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Did the BBC predict Farage’s U-turn announcement?

Farage wouldn’t have been happy surrendering his seat on the Question Time leaders’ special to Richard Tice

Nigel Farage, speaks at the Reform Party annual conference in 2023 (Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images)

Mandrake wonders if the BBC’s announcement that there would be a “leaders’ special” Question Time on June 20 didn’t bring matters to a head between Reform’s two big egotists and result in Nigel Farage replacing Richard Tice as its leader and standing as its prospective parliamentary candidate in Clacton.

The two had previously come to an uneasy agreement that Farage would do most of the media showboating and that Tice would get on with the business of running the party and providing the cash it needed.

Farage regards Question Time as his personal fiefdom and wouldn’t have been happy surrendering his seat to Tice.

Reform may well turn out to be the paper tiger of this election and the idea that Farage will have the staying power to stick with the party for five years – as he pledged – seems fanciful at best. The party has had to withdraw more than 100 general election candidates since the start of the year, often because of offensive and racist comments, and it won’t be known until nominations close on June 7 how many constituencies they have actually managed to find candidates for. Clacton will be Farage’s eighth attempt to become an MP after seven previous failures while standing for Ukip. 

Barely a month ago, Dominic Cummings was speaking breathlessly about how he was planning a new political organisation to replace the Tories after the general election. But his Startup Party is looking decidedly dormant, according to the latest Electoral Commission filings. 

There has been no activity whatsoever – no donations, officers appointed or anything at all recorded – which suggests that the “mastermind” behind Brexit, Boris Johnson and those Barnard Castle eye test trips was caught unawares by Rishi Sunak’s decision to hold an earlier than expected general election on July 4.

“You’d have thought this would be Dominic’s big moment but no one has seen hide nor hair of him and my understanding is he’s taking it easy at his holiday home in Lindisfarne, off the Northumberland coast,” one of Cummings’ former associates tells me. “I guess when he gave that big newspaper interview last month about his hopes for his new political party he assumed he’d have the summer to get everything ready and focus-grouped but Sunak just completely wrong-footed him.”

As I have disclosed, Cummings has been threatening to set up a new populist party ever since he was booted out of No 10, with stated objectives that included cutting immigration, closing tax loopholes, investing in public services and reforming the civil service. But it may well be he’s discovering that the public reckon he had his chance to sort all of that out during his Downing Street years and comprehensively blew it.

Mandrake disclosed in April how the editor-in-chief Gerard Greaves had been given “compassionate leave” after issues arose in the media group’s New York office. In what might have seemed an oddly terse statement from the company last week, it was announced that Greaves has now left the company and would be succeeded by a much younger executive called Katie Davies.

Greaves had worked for Lord Rothermere’s company for almost a quarter of a century and its failure to express a single word of gratitude for all that toil – or indeed of regret at his departure – seems on the face of it to be staggeringly cold-hearted and charmless. The patrician Rothermere has often spoken, after all, of how he regards his staff as members of his extended family. 

Short of any further explanation, I can only publicly challenge Lord Rothermere to pay tribute to Greaves, maybe something along the lines of how he embodied the high moral standards his media group has always stood for? Show us you care, m’lud!

The good folk of Fife must be dazed and confused. Not only has Gordon Brown’s old seat of Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath been renamed Cowdenbeath & Kirkcaldy, but its MP, until parliament was dissolved, was a Scots Nat who went over to Alba, Neale Hanvey. A long-time marginal, this time Labour is expected to see off both Alba and the Scot Nats. 

However there has been a spat over its candidate, which has echoes of the travails of Diane Abbott, Faiza Shaheen and Lloyd Russell-Moyle. In April, Wilma Brown, Labour’s candidate for the Scottish seat, was dropped over offensive comments about Humza Yousef, who himself then resigned as SNP leader. 

In mid-May a new Labour candidate, Melanie Ward, was “imposed” by London with the local Scottish party excluded. “She was simply parachuted in,” says one local Labour member. 

Ward, who is Scottish born but has lived and worked outside the country for the past 15 years, has been chief executive of Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) since early 2023. She had been praised for her work at MAP, whose honorary patrons include Baroness Helena Kennedy. Ward has previously demanded an immediate ceasefire in the Israel/Gaza war. 

There is predictable anger in the charity, not only that Ward is leaving after less than 18 months and during the biggest ever crisis for Palestinians, but also because she is now a candidate for Labour. Sir Keir Starmer has been mealy-mouthed about a Gaza ceasefire.

The Lib Dems have officially set aside £257,000 for what is coyly described as “provisions for liabilities – regulatory matters and claims” in the latest set of accounts they have submitted to the Electoral Commission. This seems optimistic given the multitude of legal cases I’ve already disclosed the party is facing, including from Jo Hayes, a barrister who was ousted from the Lib Dems’ federal board and is seeking an injunction to get herself reinstated; David Campanale, demanding redress after being sacked as the party’s candidate in Sutton and Cheam; and Natalie Bird, who was suspended for wearing a T-shirt bearing the words “Woman: adult human female”.

There are also the legal costs associated with advising their leader Sir Ed Davey, in addition to his predecessors Jo Swinson and Sir Vince Cable, in regard to their appearances after the election next month at the inquiry into the Post Office scandal. 

I reported in April how one senior party figure had said in a WhatsApp group discussion that their legal liabilities amounted to a figure closer to £750,000 and that excludes the substantial sum already paid last year in an out-of-court settlement with Avril Coelho, once the chair of its Disability Association, who said she had been victimised by party officials to the extent it had made her feel suicidal. 

Just as well that the latest figures show donations made to the party between 2022 and 2023 rose by £1.8m to £4.7m. Still, their cash burn is substantial – their wage bill alone currently stands at £3.1m – and they have just £1m in the kitty.

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