What Nigel Farage Means for the U.K. Election

6 minute read

Far right British politician Nigel Farage has launched a campaign for his eighth attempt at a seat in the U.K. House of Commons, a move that could lure Conservative voters to a new political home.

On Tuesday, Farage, 60, met with supporters at a rally in the beach town Clacton-on-Sea, where he is campaigning to become the Member of Parliament in the general election on July 4. Farage, it seemed, was not received well by some; locals were seeing holding a banner saying “Farage not welcome here,” while one woman threw a milkshake over him as he left the pub.

Best known for his staunch support of Brexit, as well as xenophobic campaigns, Farage, the former  U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) leader, announced Monday that he would return to frontline politics by heading up the right-wing party Reform U.K. 

The move marked a U-turn for the contentious figure, who previously said he would be focusing his attention on supporting Donald Trump in November’s U.S. presidential race.  

“I can’t turn my back on the people’s army,” Farage said of his change in decision. “I can’t turn my back on those millions of people who followed me, believed in me despite the horrendous things that were being said about me.” 

Experts say the move could present a final blow to the incumbent Conservative party, which is trailing behind Labour in the polls and on track to lose. “It could prove the proverbial nail in the coffin” for the Conservatives, says Tim Bale, a professor of politics at Queen Mary, University of London.

Here’s what to know about Farage’s campaign, and how it will affect the general election. 

Why is Nigel Farage running in the U.K. election?

After stating that he had no intention to run in the general election, Farage said he felt he would be letting voters and supporters down if he did not represent them at the ballot box. Farage stands a strong chance of defeating Clacton’s Conservative incumbent MP, a role held by Giles Watling until Parliament was dissolved on May 30. 

It is thought that Farage could be foraying back into politics at a time where Labour is poised for victory, and there is a chance to form a strong opposition in the Commons. Bale says this pivot could be much more personally motivated. 

“If I were a cynic, I'd point out that the signs were that Farage wasn't going to do as much business in America as he hoped he would during the Presidential campaign,” says Bale. “Less cynically, he's looked more deeply at the polling, realized the Conservatives really are going to lose votes pretty much everywhere, which of course lowers the bar for him to win a seat.” 

After seven election defeats, an eighth time could be the charm for Farage, who is returning to an entirely changed battleground. 

“The key difference for Nigel Farage’s eighth attempt is that he is facing off against a Conservative Party that is polling at historic lows,” says Jac Larner, a professor of political science at Cardiff University in Wales. “This means his main competitors on the right are unable to put up the same level of resistance as in previous years.” 

What is Nigel Farage known for?

Farage has become synonymous with Brexit and wider Euroscepticism within the U.K. Once a member of the Conservative party, Farage resigned after the U.K. signed the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, which aimed to create closeness between European nations. 

“In Europe, he's a bogey-man for mainstream politicians and something of an inspiration for the populist radical right,” says Bale of Farage. His divisive approach has earned him a reputation for being “motor-mouthed chancer with some nasty right-wing views” or a “hero” willing to challenge the political class, Bale adds.   

He has straddled media and politics, acting as a founding member of UKIP, a fringe right-wing populist political party, which he led from 2006 until 2009, and then in 2010 to 2016. 

In 1999, Farage was elected to represent South East England in the European Parliament, a role he held until 2020. In 2009, UKIP secured more votes than Labour and the Liberal Democrats in the European elections. 

As concerns over the U.K.’s position within the European Union (EU) grew and culminated in the 2016 EU referendum, Farage backed Catherine Blaiklock in launching the Brexit party in 2019. After the U.K. withdrew from the EU, the party rebranded to become Reform U.K. Farage left Reform in 2021 to focus on his media career. 

What is the Reform party?

Invoking former U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 election slogan, Reform touts itself as a party to “make Britain great again.” The party’s website says it is seeking to reform the economy, energy strategy, the public sector, and British institutions. It also places importance on having “a proper immigration policy” and protected borders. 

Before Farage returned to the helm, the party was steered by former Conservative party member Richard Tice. The party is home to a number of defecting Tories, such as former Conservative deputy chair Lee Anderson, the party’s first MP in the commons who was previously kicked out of the Conservative party for alleging that London Mayor Saqid Khan, who is Muslim, was controlled by Islamists.  

How will Nigel Farage’s decision to run impact the election?

The outcome of this summer’s election remains broadly unchanged, with Labour on course to surpass Tony Blair’s landslide majority in 1997, according to YouGov polling. In fact, Bale says, Farage’s return “could mean Labour wins even bigger than looked likely last week.” 

He adds that Reform voters are more likely to be defecting Conservative voters rather than former Labour voters. “That means Conservative candidates will gain fewer votes, which, in turn, means they stand even more chance of losing to their Labour and Liberal Democrat opponents than would have been the case had Farage not re-entered the fray.”

Larner echoes this sentiment, saying that even the safest Conservative seats are now facing “battles on two fronts,” one against Labour’s rising support, and “another to former Conservative voters jumping ship to Reform.”

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Write to Armani Syed at armani.syed@time.com