Nigel Farage knows this is his last chance

Nigel Farage
Nigel Farage

If Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage have one thing in common, beyond Brexit, it must surely be their policy on cake: “pro-having it, and pro-eating it”, in the ex-prime minister’s famous formulation.

How else to describe Farage’s conduct over the past couple of weeks? Since Rishi Sunak called the general election, he has simultaneously ruled himself out of standing as a candidate whilst trying to insert himself into the campaign at every opportunity.

The Prime Minister is probably grateful for that. Whilst there was likely little chance of his ever agreeing to a head-to-hate debate with Farage on immigration, the idea was much easier to dismiss out of hand after the latter declared he wouldn’t be running.

So far, indeed, the ex-UKIP leader seems mostly to have vexed his own team. Specifically, Richard Tice – the nominal leader of Reform UK – who has seemingly not taken kindly to Farage’s king over the water act, especially when it involves dangling the prospect of some sort of pact between the two parties in front of worried Tory MPs.

Now he’s gone further, and said that he wants to stage a “takeover” of the Conservatives after the general election. But is this a serious proposition – or just another cry for attention?

Whilst Farage himself compares it to Donald Trump’s “hostile takeover” of the Republican Party (itself not a comparison I would reach for if I were actually attempting this), a better comparison, from a much more similar political system to our own, is Canada.

Today’s Conservative Party of Canada, which looks set to sweep back into office when Canadians go to the polls, was created by a merger of the old Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance (previously the Reform Party), healing a split on the right which saw the Liberals win four consecutive general elections.

But it took an extraordinary set of circumstances to get there: at the 1993 election the PCs were reduced to just two seats, with the freshly-minted Reform Party entering Parliament with 52. Even then it took two more heavy defeats, in 1997 and 2000, before a merger.

Reform UK isn’t going to pick up anything like 50 seats – and with Tice dead against any arrangement with the Tories, nor will there be any group of Conservative MPs who owe (or imagine they owe) their seats to a united Right.

Nor does it have a coherent set of demands that could provide a basis for negotiations; Tice’s preferred messaging is a combination of extremely simplistic promises on immigration and taxes and branding the Conservatives as ‘socialist’.

Then there’s the question of whether or not any future Tory leader would actually allow Farage to become a Conservative candidate. By openly stating that his goal is a hostile takeover, he has given them a perfectly good reason to say no.

Moreover, his decision not to stand has undermined his credibility even with sympathetic Tories. His insistence that he has “huge regrets” about not standing – whilst there is still time to stand! – and how enthusiastic people would have been if he had both look just a little bit desperate.

As Johnson realised, there is only so long any politician can play the lost prince before he’s expected to put up, or shut up. It’s understandable to prefer making bank as a Fox News pundit to losing your eighth seat at a general election, but only if you accept the consequences gracefully.

Farage this morning announced on X that he will be making an “emergency” announcement this afternoon. Perhaps he’s realised that the choice between having one’s cake and eating it cannot be deferred forever.