He’ll never let the old flag fall

Lee Anderson will never stand for insult, especially the insult of never being invited round for dinner


“Who’s laughing?” Lee Anderson, TV host and occasional Member of Parliament for Ashfield, had been a public member of the Reform Party for only a few seconds, and already he was failing to see the funny side.

The event revealed a man anxious that he’s not in on the joke, or worse, is the butt of it

We weren’t really laughing at him, as it happens. His new party had, in the way of insurgent British outfits through history, messed up its hastily arranged press conference, and positioned its star signing so that he was addressing the nation from behind a large Union Jack. We’d heard of politicians wrapping themselves in the flag, but assumed until this moment that it was a figure of speech.

Realising the error, a Reform flunky had crawled along the floor and begun moving the flag out of shot. The effect was that as Anderson was telling us loudly that he wanted his country back, a national symbol was edging awkwardly away from him.

Anderson didn’t see the funny side. That may be usual. Although he makes much of his tough-former-miner public persona, the event revealed a man anxious that he’s not in on the joke, or worse, is the butt of it. “I might not know a lot of the long words some of the people use in Parliament,” he said, “but I know a lot of short ones.” The air was filled with unspoken grudges.

His stated reasons for defecting were the usual hodgepodge of complaints that the country is a mess after more than a decade with his party in charge, salted with moans about immigration and a selection of talking points from his main employer, GB News. “We defeated fascism in two world wars,” he complained. “We are allowing people to erase our history.”

All this started, of course, after he said that Sadiq Khan was controlled by Islamic extremists. “I will not apologise,” he said, though he and party leader Richard Tice, standing alongside him, were squeamish about actually repeating that. It is at least plausible that Anderson was disciplined for saying something he doesn’t actually think, and is too stubborn to admit it.

In the meantime, he was angry with everyone. “The whole democratic system is rigged,” he complained. His parents had told him they wouldn’t be able to vote for him if he didn’t join Reform. The image flashed across the mind of a pair of Nottinghamshire pensioners radicalising themselves on a constant diet of GB News until they were too angry even to vote Conservative.

Mainly it seems he, they and Tice are angry about the Gaza marches. Tice, like so many people who have promised to fix democracy, wants the marches banned. If you were wondering how this would be achieved in practice, Anderson had the answer. Forty years ago, he’d watched the police beat up his father’s fellow miners. He hadn’t agreed with that, he assured us. And yet… “The policing then was completely different,” he mused. “They made sure that working miners got to work.”

Anderson has quite firm views on who gets to speak for Britain

Is there some quality to the people marching over Gaza that means Anderson wouldn’t mind seeing a few of their heads split open with a truncheon? As so often with Reform events, there was a feeling of something not being said, some key that would help us to unlock what it is that the party is really complaining about.

“My parents are watching this on TV every night,” Anderson mused, “and they’re disgusted. It’s their country.” Of course, one imagines the people marching over Gaza would say Britain is their country, too.

But Anderson has quite firm views on who gets to speak for Britain. Essentially, it’s the voters of Ashfield. “I live in the real world,” he told us. “I speak for them. Not for you lot.”

Ignore Ashfield, then, at your peril. Although paying attention to the place will also inspire Anderson’s ire. He had special words for The Guardian, whose reporters, according to him, never leave the place, “knocking on a thousand doors trying to get someone to say a bad word about me.” This sounds like a quite extraordinary level of research into the real world, one that really ought to be applauded, but Anderson’s tone suggested he didn’t agree.

What is it that makes someone defect? Sometimes it’s self-preservation, and there’s an argument that Anderson’s career, both as MP for Ashfield and GB News host, has better prospects if he’s under the Reform umbrella. But there’s often another facto: a bruised ego.

Did the Tories let Anderson join their party, only to lose him because they didn’t invite him to their parties?

At one level, Anderson has been a Tory star, promoted to deputy chairman by Rishi Sunak, a regular on the constituency dinner circuit. But there’s always been the sense that his fellow Conservatives couldn’t work out what to do with him. Was he, as some treated him, the Workers’ Whisperer, able to comprehend the minds of people who didn’t do PPE, or maybe didn’t go to Oxford at all? Or was he an exotic pet, someone they could point to as evidence that they, not Labour, were the party of ordinary people?

Whatever they thought of him, the thing he doesn’t seem to have felt is appreciated. “I have to be with a party that puts this country first,” he said, “rather than their mates at their tea parties or clinking their champagne glasses, wherever they go in the evenings.”

It was a revealing comment, that of a man who had reached what he thought was the inner circle of power, only to discover that he was still being kept on the outside. So much of politics is about dealing well with other people. Did the Tories let Anderson join their party, only to lose him because they didn’t invite him to their parties?

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