Why Farage needs to destroy Tory candidates in Labour seats, writes Robert Peston

Nigel Farage says his decision not to run in Tory-held seats, but to contest Labour ones, eliminates the risk that there will be another referendum to decide whether we quit the EU.

This is nonsense.

It is helpful to Boris Johnson - who like Farage sees a referendum as pure poison - that the Brexit Party will not be battling him in his backyard.

But Johnson lacks a majority right now (Obvs! Why else is the misery of an election being inflicted on us?)

And the Tories are highly likely to lose seats in Scotland and in and around London to parties in favour of a referendum or staying in the EU, namely Labour, the Lib Dems and SNP.

Which is why the Tories DESPERATELY need to pick up seats from Labour in the North and midlands.

But this Johnsonian hope is ambitious: Many of such seats have been Labour since time immemorial.

At the risk of making the most obvious statement of all time, it is much harder for Johnson to win these seats when Brexit supporters in the relevant constituencies are being wooed by two parties, rather than just the Tories.

Can Boris Johnson mop up enough votes to hold onto Downing Street? Credit: PA

The scale of the problem is shown in Hartlepool, the seat being contested by the Brexit Party’s chairman Richard Tice.

In order to win this seat, the Tories would need a massive swing of more than nine percentage points. Which looks challenging - to put it mildly - with Tice as an option for disgruntled Labour voters.

If YouGov’s polling is a guide, Tice will win two Tory votes for every Labour vote he acquires.

So up until the point where he absorbs almost every Tory vote in Hartlepool, the impact of his presence there is to make it easier for Labour to win the seat.

Of course if Tice destroys the Tory vote there, Tice wins.

Which is Tice’s and Farage’s hope.

And they would argue if that happens they are reinforcing the prospect of Brexit, because if they win - say - the 10 to 20 seats they see in their dreams, they would then sustain Johnson in No.10 and make sure he does not stray from the path to a Brexit worth the name.

Richard Tice is hoping to punch away Labour support in Hartlepool and claim the title for the Brexit Party. Credit: PA

But is their hope in any way grounded in reality? Is it conceivable that the Brexit Party can decimate the Tories in seats like Hartlepool.

Because if not, Farage is teeing up a hung parliament, and a serious prospect of Corbyn emerging as PM.

Which would mean that the referendum Farage says he wants to bury would rise Lazarus-like from its tomb next year.

So is Farage engaging in self-harm by conspicuously bashing up Johnson?

Yes and no.

If the Brexit Party is the midwife of a referendum, the Farage story - as the prophet of a Brexit that is always just around the corner - will stay on our screens for at least one more blockbuster series.

But did any of you really think that show was going to be cancelled?

Here is the weird punchline.

There may come a moment in this campaign when Johnson actually wills the Brexit Party to eviscerate Tory candidates in Labour constituencies, because it may only be through this humiliation that he can remain PM.

  • The other prospective parliamentary candidates already chosen by their parties in Hartlepool are Andy Hagon (Lib Dem), and Mike Hill (Labour).