Richard Tice: the donor turned politician who has bankrolled Reform

Four months ago, a prominent Conservative MP described Richard Tice as a “pound-shop Nigel Farage”.

That MP, Lee Anderson, would four months later defect to Tice’s party, Reform UK, after being suspended from the Tories for suggesting the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, was controlled by Islamists.

Tice and Anderson have now appeared alongside each other on the top deck of a turquoise Reform-branded battlebus and in video clips, preaching the same refrain that they “want our country back”.

Anderson’s previous criticism, however, is still a cutting one. Tice has fronted and bankrolled Reform for three years with £1.4m in loans, and without much practical help from Farage. Yet in terms of name recognition there is no contest: 73% of the public say they know who Farage is compared with just 16% for Tice, according to an Ipsos Mori survey from March.

Tice may be less well known than Farage but his modest profile has been growing among the millions of new viewers of GB News and TalkTV, where he has been a presenter and appears regularly as a guest.

Tice’s colleagues say regular TV presenting has made the once stiff and Tory-looking businessman more “match-fit” for giving interviews. Tice resists comparisons to Farage, but his style of speech is increasingly similar, using political catchlines from the former Ukip leader that were regulars on the campaign trail in 2015 to 2019.

One former colleague of the Reform leader, however, says a key difference between the two men is that Tice is “much more prickly” than Farage. “It’s amazing that Reform is doing so well without him being really the right person for the job,” they said.

Richard Tice (right) with Lee Anderson on the Reform campaign bus in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA Media

A Reform source says Tice has “undoubtedly changed” in the past few years. He came in trying to run the party like a business, but realised it was reliant on volunteers and goodwill and toned down his leadership style. “He has earned a lot of loyalty by turning up and being there,” the source said.

That said, Tice still has a day job running a property company at the same time as being out around the country campaigning with a growing band of Reform activists.

Born Richard James Sunley Tice in Surrey in 1964, he comes from a wealthy property-developing family. He was brought up in a Northamptonshire village until, at 14, he went to Uppingham, a boarding school in Rutland in the East Midlands, where he is now a trustee. After studying construction economics at Salford University, he started working in the property industry before later joining the Sunley Group, a housebuilder and commercial property firm founded by his grandfather Bernard Sunley.

Tice would later strike out on his own, leading major property companies and buying and selling commercial sites. He is now the chief executive of Quidnet Capital, which owns a number of industrial warehouses including a depot near Newark, a storage centre near Northampton, a manufacturing site in Derbyshire and an office building in Crawley

A donor first and politician second, he entered the world of Conservative politics by lending an office to the Tory contender David Davis in the 2005 leadership election, before donating to Ukip in 2013, playing a major role in the Leave.EU campaign alongside Farage and donating just short of £1m to the Brexit party just after the 2019 election. When Farage bowed out of the Brexit party in 2021, Tice was the natural choice to run the rebranded Reform UK, although some within the movement feared he was too bland-sounding to be a convincing heir.

Tice could undoubtedly be described as rich, given the scale of his donations. When declaring he would stand in the next election in Hartlepool in the north-east of England, his company, Tisun Investments, appears to have bought a property to use as an office in the town outright in December 2022 for £110,000. It was then brightly branded in Reform colours and slogans. Some, however, think that looks like a bad decision given the swing to Labour in Hartlepool at the local elections. “Anderson should be running in their best seat in the north, and Tice should be down somewhere south and Tory,” says the colleague.

Richard Tice (left) and Nigel Farage campaigning in Seaton Carew in north-east England in 2019. Photograph: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

Friends of Tice point to his success in helping the party to convincing poll leads of 9-15% that could put it second in a large number of seats in the country. But others close to the party worry there is too much of a scattergun strategy that will see it building up an even spread of votes across the country rather than piling up support in targeted seats.

With Brexit less of a guiding mission, Tice and the party have increasingly focused on issues of immigration and anti-net zero politics – with policies on banning sharia, outlawing pro-Palestine protests, and calling for a “single British culture”. If anything is driving Reform’s polling, apart from its links with Farage, research from More in Common in 2022 found that immigration was the leading cause of voters switching from the Tories.

Tice has recorded numerous videos and appeared on rightwing television channels speaking against the government’s immigration policies and failure to stop small boats crossing the Channel.

He published a video last month criticising Regent Street for having decorations that celebrate Ramadan and Pride but not St George’s Day, and in another film from last year, reportedly viewed 2m times, he interviewed an asylum seeker affecting to be sympathetic to his complaints about poor accommodation. The video is captioned: “Asylum seeker complains: size of room, bathroom too small & bad wifi in his Central London hotel & not enough weekly money. Been here 2 years. I apologise on behalf of British taxpayers for the poor wifi … ”

Tice has also made it very clear he is on Anderson’s side in the former Tory’s dispute with Sadiq Khan, and has himself suggested the Labour Muslim politician might “share the underlying sentiment” of antisemitic protests.

The Reform leader’s message on multiculturalism has become more central over the years. Along with Farage, he is clear that he thinks it has failed, giving an interview to the New Culture Forum saying he was in favour of a multi-ethnic Britain that “buys into a single British culture” and “if you have mass immigration that doesn’t come under and buy into that single British culture, then you are diluting it, you are damaging it”.

At an election, Tice will be hoping to scoop up Conservative votes by outflanking Sunak to the right. Having put so much of his money behind the project and led it for three years, he insists he would still be happy to have Farage back onboard in a prominent role at the general election.

Critics say Tice does not have the star quality of the former Ukip leader, but he has managed to keep the party in the headlines and put pressure on Sunak by rising in the polls even without Farage’s firepower.

The Guardian

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