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‘Labour Should Fight Nigel Farage in Clacton – We’re Sitting on a Democratic Powder Keg and the Reform Leader has the Match’

“We’ve heard a lot in the campaign about D-Day. If ever there was a time to fight them on the beaches, then this is it.”

Reform UK party leader Nigel Farage plays a game in an amusement arcade in Clacton-On-Sea on June 21. Photo: Associated Press / Alamy
Reform UK party leader Nigel Farage plays a game in an amusement arcade in Clacton-On-Sea on June 21. Photo: Associated Press / Alamy

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Is Clacton the bridgehead to national populism in the UK? Just weeks ago, the notion seemed far-fetched. Nigel Farage was more interested in backing Donald Trump, while his own private party plaything, Reform UK, would likely hurt the Conservatives but deliver nothing more.

Whatever prompted Farage to stand, every MRP poll now puts him first and the seismic potential of this Essex seaside town becoming the seedbed of something destructive grows by the day.

But despite the threat the left just stands and watches, unwilling to intervene.

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As the media provides the Reform Leader with a prominent platform once more during this general election campaign, Peter Jukes considers all the concerning lines of enquiry that journalists never confront him with


What’s Going on, What Does it Tell us and What can be Done?

The ‘what if’ scenarios of Farage winning the seat and using it as a platform to either overtake a post-election shell-shocked Conservative Party or engineer some kind of reverse Conservative takeover are now well worn and mostly dismissed.

But nothing about Farage should be underestimated, not least in the post Brexit carnage and volatility that he created. If Labour fails to deliver enough in office, then all bets are off about Farage reshaping the country for the second time in a decade. After all, he’s already on record as saying that this election in Clacton is about who becomes Prime Minister in 2029.

Leader of Reform UK Nigel Farage has a drink thrown over him as launches his General Election campaign in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex on June 4. Photo: PA Images / Alamy
Farage has a drink thrown over him as launches his General Election campaign in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex on June 4. Photo: PA Images / Alamy

Given the scale of this potential threat, why is Labour ordering its young energetic candidate for the seat, Jovan Owusu-Nepaul, not to offer a full-throated attack on Farage, but campaign 180 miles away in the West Midland?

The cynical view is that Labour’s leadership see Farage causing more problems for the Conservatives than for them. In the short-term that’s true, he is the bull in the Conservative china shop.

But in 2015, UKIP drew as much support from the left as right and the recent Reform UK poll boost shows they’re pulling votes from Labour and the Conservatives. But it’s the long-term democratic and political threat Labour should be most wary of.

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The less cynical view of why Labours’ candidate has been ordered by the party HQ to campaign elsewhere is the cold logic of first past the post (FPTP), that you only target your resource on the seats you think you can win. Across the country it means seat after seat is ignored and abandoned. Electoral abandonment leads to economic abandonment – why bother campaigning, listening to and supporting communities and towns like Clacton that are always or never going to back your candidate?

At the 2019 general election a massive 85% of the votes cast in Clacton didn’t count in terms of getting the winning candidate over the line. So Farage is given a free pass.


The Democratic Bridge is on Fire and Clacton Shows Why

As a one-party town Clacton can be taken for granted and people have had enough of it everywhere.

In all this Labour lives an electoral lie. It says it’s a “national party” that fights every seat. But in reality it slices and dices the battleground to maximum effect for some, while leaving others pray to national populism. In so doing it handcuffs and gags a young candidate who wants to stand up to the hard right and leaves uncontested a town for Farage to use for his own vanity.

Before his candidacy in a Times interview Farage said, “do I want to be an MP? Do I want to spend every Friday for the next five years in Clacton?”. His interviewer writes: “His expression suggests not”.

Keir Starmer chats with celebrity potter Keith Brymer Jones in Longton near Stoke On Trent on June 27. Photo: PA Images / Alamy

On Wednesday, Keir Starmer confirmed in an interview that he was pro-FPTP, despite suggesting otherwise in his leadership bid, party conference voting for proportional representation (PR) and his own policy process declaring that FPTP distorts our democracy. Instead, he said it delivers strong and stable government. The last few years suggest otherwise.

Farage is of course pro-electoral reform. But only because he sees PR as a temporary fast track to his brand of national populism. As soon as he achieves any legislative power, he’ll kick the ladder away and return us to a majoritarian system in which he can rule parliament on 35% of the vote.

Across the continent in the recent European elections, it was only PR that stemmed the right-wing surge. Under FPTP France and Italy and would have all gone far more to the right. We are sitting on a democratic powder keg and Farage has the match.


So, what could be done?

Clacton is reminder of special case elections seats, not least Tatton in 1997 when the Independent Martin Bell was given a free run against a Conservative MP embroiled in the cash for questions affair.

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I was in the room back then when Gordon Brown softly muttered that Labour should stand aside in the national interest and put country before party. But Clacton has much greater importance. This time Labour should stand up to Farage and all he stands for and call on all the other progressive parties to back them in this one-off special case. In this way it would echo the new Popular Front in France as it tries to collectively stem the tide of the national populism there.

We’ve heard a lot in the campaign about D-Day. If ever there was a time to fight them on the beaches, then this is it.


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