Election campaign day 13: Farage is back

Nigel Farage has staged a dramatic comeback, reclaiming the leadership of Reform UK and announcing he will be standing in the Essex seaside seat of Clacton.

Here are the key moments from day 13 of the campaign:

– Farage’s big U-turn

With a typical taste for political theatre, Mr Farage turned all the election calculations on their head as he declared that he will not only be standing in the election but he will lead his party for the next five years.

At a press conference to announce his decision, he said that he could not let down those supporters who had come up to him in the street while he was out campaigning and begged him to run.

“I can’t turn my back on the people’s army,” he said, adding  there  had been a “massive betrayal” of those people who had voted for Brexit in the 2016 EU referendum.

General Election campaign 2024
Nigel Farage during his press conference at The Glaziers Hall in London (Yui Mok/PA)

Mr Farage had previously said that Rishi Sunak’s surprise decision to call the election for July 4 had left him insufficient time to find a seat he could win and that he would be spending time in the US campaigning for Donald Trump.

He said that he expected millions of people who felt disenfranchised by the main political parties will now turn to Reform, and that their tally of votes will exceed the four million polled by Ukip in the 2015 general election.

While he said that a Labour victory was now a foregone conclusion, his aim was to make Reform the real opposition in the next parliament and the biggest party after the next election due in 2029.

While his decision, will be seen as a bitter blow for the Conservatives, potentially taking votes away from them in key marginal constituencies, he  said that Ukip, when he was leader, had actually taken more votes from Labour.

“When people start to realise in the red wall, with Reform second to Labour, when they start to realise that actually in those seats, it’s a Conservative vote that’s a vote for Labour, it’s a Conservative vote that is a wasted vote, then I think we might just surprise everybody,” he  said.

– Medals on parade

Former leader Jeremy Corbyn once floated the suggestion that a Labour government could send the submarines which carry Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent to sea without their arsenal of nuclear weapons.

The proposal, which was met with widespread derision, was an attempt to square his own long-standing opposition to nuclear weapons with the determination of the unions, whose members’ jobs depend upon them, to keep them.

General Election campaign 2024
Sir Keir Starmer at his defence launch backed by Labour candidates who have served in the military (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

In contrast his successor has now said his commitment to the deterrent, and to Britain’s defence more generally, is “absolute”.

To make the point, Sir Keir lined up 10 of his party’s candidates who had served in the military, medals proudly pinned to their chests, as he set out his defence policy in a speech at the Fusilier Museum in Bury.

As well promising to maintain the round-the-clock deterrent patrols, he said Labour would replace the existing Trident fleet with four new submarines and increase overall defence spending to 2.5% of national income “as soon as possible”.

The Tories were quick to point out that fell short of their own commitment to get there by 2030, while journalists noted that deputy leader Angela Rayner and shadow foreign secretary David Lammy had both previously voted against Trident renewal.

Last week, Ms Rayner spectacularly undermined her leader’s attempts to steer veteran leftwinger Diane Abbott into retirement.

Sir Keir, however, was adamant that he is in charge.

“I lead this party,” he said. “I’ve made my commitment to this absolutely clear. And I’ve got my whole shadow cabinet behind me.”

– Quote of the day

– Changing places

Kemi Badenoch has stepped boldly into the fraught arena of identity politics as she declared that simply “changing your clothes” does not make someone transgender.

The women and equalities minister was setting out the Tories plans to make it easier for service providers for women and girls, such as rape crisis centres, to exclude biological males.

Kemi Badenoch
Women and equalities minister Kemi Badenoch (Peter Nicholls/PA)

“Changing your clothes doesn’t change who you are,” she said.

“Just putting on a different set of clothes does not make you transgender.”

Ms Badenoch, who is strongly tipped to replace Rishi Sunak as Tory leader if he is booted out after the election, said the move was intended to end the existing “confusion” over gender, but the Liberal Democrats warned it risked unpicking important protections for trans people.

For critics, it is the latest in a line of Tory policies intended to appeal to older, more “conservative” voters following on from their plans to bring back national service and deliver a tax break for pensioners.

In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Ms Badenoch was repeatedly pressed on whether in such cases, a person’s biological sex would be defined by their original birth certificate or one that had been amended after a legally-recognised gender change.

With some exasperation, she replied: “You don’t always need your birth certificate when you’re going to the toilet and so on and so forth. This is not a paperwork issue. This is a practical issue.”

– Photo of the day

General Election campaign 2024
Rishi Sunak speaking to rowing club members as Liberal Democrat supporters wave placards from a boat behind him (Jonathan Brady/PA)

On the day defence was high on the election agenda, the Lib Dems appropriately took the opportunity to photobomb Mr Sunak’s latest campaign call.

As he chatted with members at a rowing club in Henley-on-Thames, the Prime Minister appeared unaware a boat packed with placard-waving activists, including deputy leader Daisy Cooper, was sailing along the river behind him, in full view of the TV cameras.

A Lib Dem source said gleefully: “This is just another small boat Rishi Sunak can’t deal with.”

Mr Sunak quickly hit back, posting on social media: “Classic Lib Dems, always selling voters down the river.”

– The Modfather is not impressed

In the 1980s during the height of Thatcherism, Paul Weller was one of the guiding lights behind Red Wedge, an ad hoc grouping of musicians who rallied behind the newly-rebranded Labour Party under Neil Kinnock.

Forty years on the former lead singer and guitarist of The Jam and the Style Council is rather less enthusiastic about the party in is latest reincarnation under Sir Keir.

Paul Weller
Paul Weller (Ian West/PA)

“He’s just a slightly softer version of the Tory party, isn’t he?” the man dubbed the Modfather told The Big Issue magazine.

“He’d be well served to remember who built the Labour Party, trade unions and communists.

“So, I don’t see much difference between him and Sunak and all that mob. The fact that he’s a ‘Sir’ puts me off a little bit in the first place.”

– Social media moment

As Mr Farage prepared to make his big announcement, Jess Phillips, Labour candidate for Birmingham Yardley, tweeted that someone in her office thought he was entering the Love Island villa as the new Bombshell.

“Olivia in my office thinks Farage announcement is that he’s ‘the bombshell candidate on Love Island’,” Ms Phillips posted on X.

– What the polls are saying

One new opinion poll published over the weekend suggested Labour continues to enjoy a large lead over the Conservatives.

The survey by Opinium, puts Labour on 45%, a lead of 20 percentage points over the Conservative on 25%, with Reform UK on 11%, the Lib Dems 8%, the Greens 6%, the SNP 3% and other parties 2%.

A simple average of all polls that were carried out wholly or partly during the seven days to June 3 puts Labour on 45%, 22 percentage points ahead of the Conservatives on 23%, followed by Reform on 12%, the Lib Dems on 9% and the Greens on 6%.

– What’s happening tomorrow

Mr Sunak and Sir Keir go head-to-head in their first televised debate of the campaign to be shown live on ITV at 9pm.

Mr Farage launches his campaign in Clacton.