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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

‘You never know, I might bring Trump to Clacton – he loves the UK,’ says toast of town Nigel Farage

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Reform chief who counts former US president among his heavyweight political friends does his rounds to start serious business of being an MP

As Clacton’s newly-elected MP walks through the seaside town’s Pavilion funfair, he is stopped so many times for pictures that they might as well rename it Farageworld.

This corner of Essex is the epicentre of the political tremor that Reform UK pulled off in polling 4.1 million votes last week, and for Nigel Farage the campaigning is over and the serious business of representing his constituents is about to begin.

He is, he says, “overjoyed” finally to be an MP after 30 years of trying, and at the beginning of his first week in the job he can’t hide his excitement at what is to come.

“I can’t wait to get started,” he says. “When I was an MEP, I was representing eight million people, but this is very different. 

“Walking down the street here, with people stopping me all the time to chat, you have a far greater sense of representing people, that you’re the person they’re going to turn to whether they voted for you or not.”

He is giddy as a schoolboy when one of his team hands him an envelope simply marked Member of Parliament – his new MP briefing pack that should have been given to him straight after Thursday night’s count but which got lost in the bedlam that followed his victory.

“People keep asking me when I’m getting sworn in and the truth is I have no idea,” he says, as he opens the envelope. 

He reads it and says: “Induction is tomorrow. There are 334 new MPs though, so it’s going to take a while.”

Having spent the past few years changing history by helping bringing Brexit to pass, and shuttling across the Atlantic to help out his friend Donald Trump

Mr Farage is having to adjust to the reality of life as a local MP.

He spends Monday morning in a long meeting with Ian Davidson, chief executive of Tendring district council, discussing pressing local matters including policing, anti-social behaviour and the state of the pavements, before heading to his campaign office, a former Chinese restaurant above an amusement arcade, which has a disused bar at one end of the room and an enormous Union flag at the other.

It is from here that his team will mastermind their assault on next year’s local council elections, which will be step one in his plan to convert those four million votes into more parliamentary seats, based on the formula that enabled the Lib Dems to win 72 seats with half a million fewer votes.

“Paddy Ashdown was brilliant at this,” he says. 

“He understood that to win parliamentary seats, you first have to win council seats. 

“Then the councillors identify with their communities, campaign for the party at a Westminster level, and when there is a by-election they have 1,000 people ready to turn up and campaign.”

Reform UK now has five MPs, and Mr Farage is genuinely delighted to have established his “bridgehead” in Parliament, despite his complaints about the unfairness of the first past the post system.

I ask whether his plan is still to be prime minister in five years’ time, when he will be 65, or whether a more realistic target would be overtaking the Tories – something he could have done if just 336,000 votes had gone the other way last week.

“I don’t know,” he shrugs. “All sorts of things could happen. If someone younger and better looking than me comes along I will recognise that and hand over. If not, I’ll do it.

“All I do know is that voters are more fluid than ever before. 

“I’ve been in this game for more than 30 years now, I’m very good at reading trends and I’m more bullish and ambitious now than I have ever been.”

Parliament will give him a platform to boost the profile of Reform like never before. 

The Tories are terrified that he will be seen as the official opposition by the public while they are distracted by a coming leadership election, and when I ask if he has thought much about that, he chuckles as he says: “Never crossed my mind!” then adds: “What do you think?”

His election will also enable him to raise the profile of Clacton, a town desperately in need of jobs and investment rather than relying on seasonal income from holidaymakers.

We head to the Three Jays pub in Jaywick, an area where 70 per cent of voters backed Reform, and which acted as a sort of satellite office for the campaign – landlord Adrian Brockwell is an enthusiastic supporter of the party.

Sitting at the bar is Bob Brace, a 69-year-old pub singer who wears a Reform UK T-shirt and says he had never been politically active until Mr Farage entered the race five weeks ago.

“Nigel is one of the most famous men in the country,” he says. 

“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out that anyone who is a friend of a US president is going to lift the profile of Clacton. 

“What they have achieved in the space of a few weeks is incredible.”

There is already talk in the pub of whether Trump might one day pay a visit to Clacton, and whether there would be room on Jaywick Sands for him to build a championship golf course.

Might Mr Farage one day bring Trump to Clacton?

“You never know,” he teases.

He is serious, though, about helping Sir Keir Starmer to navigate his relationship with Trump should he return as president.

“Our relationship with America, even under a Labour government, is very, very important,” he says, “and I won’t do anything to get in the way of that.

“Trump loves the UK and if I can be helpful with that relationship I will be because it really matters.

“John Healey, the new Defence Secretary, is one of the most competent people in the Cabinet and he will be a key player.

“Keir Starmer won’t be the most fascinating person Trump has ever met but neither was Theresa May, and he got on with it.”

He will, he says, make “two or three flying visits” to the US this year. 

Much of his diary is still to be decided; he is “in talks” with GB News about returning to host his evening show, but accepts that doing it four nights a week, as he was before the election campaign, will be difficult, and that hosting a show as the leader of a political party will raise regulatory questions that must be answered.

For lunch, we head to Clacton’s seafront and My Big Fat Greek Taverna, the restaurant that hosted Mr Farage’s election night party.

As he savours a moussaka with a glass of red wine, Mr Farage discusses how he can use his profile to benefit his constituents.

“I’m concerned about levelling up funds that the Tories promised to Clacton and whether Labour will honour those promises,” he says. 

If Labour try to reallocate the money elsewhere, he says, they will find that “I can be a great friend but I’m a terrible enemy. I’m quite well known, so I’m not a very good person to have a fight with”.

Having campaigned on issues for most of his life, he says the election campaign has taught him that he needs to campaign for “something bigger than that”: values, and in particular family, community and country.

“No one speaks up for the family,” he says, admitting that after two failed marriages “my track record is not great”, but that “everyone knows that children who grow up in a stable home with a father and a mother do better in life”.

He is passionate about people having a sense of community and looking out for each other, and about patriotism and pride in the Union flag, saying there is “a silent majority that want these things” and he intends to speak up for them.

He admits, though, that the issue of security worries him

He is looking for a home in the constituency which he says will need to be “very isolated, for obvious reasons” and says the issue of face to face constituency surgeries will need “a lot of thought”.

He says: “David Amess was one of the most all-round pleasant, genial, non-controversial people out there, and he was stabbed to death at a constituency surgery, so you would have to be an idiot for it not to worry you. I can’t live or operate without a high level of security.

“Clement Attlee used to get the Tube home when he was prime minister, but nowadays I’m concerned about MPs even walking across Parliament Square.”

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