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Anti-establishment candidate Nigel Farage could split the U.K.'s Conservative vote


What if Donald Trump never ran for president as a Republican? What if he had run with a right-wing offshoot party instead? Well, that is sort of like what's happening across the Atlantic in Britain right now. There, an antiestablishment politician is poised to win votes away from the U.K.'s mainstream Conservative Party. NPR's Lauren Frayer reports from London.


NIGEL FARAGE: What I intend to lead is a political revolt. Yes, a revolt.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Nigel Farage has long been an agitator across the U.K. political spectrum. In the 1970s, he joined the U.K. Conservative Party. In the '80s, he once voted Green. He helped found the U.K. Independence Party, in which he lobbied for Brexit but still won a seat in the European Parliament. He didn't make many friends there, though, in part because of speeches like this one.


FARAGE: Now, I know - I know that virtually none of you have ever done a proper job in your lives.


FRAYER: Farage's push for Britain to leave the European Union was ultimately so successful that it put him out of a job, so he's since dedicated himself to being a populist thorn in the side of U.K. conservatives, pushing them farther to the right. He's also a close friend of Donald Trump's. They've done rallies together.


DONALD TRUMP: A friend of mine, a lot of people say one of the most powerful men in Europe, Nigel Farage.


FRAYER: Farage is a charismatic, anti-immigrant, antiestablishment figure. He wears a tweed cap and virtually always has a pint of ale in hand. He portrays himself as one of the regular old blokes from down at the pub. He's managed to become more of a household name than all but a few politicians here, despite losing seven races for a seat in the U.K. Parliament. He'd sworn off trying again, but now...


FARAGE: I've changed my mind. It's allowed, you know.

FRAYER: This week, Farage announced he's decided to run in parliamentary elections July 4 as head of the right-wing populist Reform UK Party, which has zero seats in Parliament as of now. Farage is hoping his eighth time running is a charm.

KATY BALLS: For the conservatives, I think ultimately it's a bit of a nightmare.

FRAYER: Katy Balls, political editor of The Spectator, a conservative political magazine, predicts Farage will take votes away from the ruling conservatives. I caught her by phone on the train back from Farage's first rally as a candidate.

BALLS: It was definitely a bit of a media circus - Farage mania. You had all these figures in the crowd shouting, we love you, Nigel. We love you, Nigel.

FRAYER: At this rally, Farage did get a milkshake thrown in his face, however. It's actually something that's happened before. He wasn't hurt. It shows the, shall we say, strong feelings U.K. voters have both for and against Farage. His candidacy, Balls says...

BALLS: I think it changes the dynamic. It adds a wildcard element. I think it could have an impact on turnout.

FRAYER: Polls were already predicting big losses for the conservatives who've been in power here for 14 years. Now, Farage's foray may mean a total wipe out for the ruling party he's long tormented from the right.

Lauren Frayer, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.
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