Reform UK reliant on leader Richard Tice for 80% of funding since 2021

Reform UK’s election efforts are being hampered by a lack of money and resources and the party has so far largely relied on £1.4m of loans from its leader, Richard Tice.

The party is ultimately owned by Nigel Farage, but electoral and corporate filings show it has been mainly bankrolled by Tice, who has contributed about 80% of its declared funding in loans and donations since he took over in 2021.

Farage is still undecided about whether to return to a frontline role in the party at this year’s election. The party has been ticking up in the polls even without his active presence, reaching 9%-15% nationally. In the Blackpool South byelection on 2 May, its candidate came within 120 votes of the Conservatives, with 17% of the vote.

Reform insists that traditional former Tory donors are now beginning to open their chequebooks for the party as the election approaches, even without Farage.

However, Tice told an audience this month that it would not be easy to run an effective ground campaign at the next election on the money coming into the party. He said it was spending “less than £1.5m a year” compared with the £35m allowed for each party nationally and likely to be spent by the Conservatives and Labour in the year before an election. In contrast, the Brexit party brought in £17m in donations in 2019.

Tice’s personal company, Tisun Investments, has been loaning the party money in increments of £10,000-£50,000 since before he took over as leader. As of the end of 2023, outstanding loans of about £1.4m were due to Tisun, according to the Electoral Commission. Tice has also contributed £150,000 through another company, Britain Means Business.

Asked at a recent event whether his candidates would be able to fight well on the ground, Tice said: “[The Conservatives] spend £35m a year and we spend less than £1.5m a year. So it’s not easy. Obviously we are building up teams, but it requires our candidates to be like chief execs of their campaigns in their constituencies. So we are growing fast and doing the best we can with the resources we’ve got.”

Reform sources said the party was heavily reliant on volunteers and had been short-staffed on the ground at recent byelections. It has about 15 staff, with admin based in Ashby de la Zouch in Leicestershire and the rest of its employees largely working from home. It is headquartered in Victoria in central London, but this was described by one Reform source as “more of a room” than an office.

Tice has said he wants to run candidates in all constituencies at the general election, having picked about 450 hopefuls so far, but it managed to contest only 323 seats at the most recent council elections. The only two Reform candidates who won council seats have been investigated by the party over social media posts that praised the far-right leader Tommy Robinson.

General election candidates have been given their seats after applying through the website, and will largely have to run their own campaign operations.

Party sources said Tice’s right-hand man was Paul Oakden, a former Ukip official who is now the Reform chief executive. Other key figures are Lee Anderson, the party’s first MP, who defected after being suspended by the Tories; its deputy leaders, Ben Habib and David Bull; and Ann Widdecombe, the former Conservative MP.

The party’s biggest donor last year was Terence Mordaunt, a previous Tory donor, businessman and former chair of the climate change sceptic Global Warming Policy Foundation, whose companies have given £200,000 to Reform.

Other major donors have dropped off since the Brexit party rebranded itself as Reform. Jeremy Hosking, who gave £2.2m to the Brexit party in 2019 and £15,000 to Reform last year, told the Guardian he had now ended his donations to Reform UK, having once hoped they would cooperate with the Reclaim party led by Laurence Fox.

Hosking is now supporting Reclaim, which he said was “ever more engaged in hand-to-hand combat in the culture war/free speech areas, and established political parties like Reform are not really comfortable around that”.

Another major donor to the Brexit party in 2019-20 was Christopher Harborne, who gave in the region of £10m. He has since given £1m to the office of Boris Johnson and has not donated so far to Reform.

The Reform/Brexit party company accounts show it received £17m in 2019 and £3m in 2020 in donation income.

The party rebranded as Reform UK under Tice in 2021. By the end of 2022, its donations had almost all been spent, and its general fund showed a deficit of £1.1m. Its declared donations dropped off to £200,000 in 2021 and £20,000 in 2022. Last year it received £255,000.

Reform was contacted for comment.

The Guardian

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