MAIL ON SUNDAY COMMENT: Farage is no Trump – his soft spot for Putin endears him to no one

A man who wants to be prime minister can no longer just say anything he feels like saying. From the moment he lets that ambition be known, he is judged by far more severe and intrusive standards than before.

He does not just need to be careful in future – he needs to have been careful in the past.

He must expect things he has said years ago to be rigorously examined. This has now happened to Nigel Farage, the leader of Reform UK.

Mr Farage was perhaps a little dizzy with success when he recently proclaimed on Radio 4 that he planned to make a bid for Downing Street at the next election, presumably in 2029.

He explained that he hoped to use the current contest, in which Reform UK is unlikely to win many seats, as a springboard.

Nige Farage said he would not apologise after political leaders criticised his claim that the West provoked Putin into invading Ukraine

Writing in the Telegraph on Saturday, Mr Farage said he was not an “apologist or supporter of Putin” and described Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as “indefensible”, but claimed the West had made “catastrophic” errors during the conflict

Writing in the Telegraph on Saturday, Mr Farage said he was not an ‘apologist or supporter of Putin’ and described Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as ‘indefensible’, but claimed the West had made ‘catastrophic’ errors during the conflict

Mr Farage did not behave as most politicians do when faced with questions about his high hopes. He did not seek to avoid the issue or pretend that he has no desire to occupy No 10. He has watched his friend Donald Trump climb to the Oval Office through sheer outrageous nerve and by breaking all the rules. So why not him?

Well, that might work in the US presidential contest. But perhaps Mr Farage, for years a gadfly and a guerrilla, does not fully understand just how many obstacles and safety devices our parliamentary system puts in the way of a lone maverick.

Mr Farage never much minded the limelight. But can he withstand a searchlight? It looks as if he cannot.

The BBC’s Nick Robinson did not even need to lure him into danger when he asked about Mr Farage’s statements on the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin. He was in danger already.

For some time now, even before Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, it has been common ground across all major parties that support for Ukraine against Moscow’s aggression is a requirement for anybody who seeks to be entrusted with national security.

Although we are not actually at war with Russia, we are closely allied with Ukraine and have been subject to Russian crimes on our territory. So we need to maintain a united front against the Kremlin and its propaganda.

And this has not just been the view of the elite. British public opinion is overwhelmingly on the same side.

Sympathy for Putin, or even an attempt to explain his actions, is regarded as not much better than sympathy for Hitler, as Reform UK will find out in the coming days.

Mr Farage has baggage on this going back a very long way. His fierce opposition to the Brussels establishment while he was in the European Parliament led him into some dangerous territory, where millions of his current supporters will not wish to follow him. It may once have seemed to him that anti-EU feeling led logically to sympathy with Russia’s position on the westward expansion of both the EU and Nato. Now the expansion is heading the other way, and being conducted with tanks and bombs rather than diplomacy and subsidy.

As a result, his long-ago positions, which he still seeks to defend, look like a grave liability. They also cause voters to wonder how much else about the Reform leader and his party needs to be carefully examined. What does he actually stand for, apart from a vague, cheeky opposition never tested in government?

Reform is still astounding the nation by its choice of unfit candidates, presumably picked because nobody believed they would have the slightest chance of winning. It looks as if they were right about this.

Mr Farage has suffered a heavy blow, and he has only himself to blame.