Brexit party to contest more than 600 seats in election, says Farage

Party leader accuses Tories of ‘conceited arrogance’ in asking it to stand aside

Nigel Farage has committed the Brexit party to standing more than 600 candidates in the general election, dismissing Conservative warnings that this could split the pro-leave vote as “conceited arrogance”.

At a lavish campaign launch in central London, at which hundreds of new parliamentary candidates were paraded before the media, the party leader insisted he mainly hoped to take votes – and potentially seats – in strongly pro-leave Labour areas. “I think the Labour seats offer our best opportunity,” he said.

Farage will not stand for election, in what would have been his eighth attempt to win a Westminster seat. The decision has been criticised amid a tricky period for his new party.

Formally launched in January amid the deadlock of Theresa May’s premiership, the Brexit party took more than 30% of the vote in May’s European elections. But it has since slipped to as low as 10% in some polls, albeit with most showing it nearer 15%.

After speculation that the party could field only a couple of dozen candidates in Labour leave seats, Farage instead said it would contest every seat outside Northern Ireland, following the Conservatives’ dismissal of a pact based on pushing for a no-deal Brexit.

(June 9, 1994)  Eastleigh

Came fourth in a by-election for Ukip with 952 votes, edging out the Monster Raving Loony Party candidate who got 783.

(May 1, 1997) Salisbury

Came fourth for Ukip in the general election with 3,332 votes.

(June 7, 2001) Bexhill and Battle

Came fourth of four candidates in the general election, with 3,474 votes for Ukip.

(May 5, 2005)  South Thanet

In his first attempt to be elected in South Thanet, Farage secured 2,079 votes for Ukip.

(June 29, 2006)  Bromley and Chislehurst

Following the death of Conservative MP Eric Forth, Farage contested the seat in the by-election. He finished third, above Labour's Rachel Reeves, with 2,307 votes - an 8% share.

(May 6, 2010)  Buckingham

Nigel Farage broke the tradition that the Speaker is unopposed by standing against John Bercow. Farage came third, behind a campaigner dressed as a dolphin called 'Flipper' to protest against Bercow's role in the MPs expenses scandal.

(May 7, 2015) 

A second attempt to get elected in South Thanet ended in failure as Farage finished second with 16,026 votes, 2,812 short of the Conservatives' Craig Mackinlay. The high profile election race also featured 'pub landlord' creator Al Murray who got 318 votes, and Zebadiah Abu-Obadiah representing the Al-Zebabist Nation of Ooog, who got 30.

Addressing the noisy crowd of candidates at the launch event, Farage condemned calls from pro-leave Tories including Steve Baker and Jacob Rees-Mogg that the party should stand down to avoid allowing Labour into power.

Rees-Mogg had suggested the Brexit party “stand aside and leave it to the Conservatives”, Farage said, adding: “What kind of conceited arrogance is this?”

Farage later confirmed the party would compete for every seat. “Did you see those people in the room. They’re not standing down, are they?” he said. “These people are physically here today to sign their nomination papers.”

Asked if a pact with the Tories was dead, he said: “I don’t know, but I have to take the attitude that I’ve tried like crazy over week after week to put together a leave alliance that would win a huge majority, and all I get is abuse back. So in the end you begin to think – what’s the point?”

But Farage said he felt the party’s best chance would be in Labour-held seats in places like the Midlands, Wales and northern England, where an electorate who voted predominantly for Brexit in 2016 were represented by a pro-remain MP.

“When you go out to these Labour constituencies that voted leave and are now represented by remainer MPs there’s more anger there about the lack of representation than in any other part of the country,” he said. “I have no doubt about that after travelling round the country these last few months.”

Brexit party candidates pose with Farage and the party chairman, Richard Tice
Brexit party candidates pose with Farage and the party chairman, Richard Tice. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

The event was at once a media launch, a bonding and briefing session for candidates, and a logistical hub for processing would-be MPs.

After Farage spoke, journalists were cleared from the hall in Westminster so candidates could be addressed privately on strategy by the party’s head of media, and by the former Tory MP Ann Widdecombe, now a Brexit party MEP.

In another room, officials had a table of nomination papers for candidates to fill in and sign. Nearby was a photographer with lights and a white backdrop to take official party photos. Candidates held a piece of paper showing their name and party number, so they could be correctly identified later.

In a preview of the attack lines Farage will use during the campaign, he condemned Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal as a barely improved version of that agreed by May, which he called “a document that you would only have signed if you were beaten in war”.

Referring to the Conservative catchphrase “get Brexit done”, Farage said: “Now that is a very tempting slogan on a public who, after three and a half years of this process, have in many cases just about had enough. But the problem is, it doesn’t get Brexit done. All it does is take us into another three years of agonising negotiations.”

One of the new candidates, Inaya Folarin Iman, conceded after the speech that she faced an uphill task unseating Labour’s Fabian Hamilton in Leeds North East, where in 2017 he won almost 50% of the votes.

She said: “Even if I may not necessarily win that seat, I’ve had so many people on the doorstep thanking me for standing, just so we can have a broader conversation, and not this typical two-party binary, when it’s the lesser of two evils. Me standing gives people a choice.”

The broadcaster LBC confirmed on Monday that Farage will not host his five days a week radio show on the station during the general election campaign, in order to comply with Ofcom rules on impartiality for the election period.

What is the Brexit party strategy?

Farage is perfectly open about the fact that in an ideal world, the vast majority of the hundreds of keen, bright-eyed Brexit party candidates packed into a hall on Monday would have been stood down without a battle.

The party leader’s first choice was a pact with the Conservatives, under which he would focus the significant resources of his new organisation on 20 or so Labour-held seats with considerable pro-leave populations.

Of course, the price of such a pact was one Johnson was never going to accept – dumping the PM’s cherished Brexit plan for a commitment to a no-deal departure. While Farage claims this joint platform would deliver a “massive majority” to Johnson, it would push the Tories into relying on the hardest of core Brexit voters.

So does the decision to field 600-plus candidates automatically harm Johnson’s cause by splitting the pro-Brexit vote? The answer could be yes and no.

The textbook example of how the Conservatives could be adversely affected came in June’s Peterborough byelection, where Labour retained a seat in a largely pro-Brexit area by 683 votes – and the Brexit party and Tories won more than 17,000 votes between them, compared with Labour’s 10,484.

But the picture is more complex. The Tory peer and psephologist Lord Hayward argues that in the sorts of northern, Midland and Welsh seats targeted by Farage, long-time Labour voters would generally “rather die in a ditch than vote Tory”, but would be less tribal in switching their vote to the Brexit party.

In his launch speech, Farage gleefully referred to what he said were 5 million Labour leave voters ripe for stealing.

There are two caveats to this. One is that the real number of Labour leave voters is probably closer to 3 million or 4 million. The other is that a number of them already stopped supporting Labour in the 2017 election.

Where will it all end? What impact will the Brexit party have? As with so much connected to the election, it is almost impossible to know. But what seems clear is that Farage will relish the idea of wreaking chaos on both main parties.


Peter Walker Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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