Nigel Farage accused of running scared by Tories after overnight U-turn on Newark by-election

Deputy Political Editor

Nigel Farage faced ridicule from Conservative MPs today after he ruled out of standing for the Ukip in the Newark by-election.

The Ukip leader argued that his candidature would be a distraction from his party’s drive for votes in next month’s European parliamentary elections.

He also said he had no local links with the Nottinghamshire constituency, where the Tories will defend a 16,000-plus majority following Patrick Mercer’s resignation over cash-for-questions allegations.

But his explanation was mocked by a series of Conservative MPs who took to twitter to accuse him of losing his nerve.

Ben Wallace, the MP for Lancaster and Wyre, said: “That faint clucking you can here in the distance is Nigel Farage...chicken!”

Mark Garnier, the MP for Wyre Forest, tweeted: “Nigel Farage and the Newark by-election: Man or mouse...? Pass the cheese!!! Squeek squeek...”

The former Tory vice-chairman Michael Fabricant said: “Nigel Farage is such a tease! (Or is he like G.Brown - scared of an uncertain election?) In any event, he now says he won't stand in Newark.”

The Ukip leader had keep Westminster guessing overnight over his intentions following Mr Mercer’s announcement yesterday evening that he was quitting.

 

He ended the suspense this morning, telling the BBC: “I don't want to do anything that deflects from the European election campaign, so I am not going to stand in this by-election.

“I want to focus the next three weeks on winning the European elections.”

He said: “It was only 12 hours ago that Patrick Mercer stood down, so I haven't had long to think about it. But I have thought about it and we are just over three weeks away from a European election at which I think Ukip can cause an earthquake in British politics from which we can go on and not just win one parliamentary seat, but quite a lot of parliamentary seats”

The Ukip leader said: “I don't have any links with the East Midlands, I would just look like an opportunist and I don't think that would work.”

But he added: “We will fight the Newark by-election and fight it damned hard and get a good local candidate.

”But we will also, over the course of the summer, be targeting two or three dozen seats for the general election next year. This party isn't about one politician, it's not about one man, it's not about one by-election, it's about a nationwide political movement.“

Mr Farage denied that his decision not to gamble on a run at the Newark seat revealed a lack of courage.

”I think I have shown some courage over the years. I have helped take this party from nothing into a position where last Sunday it was leading the opinion polls in a national election.

“It's about choosing the right battles, it's about prioritising.

”I know that if I had said yes to standing in Newark the next three weeks would be dominated by 'am I going to win, am I not going to win' and we wouldn't be talking about open door immigration, EU membership, most of our laws being made somewhere else and the issues on which I want us to win the European election.“

He added that there would be ”pressure and splits within the Conservative Party“ after the European elections and ”this may not be the last by-election that comes up between now and next May“.

On BBC Radio 4's Today programme he added: ”I'm a fighter, I'm a warrior but you have to pick your battles in life.“

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