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Reform more than 80 candidates short, despite Farage grabbing the headlines

Once again, it was Nigel Farage that grabbed the headlines with his campaign launch in Clacton-on-Sea.

But although it may appear otherwise, Reform UK is not a one-man band – and it is in a race against time to register candidates before nominations close at 4pm on Friday.

The party has between 80 to 100 seats left to fill if it is to achieve its aim of contesting every constituency in England, Scotland and Wales, Reform sources told i.

Nomination papers were said to be in the post and arriving with candidates on Tuesday, giving a tight 72-hour window for the paperwork to be returned to the Electoral Commission.

Rumours that as many as six prospective Conservative MPs are considering defecting to Reform could further complicate the process.

Newly appointed Reform UK leader Nigel Farage launches his eight attempt to become an MP in Clacton-On-Sea on Tuesday (Photo: Ben Stansall/AFP)
Newly appointed Reform UK leader Nigel Farage launches his eighth attempt to become an MP (Photo: Ben Stansall/AFP)

But Richard Tice, the party chairman and former leader who resigned to make way for Mr Farage, is confident Reform will be able to fight every seat.

“We’ve effectively filled the seats unless someone cocks up the paperwork,” he said.

“Basically, we’ve got a plan A and a plan B…we are still confident we’ll field 630 candidates and I’ve got plenty of spare candidates over and above the 630 should we need them.”

Mr Tice, who has loaned Reform at least £1.4m since 2021, is himself standing in Boston and Skegness in Lincolnshire: a deprived, coastal town that voted overwhelmingly for Brexit. Just like Mr Farage’s target Clacton.

Chris Hopkins, a pollster at Savanta, believes Mr Farage’s has a “strong” chance of winning in the Essex town, adding: “This could be the best chance he’s ever had of becoming an MP.”

But the former Ukip leader’s presence could also help Reform across the country, Mr Hopkins said. “I also think his arrival boosts the chance of Tice winning in Boston and Skegness, and maybe a handful of other candidates.”

Mr Tice said he was “absolutely convinced” Reform would pick up “six or so” seats. But even where it does not win, Reform under Mr Farage could “take a lot of second places and run the Tories a lot closer”, according to Mr Hopkins.

“Farage will be able to fish a disgruntled pool of Tory voters, and he’s got real charisma. A down-the-pub vibe, very much the antithesis of Rishi Sunak,” the pollster said.

“He’s a huge headache, borderline disaster for the Conservative Party. This is the last thing their already stuttering campaign needed… His return is about as good as it gets for Labour.”

Some within Reform believe Mr Farage’s 11th-hour “emergency announcement ” was always part of the plan in a bid to drum up “free publicity”.

One insider said: “I think Nigel and Richard knew he would [stand].

“We’ve only got, what £2m, £3m, at most to spend on the campaign. What Nigel gives us is tonnes of free publicity.”

The source added: “Don’t be surprised if he somehow gets himself into the leadership debates that are currently reserved for the just Sunak and Starmer. It’s undemocratic that these two boring men are the only two party leaders on our screen and Nigel will point that out, I’m sure.”

Ann Widdecombe, the former Conservative minister who is now a member of Reform, said she believed that Farage’s candidacy would lead to a “surge” in support for the party. Ms Widdecombe, who is not standing for election herself, said Mr Tice had performed well as leader but Farage will make a “huge difference” because he is an “inspirational figure”.

Pollster Chris Hopkins believes Nigel Farage will help reduce the Tories to no more than 150 MPs (Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images)
Pollster Chris Hopkins believes Nigel Farage will help reduce the Tories to no more than 150 MPs (Photo: Carl Court/Getty Images)

“The fact is that Labour is going to win,” she said. “There is no possibility of the Tories winning. So the question is: why waste a vote on the Tories when you could actually vote for change?”

Ms Widdecombe said that her new party aimed to become the “effective opposition” by winning over moderate Tory voters. But not only that: the Conservatives “have got to be pulverised,” she said. “They deserve all that’s coming to them.”

This election will be Mr Farage’s eighth attempt at becoming an MP. Even if the party wins millions of votes, he may end up being Reform’s only representative in Parliament.

But he has been clear about his ultimate aim: a “reverse takeover” of the Conservative party.

“Nigel is back…We do need [him] in Parliament kicking up a storm, getting some of the few remaining Tories to come over to us,” the insider said.

“If we’re in Parliament we can have those talks. [And] before you know it, we could have more MPs than the Tories. That’s the plan. That’s how it works.”

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