Why Clacton is the perfect place for Farage to launch his bid to eclipse the Tories

Nigel Farage today announced that he is standing in the Essex seaside town of Clacton in an eighth attempt to win a seat in the House of Commons (as was first revealed in The Independent).

After seven previous failed attempts in Eastleigh, Bexhill and Battle, Salisbury, Thanet South (twice), Bromley and Chislehurst, and Buckingham, Mr Farage and his supporters believe that this time he stands a real chance of winning the seat in the Commons that has always eluded him.

But why Clacton? What is it about the quiet seat filled with pensioners, with its pier and arcades, that makes it the perfect place for the former Brexit Party and Ukip leader to stand?

After all, this was the seat that delivered Tory MP Giles Watling, a former actor who was in the sitcom Bread, a massive 24,702 majority in 2019.

Nigel Farage confirms he will stand as Reform UK candidate in the general election: ‘I can’t let down millions of people’ (Reuters)
Nigel Farage confirms he will stand as Reform UK candidate in the general election: ‘I can’t let down millions of people’ (Reuters)

Brexit! Brexit! Brexit!

Clacton was one of the biggest Leave-voting constituencies in the country in 2016, and has remained strongly in support of Brexit.

In the 2016 referendum, 73 per cent of those who voted in the seat voted to leave the EU. It makes Clacton a fertile campaigning area for a man whom Donald Trump has dubbed “Mr Brexit”.

But there is more. Recent history in Clacton shows that it is not as safe a Tory seat as the 2019 election suggests.

It was held by Ukip when Douglas Carswell defected from the Tories in 2014 to join the party, which was then led by Farage. Carswell called a by-election and won the seat, and then won it again handsomely in 2015.

The Tories only regained it in 2017 when Carswell decided to step down and Farage had resigned as Ukip leader. The 2019 result was boosted by Farage’s decision to stand down Brexit Party candidates against sitting Tory MPs.

Watling is a target

Giles Watling was a popular sitcom actor, but has not always been as popular in Clacton.

Ahead of this election, there were complaints that he was not as visible as he might be in the constituency, and there was an attempt to deselect him.

CCHQ intervened, and Watling reversed the decision with a vote in his favour by members of the association, but some of the local Tory councillors quit the party in protest to sit as independents.

One of them, Peter Harris, was previously the Ukip candidate for Dagenham and Rainham, and will now be organising Farage’s ground campaign.

Referring to Watling’s sitcom career, he told The Independent: “Giles Watling starred in Bread, but now he is toast.”

A failure to level up

Seaside towns like Clacton have seen better days, and there is a feeling among many that they missed out on the so-called levelling up drive that benefited areas like the North East of England and other red-wall areas.

Clacton, like Blackpool, Southend and Great Yarmouth, has areas of severe poverty that often seem to be ignored, even though they also have some very well-off parts.

A report by the think tank Onward concluded that pockets of Clacton ranked in the top 1 per cent among areas of poverty in the UK.

There is no better place for Farage to capitalise on a sense of betrayal by the Tories.

It’s now or never for Farage

There is no doubt that the decision to run, apparently made while fishing, is an attempt to take advantage of a historic opportunity.

Tory support is collapsing in the polls; issues on which Reform is strong, especially immigration, are top of the political agenda; and Farage’s own profile has never been higher or appealed to more people.

His stint in the jungle on ITV’s I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! introduced Mr Farage to a whole new audience that had not hitherto been particularly politically engaged. He survived all sorts of attempts to get him out early, and came third.

Added to that, across the pond, his friend Trump is making the political weather, even though some people are trying to put him in prison.

But the biggest factor of all is Farage’s chance to reshape British politics. Be in no doubt that the aim here is for him to lead whatever is left of the Conservative Party, or a new centre-right party, and then lead it to power in 2029.

All he needed was the right seat to win and get him into parliament.