Lights, cameras, Farage: Nige just couldn’t bear to be left out | John Crace

Alas, poor Dicky, I knew him well. Richard Tice and Nigel Farage had already given two press conferences in the previous week. Both times they had been given equal billing. Even though everyone but Dicky T knew who the real star was. On Monday all pretence had been pushed aside. Out came the op note. Nigel Farage was to make an “emergency election announcement”. Tice wasn’t even mentioned as an afterthought. Even though he was probably paying for the pleasure.

Dicky was determined not to be left out, though. The man with no charisma or personal warmth relegated once more to Nige’s warm-up act. The man on the downward trajectory. Soon he will be relegated to doorman. I’m not sure if Tice even convinces himself. His patter is all third-rate Farage. The sort of thing you might get if you typed “write me a bad Nigel speech” into ChatGPT. Reform was “moving into eighth gear”, he said. Really? Some of us were losing the will to live.

Then the ultimate humiliation. Dicky tried to sound upbeat as he revealed that Farage was to take over as leader of the Reform party. Most people outside Westminster probably assumed he already was. In reality if not in job description. Just watch the body language. You couldn’t miss the pathos. A boardroom coup as Nige realised Tice wasn’t up to the job. Deep down even Tice knew he wasn’t. People just don’t like him. Don’t warm to him. He even had to hand over his debit card.

Moments later, Farage took to the stage. Lights, cameras, action. These are the moments he lives for. Right at the centre of things. He’d be lost without them. Imagine going to a pub and no one recognising him. The unbearable lightness of his being. Nige began by doing a reprise of the speech he had given at the same venue last week. The election was boring. Labour was going to win. He hated them. The Tories were useless. He hated them too. Most kids didn’t know what D-day was. Like he would have ever enlisted. His patriotism has its limits.

Time for the reveal. The worst-kept secret. He was going to stand as a candidate in Clacton after all. So what had changed? “I felt guilty,” he said. Guilty that he was letting down all the little people who couldn’t survive without him. Who had been begging him to get involved. Guilty that he had left the Reform party in the hands of a bunch of charmless nonentities. He was the talent. The celebrity. The star of his own movie. Lie back in the warm bath of his narcissism. He just couldn’t bear to be left out. To be ignored.

Thereafter his speech rambled somewhat. He didn’t have any more to say but he wasn’t going to let that stop him. Every media outlet was waiting on his every word. He was going to spin this out for as long as possible. Nothing worked. Everything was in decline. Curiously, he never mentioned how he would kickstart the economy or fix the NHS. Other than stopping immigration and being unpleasant to Muslims. That should do it.

But Nige was in his happy place. All stardust and no responsibility. He’s quite happy to break anything, less keen to mend it. Happy to channel the disaffection with empty promises. He would be the official opposition in the next parliament. The biggest party in five years’ time. Yup, with Dicky as chancellor and David Bull as foreign secretary. The men in orange. Can’t see the problem. Though Rishi Sunak could. This was his worst nightmare. A Reform party with Nige at the helm was a far more worrying proposition. A Tory meltdown was now on the cards.

Kemi Badenoch: charm school is a foreign country. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

From one narcissist to another. What is it with Kemi Badenoch? What makes her so angry? Even the smallest challenge sends her spiralling into an uncontained fury. Put her in front of a mirror and her reflection will start yelling “what are you looking at?”. It can’t be any way to live. Where are the beta blockers when you need them?

Kemi is something of an outlier. Where other MPs inevitably at some point reluctantly comes to terms with their limitations, Badenoch never gives an inch. She has never met anyone whom she didn’t think to be much stupider than her. And never hesitates in telling them. She has yet to be wrong about anything. Hers is a binary world.

Like almost everyone with a massive ego, Kemi has very little self-worth. Her arrogance is her shopfront, set up to conceal her insecurities. Because she’s not nearly as bright as she thinks she is. So her default communication is talking down. To belittle people in a one-way conversation. She can’t help herself. She does it to other MPs in the Commons. Presumably she also does it to cabinet colleagues. She certainly does it to the little people. Charm school is a foreign country.

Unbelievably, though, Badenoch is the favourite to replace Sunak as party leader after the election. There again, of late the Tories have had something of a love affair with psychologically damaged leaders: Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Rish! himself. Mr Tetchy. The ultimate abusive, codependent relationship. So maybe Kemi will fit in just nicely. Though it will make a change to have a leader whose natural talent for winning over voters is to insult them.

Like so many of her cabinet colleagues, Badenoch had been sidelined for the first week and a half of the campaign. Whether this was because Rish! couldn’t stand the competition or because he was dimly aware of her toxic reputation is anyone’s guess. But whereas most have been happy to let Sunak be the fall-guy for the inevitable disaster, Kemi has been raging about being sidelined. Deprived of her chance to seek out new ways of being rude.

Come Monday morning, Badenoch was unleashed on to the airwaves to talk about the latest Tory promise. A change to the Equalities Act. And the unfortunate person on the receiving end was Mishal Husain on Radio 4’s Today programme.

It got combative from the start. Kemi seemingly furious that Husain had actually done her homework. Badenoch did not want to be engaged on the details of the proposed changes. She appeared not to have given them a moment’s thought. Of more interest to her was a quick soundbite in an ongoing culture war. To create a wedge with Labour. Though in reality Labour and the Tories are not so far apart on trans issues these days.

Kemi got angrier and angrier, Husain never less than polite. “You’re trying to be difficult,” Badenoch snapped. She wasn’t. She was just curious how the law was going to be enacted without any legal paperwork. Were people going to be able to determine sex solely on the basis of their personal prejudices? They were. We finished with Kemi calling Mishal “trivial and unserious”. Code for “I’m out of my depth and I can’t admit I’m wrong”. Husain sighed and ended the interview. She had taken one for the team.