Reform voters predict election 'surprise' in North East after Farage rally

Reform leader Nigel Farage speaking to hundreds of supporters at Rainton Arena, Houghton Le Spring
-Credit: (Image: Newcastle Chronicle)

A 1,000-strong crowd of Reform UK supporters gave Nigel Farage a raucous welcome to the North East on Thursday – and believe the party could spring an upset in the region next week.

Seven days before the General Election, Mr Farage took to the stage at the Rainton Arena in Houghton-le-Spring and confidently declared that his party would be Labour’s main challenger in constituencies across the region. Most prominent among the crowd was businessman Sir John Hall, the former Newcastle United owner and prominent Conservative donor who announced his defection to the Reform cause because he felt his English way of life was “under threat”.

Mr Farage’s visit came in the week that he has been embroiled in a row with former Prime Minister Boris Johnson over comments the Reform leader made suggesting that the West “provoked” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. A new poll released this week claimed that Reform could win 18 seats at the July 4 election, including Washington and Gateshead South – though others predict that will be a safe Labour seat.

Amanda Bell, who came to Thursday’s rally with mum Rosalind and took a front row seat, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) that Reform will cause a “surprise” in the North East. The 49-year-old, from Seaham, added: “We were Labour voters. Then we voted Tory [in 2019] to get Boris in because we thought he was going to change things.

"That is where we were let down. This is now the chance to get the Brexit we voted for – up to now we have not had that.”

Asked to explain what she wanted from Brexit, Amanda said she wanted the UK to leave the European Convention on Human Rights.

Luke de la Fuente, 24, from Consett, was among the younger audience members and said he had been a loyal follower of Mr Farage from the age of 13.

Reform supporters Sharon Surtees and Kim Welsh
Reform supporters Sharon Surtees and Kim Welsh -Credit:ChronicleLive

It emerged on Wednesday evening that one Reform UK candidate, Leslie Lilley, had reportedly said he would “slaughter” migrants who arrived on small boats. The Guardian also reported on Thursday that another Reform candidate, Raymond Saint, had been dropped by the party after it was discovered that he had been on a list of members of the British National Party (BNP).

Luke said such episodes were “embarrassing” for the party and voters who will back them next week, though he backed Reform to “do better than people expect” next week and “get a good foothold” in Parliament. He told the LDRS: “It is quite embarrassing. If you vote Reform then you will get tarnished with people like that.

“But I am not far right, I am just traditional. And when we were more traditional we had a stronger economy.”

Sunderland is a particular target area for Reform, with candidate Paul Donaghy having finished second in the city behind Labour’s Kim McGuinness in the recent North East mayoral election. Mr Donaghy, who spoke before Mr Farage at the rally, is now running against Labour’s Sharon Hodgson in the Washington and Gateshead South seat.

Janice Richardson, who is the party’s candidate in Newcastle East and Wallsend, said she wanted the country to “get back to a voice that we haven't had for a long, long time”. Asked what she wanted from the election, she replied: “Never be afraid to say something. Never be afraid to walk along the street. Never be afraid to be British, where we fly a union flag like I have on my car. I've got union jacks all over my car, flying with the Reform party symbols.”

Reform supporter Kim Welsh, from Sunderland, said she backed Mr Farage because she was “disappointed” with what the other parties had to offer and thought they were “all the same”. Sharon Surtees, also from Sunderland, described Mr Farage as “down to earth” and “not frightened to say it how it is”.