t it?” Richard Tice, who at that point still had a couple of minutes to go as leader of the Reform Party, was addressing a roomful of journalists hastily gathered in London for what we had been promised was Big News from him and the party’s Honorary President, Nigel Farage. To say he was coherent would be a lie.

It wasn’t entirely clear he even knew what the announcement was. His speech wandered all over the place without any sense of destination. Was he stalling for time? “People are looking for a bit of interest,” he said. “I’ve been talking about barbers. Others have been talking about hairdressers.” Was he having trouble keeping his train of thought? This was after all a Reform press conference taking place after lunch. 

“We can go from fifth gear to sixth gear,” he said. “To seventh gear! But what about eighth gear? How do we turn on the turbo boosters?” At this moment Tice didn’t seem in any condition to drive even a figurative car. On he rambled, finally reaching the point. “I thought, actually what I’d really like is to invite Nigel to be leader of Reform UK,” the leader of Reform UK (2021-24) said. “And to my absolute DELIGHT, he accepted!”

Poor Tice. On Sunday morning he was preparing to appear as Reform’s man in a TV debate. By Monday afternoon he’d been elbowed aside. How was this possible? Well, the last week has revealed a lot about the internal processes of our biggest parties, with stitch-ups and fixes. Reform has none of that nonsense. Its workings are straightforward: Farage says Jump, and Tice politely asks if he has a preferred height in mind. On Sunday afternoon, Farage decided he was taking over, and that Tice was going to get to pretend it was his idea live on TV. If you treated a dog this badly, they’d prosecute you, but there is no Royal Society for the Prevention of Humiliation of Politicians. 

And with that, he was gone. “Great stuff, very, very good,” chuckled Farage and Tice, head slightly bowed, left the stage. There may yet be a future for him in politics, especially if Farage needs someone to nip out to pick up cigarettes. 

Farage is back not just as leader, but also as candidate. The lucky people of Clacton in Essex – the most Reform-friendly constituency in the country – are going to get the chance to vote for him. He has stood for parliament before, several times, without success, but on Monday he explained that most of those attempts don’t count: “I only stood once in earnest.”

He had previously ruled out standing, asking The Times this year: “Do I want to spend every Friday for the next five years in Clacton?” If they elect him, they will deserve him.  

Looking at how he treats the people on his own team, you wouldn’t want him in a foxhole with you

Wasn’t there already a Reform candidate in Clacton? “You’re right, there is,” Farage said cheerfully. Was this candidate possibly learning live from the telly that he’d been dumped, asked The Mirror. Farage yawned theatrically at the question. “Oh dear,  nodded off there,” he said dismissively. “He knew six months ago that it was a possibility.” Does Farage know the man’s name? Does he care? Looking at how he treats the people on his own team, you wouldn’t want him in a foxhole with you. 

Speaking of which, what was the piece of news that has driven this change of mind? Farage was happy to explain. “Here’s a little statistic that sums up what’s been wrong with our ruling classes,” he began. What would it be? Income inequality? Crime? “A poll out last week showed that 52% of 18 to 34-year-olds don’t even know what D-Day is!” 

Do we believe this number? History teaching in British state schools is essentially Hastings-Henry VIII-WW2 on a loop. But Farage believes it, and he knows who is responsible. “That’s what you get when you’re led by a political class that don’t really care about this country.” Coming from a man who the previous week had been explaining that he wouldn’t stand for election here because he was too busy with his TV work in America, it was quite something. As for blaming politicians for this, I am open to a lot of criticisms of Boris Johnson, but I really don’t think we can accuse him of not banging on enough about Churchill. 

“They’re embarrassed to say anything that could be seen to be vaguely patriotic!” Farage was still going. He’s been abroad a lot lately, so it’s possible he isn’t aware that Rishi Sunak is fighting the entire election on national security and that Keir Starmer is followed everywhere he goes by two union jacks.

Anyway, we have the first big Reform policy pledge of the election: daily lessons on The War and compulsory screenings of The Longest Day every Sunday. Speaking as a man with a book out on the subject (an ideal Father’s Day gift, as it happens) and a podcast on war movies, I can see the appeal.

Farage may, in fact, be driven by baser motives than a desire for national patriotic re-education. Asked how he felt about hurting the Tories in the election, he explained that he felt he’d help them win the last one. “I didn’t even get a thank you.” They really should have bought him off with a peerage. 

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover