Is it leadership of the Tory Party that Farage is setting his sights on, and, if so, would they have him? Or is he planning on creating havoc among the Reform Party?
Nigel Farage has been where he wants to be all week. No, not in an Australian jungle, but trending on X. His trip Down Under to boost his public image and, in his words, reach the ‘big young audience out there worth talking to,’ followed his conspicuous visit to the Conservative Party Conference, where he was hailed a messiah by swooning right-wingers. Both point to one thing – the launch of a political comeback.
The question is, is it leadership of the Tory Party that Farage is setting his sights on, and, if so, would they have him? Or is he planning on creating havoc among Reform UK, which, incidentally, recently tweaked its name to the Reform UK: The Brexit Party, a shift which suggests it hopes to evoke memories of its previous incarnation among voters.
Whatever the producers’ intentions were by inviting the former UKIP leader onto their flagship reality show, they seem to have backfired, at least for ITV. If it was viewing figures producers were after, the show has been left in chaos with ratings plummeting amid an audience boycott over the former Brexit Party leader’s inclusion. Now, a row has broken out over Farage’s lack of airtime.
His loyal employer, GB News, claim they had the ‘inside scoop’ on a ‘censorship’ squabble, venting a conspiracy theory that the show’s ‘lefty producers’ got him in the jungle because they wanted to discredit him and stamp out any future political bid. But instead, what they found out is that ‘actually he is a pretty decent guy’ so are deliberately ‘starving him of airtime,’ because they want him out.
Being ‘airbrushed’ from an audience of around 7m would be the worst possible scenario for Farage and his team, who have a long and successful history of galvanising support.
Let’s not forget the shock TRIC (Television and Radio Industries Club) Award win in June, when he managed to beat Susanna Reid, Eamonn Holmes and Piers Morgan in being crowned News Presenter of the Year. The ‘win’ came off the back of a big promotional push by Farage, including posting hordes of messages on social media and literally asking his GB News’ viewers for their vote.
Cynics might say the result was rigged, and similar tactics are being deployed Down Under, as, airbrushed or not, he’s still trending. As one TV source told the Daily Mirror:
“Farage’s team are very clever when it comes to these types of things, they can really galvanize his support. The people that do support Farage and his ideas are very passionate and some are very rich. It would be no surprise to see him do well, especially after what happened at the TRIC Awards, even he doesn’t believe he is the best news presenter on TV.”
It was Farage’s attendance at this year’s Conservative Party Conference, where viral footage of a cringey ‘knees up’ with Piti Patel on the dancefloor became the symbolic image of the gathering, which first got tongues wagging about his renewed interest in the party.
“I’d be very surprised if I were not Conservative leader by ’26. Very surprised,” said the former UKIP leader, leaving commentators debating as to whether he was joking or not.
“That’s the sort of jest that’s never entirely a jest,” wrote Henry Hill, as he argued against ruling out a Farage return in ConHome.
As speculation rumbles on, the right-wing media has been excitedly reporting on a potential Farage Tory leadership bid. “Poll: Would you like to see Nigel Frage take over from Rishi Sunak as Tory party leader?’ was a recent headline in the Brexit-loving Express.
However, since the conference in Manchester, Farage, who deserted Conservative Party ranks in 1992 when John Major signed the Maastricht Treaty forming the EU as we know it today, has ruled out rejoining the Tories. He described the party as ‘virtually indistinguishable’ from Labour.
Party chairman Greg Hands meanwhile said that he would not approve a Farage return to the Conservatives as he has campaigned for other political parties for many years.
But when Sunak was asked by GB News if a possible Farage return could be on the cards, the PM did little to quash the speculation by refusing to rule out the possibility.
“Look, the Tory party is a broad church. I welcome lots of people who want to subscribe to our ideals, to our values,” he said.
If he was permitted into the party, Sunak could learn to regret the decision, as Farage would then be in a strong position to win over the pro-Brexit, right-wing membership.
Riled by the return of Remainer David Cameron, by ‘record high’ immigration numbers, and the government’s failure to ‘stop the boats,’ the membership will be looking for their pound of flesh, especially in the wake of a Tory trouncing at the next election, which the polls all point to.
Sacked Suella Braverman will be ready to capitalise, but could she be rivalled by Farage?
Labour’s Emily Thornberry suggested as much. “If Nigel Farage is allowed into the Tory party, which looks like he will be, and if he’s then given a seat, then he could end up being leader of the Conservative party,” said the shadow attorney general.
Former chancellor George Osborne said it was not ‘inconceivable’ that Farage could rejoin the party after a GE defeat and go on to be elected as leader by members.
A poll by ConHome tallies with such thinking, showing as many as seven in ten party members believe Farage should be admitted to the Conservatives if he seeks membership.
Excessive immigration was the principal issue which fired the electorate into voting Brexit. But seven years down the line, and Brexit, under the Tories, has, in its architect Nigel Farage’s own words, “failed,” and, as 2022 figures show, net migration has hit a record high.
Conversely, would a Farage political comeback be more likely to involve the propping up of Reform UK, which is currently polling in double digits, as disgruntled Brexit-backing voters threaten to desert the Tories?
Seemingly on the up from its dismal performance in 2019, and with disaffected ‘floating’ voters promising to deliver a vote share as high as 17 percent, as polls suggest, Reform UK could be a more attractive, and effective, option for Farage to target his political revival. That said, the party’s leader, Richard Tice, might castigate the latest immigration figures as “appalling,” and urge for an abolition of the Home Office because of its failings on immigration, but has little more to propose on immigration than anyone else. As such, Tice might ‘step aside’ for Farage.
And Reform certainly seems desperate to scoop up potential defectors. Alongside Farage, Lee Anderson has been trending all week. A recording obtained by the Sunday Times claimed the deputy Tory party chairman turned down £430,000 from Reform UK to defect. The money, allegedly, would be paid as a guaranteed salary matching Anderson’s MP’s income for five years if he were to lose his seat under the Tories. The claim however, was vigorously denied by Tice, who says Anderson was merely offered “the chance to change the shape of the debate.”
On Farage rejoining Reform, Tice admitted the “more help Nigel can give, the better.” When asked in an interview with Sky whether Farage could make a comeback to lead Reform, he said: “I’m the leader, he’s made it very clear he doesn’t want to stand in a first-past-the-post election.
“We’re very pro-proportional representation. That’s the fairest way to conduct elections. But the more help Nigel can give, the better.”
Pressed again on whether that could mean Farage taking over, Tice said: “Let’s wait and see.”
“The Tories are terrified of the progress of Reform UK.”
These words contain some truth. The recent byelections in Tamworth and Mid-Bedfordshire exemplified the upset Reform can cause to the Tories. In both seats, the Conservatives would have won a majority, if Reform UK had stood aside and their votes had gone to the Tories.
With Reform riding high (compared to their performance in 2019) in the polls, amid the Farage comeback rumours, the forthcoming GE promises to be toxic. But admitting the man who has previously dined with BNP activists, is almost certain to send the Tory Party into further disarray (if that can be possible). Remain voting Tory stronghold seats would have a bigger chance to going to the Lib Dems, and any centrist, pro-Sunak remaining MPs, would be sent into an irretrievable meltdown.
There’s certainly some fretting going within the Tory ranks about the damage Farage could potentially do to the party. In a piece for CAPX on why Tories should think again if they are making plans for Nigel, ConHome assistant editor, William Atkinson argues that in the wake of the election and the Tories being “concentrated to a rump in the south-east,” either Farage, or a candidate elected on a “Faragist platform,” would be “courting a split between MPs and the membership that would make the defenestrations of Iain Duncan Smith and Liz Truss look positively civil.”
“Farage could either find himself forced out of a party he had only just re-joined or leading one whose MPs had resigned en masse. Neither would be a great look,” writes Atkinson.
Whether his motivations lie with retuning to the beleaguered Conservative Party, or creating havoc within Reform UK, both scenarios are likely to prove damaging to the Tories. The former risks creating absolute carnage and more internal division, and the latter is likely to result in greater support for Reform and thereby splitting the right-wing vote.
Either way, if you find yourself watching I’m a Celeb, don’t fall into the trap of believing it’s just a bit of ‘Farage fun.’ Remember what the net result was of UKIP being granted airtime in the years before the EU referendum – Brexit.
It could mean real trouble ahead.
Right-Wing Media Watch – Tory press goes nuts about immigration figures
Rishi Sunak is facing a revolt over record immigration figures, not just from his own Cabinet and MPs, but from the Tory press. Following the announcement that net migration hit 745,000 in 2022, an upward revision from an earlier estimate of 606,000, the right-wing, Brexit-backing newspapers went into an editorial tailspin.
‘Immigration at this level can’t go on,’ splashed the ‘Telegraph’s view,’ arguing the ‘latest figures have made a mockery of the idea that Brexit would lead to immigration falling.’ In its preaching ‘The Sun Says…’ column, the Eurosceptic tabloid claimed ‘Voters will not forgive Tories if PM does not dramatically bring down number of illegal migrants.’
As well as ignoring the fact that most of the immigrants arrive to Britain legally, the sensationalising editorial ignores surveys that show most British people hold positive views of immigration, thereby contradicting the Tories’ claim that curbing net inflow of migrants is a critical issue for voters.
Meanwhile, Daily Telegraph chief interviewer and columnist Allison Pearson, who incidentally became director of the climate science denial group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, in May, went a step further.
‘Reasonable people’ are so fed up with mass migration, that the ‘big haired Dutch politician’ has won over them over, she argues, in an op-ed that provocatively asks: ‘Will Britain soon get its own Geert Wilders?’
Leo McKinstry, who gets paid to churn out deeply unpleasant and repetitive rants, often blaming Britain’s problems on immigrants, and mostly in the Express, DEMANDS, it’s ‘time to stem the tide of rhetoric and end this border crisis.’ Following the usual tirades against migrants, including they’re putting ‘intolerable strain’ on the NHS, housing, and the welfare system, McKinstry proceeds to drool over his ‘mate Nigel,’ arguing that he will do well in the celebrity jungle, ‘contrary to the grotesque caricature painted by his unhinged enemies, he is thoughtful, amusing, intelligent, and charming.’
As columnists use the record migration numbers to speculate about a British ‘Wilders,’ brood over Nigel Farage, and call for rhetoric to be replaced by policy, the immigration secretary has lived up to the headlines. But instead of seeking plausible/workable solutions, Robert Jenrick opted to demonise migrant workers, threatening to cap the number of overseas health and care workers able to come to Britain, AND prevent them from bringing any family with them.
And who would the right-wing media blame for an almost inevitable collapse of the NHS, if Jenrick’s cruel plan was to go ahead, given that almost 19 percent of NHS workers are from overseas?
Those pesky migrants of course.
Woke Bashing of the Week: Right-wingers freak out about ‘Dr Woke’
The copy editors at the populist tabloids wouldn’t have had to think too long or hard about their mocking ‘Dr Woke’ headline following the return of Doctor Who last weekend. They probably had it pencilled in in anticipation before the episode was even broadcast.
From the Daily Mail to the GB News (which added an ‘h’ to their headline, making it ‘Doctor ‘Whoke’), the woke busters were keen to share the supposedly amusing knockdown of what was a brilliant renaissance episode of a three-part special marking the show’s 60th anniversary.
But for GB News, viewers were left ‘fuming’ and vowing ‘never to watch’ it again, after ‘woke’ David Tenant asked an alien about its pronouns. Oh, the crime! The right-wing station even devoted a panel discussion on the alleged storyline furore.
Meanwhile, the Mail’s report of the ‘Time Lord’s apology for getting alien’s pronouns wrong,’ cited one irate source – the Family Education Trust. Eh-up, they sound decidedly conservative, ‘unwoke’ and familiar. Oh yes, the researchers of the ’causes and consequences of family breakdown’ have previously labelled Drag Queen Hour events “grossly age-inappropriate.” In relation to ‘Dr Woke,’ the ‘voice of family and youth concern,’ said the pronoun scene ‘promoted a ‘cult of gender ideology.’
“Many vulnerable children watch Dr Who – this is dreadful propaganda from the BBC again,” they wrote on X.
GB News’ journo Darren Grimes barked out similar nonsense, posting: “The BBC are laughing at those who are forced to hand over the telly tax so they can destroy childhood classics with whackery and wokery.”
The populist channel even cited Grimes’ post in their morally outraged report on the apparent pronoun commotion. (They seem to cite their own journalists a lot, perhaps they struggle to find any sensible external voices to contribute to their reports?)
Doctor Who has long had a large queer fanbase and has always taken a lead in ‘progressive’ TV. Back in the early 1970s, when Jon Pertwee played the Doctor, he had a pronoun discussion with his assistant, Jo. The pair discussed whether Alpha Centauri was a she, he or and it. They concluded it was an ‘it.’
Naturally, the moralising right-wing media didn’t dwell on the Doctor’s long history of being pronoun sensitive.
Knowing he would face a grilling over those who predictably have an issue with progressive TV, the show’s current writer, Russell T. Davies, the genius behind the hit series ‘Queer as Folk’ and ‘It’s a Sin,’ was quote-ready, when he was, as expected, asked about social messaging at a BBC screening of the show. “It’s not just a Doctor Who thing for me, it’s something I and a lot of other writers are very keen to do, to be progressive and to reflect more of society,” said Davies.
I also suspect that he was fully aware of the reaction the pronoun scene would provoke among right wing media and looked forward to their usual fuming. It was actually both amusing and thought provoking, especially in the talented hands of David Tennant. I always knew that the right wing news media were short on thought but it seems that they don’t have much sense of humour either.
The opening Star Beast episode offers insight into what’s ahead in the remaining chapters of the 60th anniversary special, and with Russell T returning to the writing helm, there’s bound to be more storylines that will send the anti-woke brigade into meltdown.
I look forward to seeing what the next headline will be now ‘Dr Woke’ has been exhausted. The ‘Marxist Master,’ maybe?
Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is author of Right-Wing Watch