Nigel Farage: Wheels may not have come off Reform UK leader's bandwagon yet – but it's more shaky and wobbly – Sky News

The day began with terrible newspaper headlines for Nigel Farage – but it may be too late for this ugly racism row to slam the brakes on Reform UK.
Chief political correspondent
Friday 28 June 2024 22:52, UK
Was this the day the wheels began to come off for Nigel Farage’s Reform UK bandwagon? Quite possibly.
It was a day that began with terrible newspaper headlines and ended with a clash about racism in his party with a hostile TV audience.
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It may be, of course, that this ugly racism row has come too late to slam the brakes on the Farage juggernaut threatening to crush the Tories.
That’s because, firstly, it’s estimated that one in four of us will cast a postal vote in this election and many voters will have returned theirs already.
Secondly, Mr Farage relishes controversy and revels in the role of the insurgent battling against the establishment and political convention.
But even by his standards of notoriety the day got off to a bad start, when The Daily Telegraph’s front-page headline declared: “Farage is a Putin appeaser, says Sunak”.
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The Times had an even more lurid headline – “Shoot illegal migrants, said Reform campaigner” and claimed the party faced claims of widespread sexist and racist behaviour by election candidates.
One candidate, it was reported, had been a member of the British National Party, another claimed feminism was a “cancer” and a third accused two black women of “behaving like a gutter slut”.
But worse, much worse, was to come. In a Channel 4 documentary a Reform UK supporter, Andrew Parker, had been recorded calling prime minister Rishi Sunak “an effing P***”.
In his response, during a campaign visit to Teesside, Mr Sunak was as visibly angry as anyone who has observed his 20 months as PM has ever seen him.
Almost spitting out his words, he spoke about how his two daughters had to see and hear Farage supporters calling him “an effing P***” and it made him angry.
It was an extraordinary outburst for two reasons: First, he talked about the hurt that racial abuse caused his daughters, aged 13 and 11, and second he chose to repeat the offensive slur.
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The appeasement charge against Mr Farage was first made by Mr Sunak a week ago when the Reform leader said on TV the West provoked Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine.
Until then, the PM and senior Tories had largely left Mr Farage alone during the election campaign, despite Reform UK’s relentless rise in opinion polls at the expense of the Conservatives.
But while Mr Sunak was visibly angry in his response to the Channel 4 programme, so too was Mr Farage, claiming in a lunchtime appearance on ITV’s Loose Women – yes, really! – that it was “a complete and total set-up”.
Set-up or not, Essex Police then waded into the row, announcing they were “urgently assessing” Mr Parker’s comments “to establish if there are any criminal offences”.
Oh no! Not another police inquiry during this election campaign. Along with the gambling probe, the boys – and girls – in blue are in for a busy final week of the campaign!
Mr Farage repeated his allegation later on BBC TV’s Question Time, claiming Mr Parker was an actor who had worked for Channel 4 previously and denouncing “a political set-up of astonishing proportions”.
Not surprisingly, Channel 4 fiercely disputed Mr Farage’s “set-up” claim, insisting the programme makers met Mr Parker for the first time at Reform UK HQ, where he was a Reform party canvasser.
Read more:
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His appearance on Question Time got off to a tough start, however, with accusations of “vile” racism. He responded by claiming he was responsible for driving the British National Party out of UK politics.
Facing questions about how the candidates making racist remarks came to be selected, Mr Farage appeared to throw his predecessor Richard Tice under the bus.
He had inherited a “start-up party”, he claimed, without mentioning Mr Tice by name. The audience laughed when he was asked how they became candidates and replied: “I have no idea!”
Throughout his interrogation, Mr Farage was typically defiant. “I’m not going to apologise!” he bellowed at one point.
But he was also defensive, as questions on racism went on for the first 11 minutes of the half-hour programme.
But by the end audience members were calling him “Nigel” and when the questions moved on to migration, Brexit, tax and Donald Trump the pressure was off.
So despite this unpleasant racism row which has engulfed his party, the wheels may not have come off the Farage bandwagon just yet.
But as we enter the final week of the election campaign, the bandwagon has suddenly become more shaky and wobbly.

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