I’m A Celebrity 2023 | Why this is Nigel Farage’s political not personal rehab quest

A look at how Nigel Farage is using I’m A Celebrity as a vehicle to reignite his political ambitions rather than an opportunity for personal rehab - as Matt Hancock did
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Although the headlines are all about Nella Rose and Nigel Farage’s ‘tense spat’ on immigration today, I am far more interested in the way that Nigel Farage is manoeuvring himself on I’m A Celebrity 2023. The crucial moment of last night’s episode was nothing to do with Nella and Nigel, but when Nigel said the words ‘never say never’ when it came to becoming the next leader of the Conservative party. 

The ‘never say never’ comment came up after Nigel Farage discussed his admiration for former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher. “I didn’t like the way Blair changed the country at all, but I have to admit he was a strong leader,” he revealed.

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Farage went on to say “Then Margaret was a very strong leader, but they were tough tough times, but she changed the country completely.”

Without question, Nigel Farage is a polarising figure on I’m A Celebrity and despite the show losing 2.2 million viewers compared to its launch show the year before due to viewers allegedly reacting negatively to Farage's £1.5m signing, he is commanding (as expected) a great deal of the headlines.

He is playing a ‘political game’ to reach a new audience and admitted this on Tuesday’s episode to Grace Dent. “If you do the challenges, it's 25% of the airtime. I’m looking at reaching a whole new audience.” Fans took to X, formerly known as Twitter to share their views on this with one saying “Nigel isn’t even pretending that he doesn’t have a game plan” whilst another said “We all just agreeing to not vote Nigel after him admitting he just wants airtime.”

The obvious view is that Nigel Farage does want to reach a whole new audience (and I am not saying that isn’t correct), but it is a win for him, whatever way the viewers vote. If they do vote for him to do more trials, he will of course have more airtime, but if they don’t vote for him, then he is avoiding having to endure the more gruesome trials. Whether this was consciously or subconsciously done by Farage, he is most certainly playing a long-term political game rather than a personal one. 

Analysis: Ralph Blackburn, NationalWorld politics editor

Nigel Farage has unfinished business. Seven elections to try and become an MP and seven losses. Despite his influence on the UK’s biggest political event of the century, Brexit, these failures hang over him. And, after I’m a Celebrity he might have his best chance yet of entering the Commons.

The Conservative Party has never been as close to Farage’s politics as it is now. The previous Home Secretary Suella Braverman described illegal immigration as an “invasion”, and said “multiculturalism” has failed. The Prime Minister is a Brexiteer, the complete opposite from when Farage quit the Tories in 1992 after John Major signed a treaty for closer European integration.

And he’s incredibly popular with Tory members. I watched at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester as Farage strutted around, cigarette in hand, closely followed by a gaggle of acolytes wherever he went. You’d have thought he was the leader of the Conservative Party, not Rishi Sunak.

More than seven in 10 Tory members want Farage readmitted to the party, a Conservative Home poll found. If the Conservatives lose the next election, someone on the right of the party, like Braverman, could become leader - making Farage rejoining more likely. Farage is currently the Honorary President of the Reform UK party, which is squeezing the Tories in the polls, although he doesn’t play an active role. 

If he wanted to finally become an MP, he’d have no better chance than with the Tories - who are set to need a lot of new candidates at the next election. Farage himself has even hinted at it, telling an event in Westminster recently: “I’d be very surprised if I were not Conservative leader by 2026, very surprised …they think I’m joking … I’m serious.”

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Matt Hancock openly admitted he went on I’m A Celebrity to ‘deliver important messages to the masses,’ and allegedly because he was keen to use the platform to widen education about dyslexia (he struggled at school with undiagnosed dyslexia).

However, the public knew that the real reason was because he wanted personal rehabilitation after his handling of the pandemic and for of course breaching lockdown rules by having an affair with aide Gina Colandangelo in his ministerial office. 

I believe that when it comes to Nigel Farage, he is using ‘I’m A Celebrity’ as an informal bid to become the next leader of the Conservative party if they lose the next election.

Although it seemed that he was only joking when he said ‘never say never’ when asked if he would ever consider the idea, let me remind you of the phrase ‘Many a true word is spoken in jest.’

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