Conservative Simon Clarke under fire from Reform UK after 'candidate endorsement'

Teesside Conservative Simon Clarke has come under fire from Nigel Farage's Reform UK party after he claimed its local candidate had endorsed him in the upcoming General Election.

Sir Simon - the former Levelling Up Secretary aiming to be re-elected in Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland - posted a video from Charlie Thompson declaring his support for him in the vote on July 4. Mr Thompson - who stood for Reform in the 2023 local elections - said he was initially going to stand as a General Election candidate himself but decided not to as the Tory ex-MP shared many of his values.

He said of Sir Simon: "He has persistently backed Brexit, he's always argued for a strong Brexit, even when some in the Conservative Party maybe haven't. He's always pushed to have strong laws on immigration, he's always pushed to lower taxes, and many other values that I know are important to us."

But within hours the Teesside branch of Reform issued a statement attacking the claim, saying Mr Thompson was never considered as its candidate and that it was in fact backing journalist Rod Liddle, who's standing against Sir Simon. The statement on Facebook said "Charlie Thompson has not been involved in the party for some time now", and added: "Charlie's contribution to the Reform party ended earlier this year, when he ended his role as local coordinator due to inactivity."

And it concluded: "Despite what nonsense Simon Clarke thinks he can get away with, the Reform UK Teesside team in no way endorse the Conservative Party, and actively encourage our supporters to vote, campaign, and advocate against them. Only with real change in Parliament, can we achieve real change for our nation."

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Reform and the Social Democratic Party have agreed an electoral pact meaning they are backing each other's candidates in Middlesbrough's two Parliamentary seats. Nigel Farage's party is endorsing controversial journalist and author Mr Liddle, who grew up in Nunthorpe and went to school in Guisborough, while the SDP are supporting Patrick Sargeant, Reform candidate for Middlesbrough & Thornaby East.

Mr Liddle wrote on Facebook that the statement from Sir Simon "is somewhat misleading". He adds: "His endorsement is simply a personal one from somebody who once ran for council for Reform, and is no longer considered an active part of their party."

Sir Simon has been MP for Middlesbrough East and South Cleveland since 2017 and in 2019 won with a majority of 11,626 over Labour.

He denied misleading anyone, pointing to an online document showing Mr Thompson was listed as Reform's candidate. But a local Reform candidate described this as 'an old file in an internal system'.

Other candidates standing in the seat are Labour's Luke Myer, Jemma Joy of the Liberal Democrats and Rowan McLaughlin from the Green Party.

On Tuesday, Sir Simon hailed the Conservative Party manifesto as: "A transformative policy that will provide significant financial relief to the self-employed, who are the backbone of our local and national economy.

"By cutting these taxes, we are enabling our entrepreneurs and small business owners to do well for themselves and their families, invest in their businesses, and drive economic growth. This is about creating a fairer tax system that rewards hard work and innovation."

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