AN OUTGOING Conservative MP who beat Nigel Farage in the 2015 General Election has criticised the Reform UK leader.

Craig Mackinlay was an original member and acting leader of UKIP before switching to the Conservatives in 2005 and becoming the Tory MP for South Thanet from 2005 to 2024.

Mr Mackinlay, 57, said the last time he was in Clacton was 10 years ago when the “UKIP roadshow came to town to support Douglas Carswell”.

Mr Mackinlay said that it “was very different” for UKIP – which in 2014 was led by Nigel Farage - as UKIP candidate Mr Carswell was the “local MP” who “knew the place” “as well living in the area.

Mr Mackinlay said: “Nigel is just using Clacton because of its unique situation in having just turned a non-normal MP, if you like, back then in 2015.

“He doesn’t love the place. I’m sure without this election going on, he wouldn’t know where the place was.”

MP - Craig Mackinglay was the MP for South Thanet from 2005 to 2024MP - Craig Mackinlay was the MP for South Thanet from 2005 to 2024 (Image: Victoria Jones/PA)

Mr Mackinlay said Conservative Clacton candidate Giles Watling, a friend since 2017, was “different” to Mr Farage as he had brought in levelling-up expenditure was “going to stay here”.

Asked if the Conservatives are a "spent political force" due to the rise of Reform, Mr Mackinlay said they were the world’s oldest political party and that it would "take a lot to knock us out the game”.

He said: “We went through the wars in 1997. We had a very tough election, down to 165 MPs, but these come and go like the tides.

“I think the polls are wrong. They are not reflecting what I’m getting on the doorstep.

"People are maybe a little unhappy with us, but then you cannot spend half a trillion pounds during the pandemic and expect no consequences."

Asked what the the Conservatives have achieved since he was elected in 2005, going from being in opposition to being in power for 14 years, Mr Mackinlay said: “It’s been a funny 14 years of course, five years in coalition, then we had the Brexit wars which lasted till 2019 and then we had a couple of years where nothing happened due to Covid.

“You could actually say that we haven’t been in government for more than two or three years."

He said Brexit had been the “big result” and his “proudest moment”, before saying the "battle” for the next ten years would be net-zero.

Celebrated - Craig Mackinglay received a rare standing ovation in the Commons when he returned after having four limbs amputated due to sepsis Celebrated - Craig Mackinlay received a rare standing ovation in the Commons when he returned after having four limbs amputated due to sepsis (Image: Houses of Commons/Parliament)

Mr Mackinlay claimed that like Brexit, net-zero would split families again, and said that he was “looking forward to be part of that battle”.

The Tory said another “external factor” to the cost-of-living crisis was “Putin’s illegal war".

Asked about Mr Farage’s comments on Russia and whether this would sway unsure Conservative voters who support Ukraine, he said: “Nigel straying into the Putin argument is a strange one, I thought he would be more astute than that as a politician who is as long in the tooth as I am.”

When asked about poverty in Clacton and Jaywick Sands, Mr Mackinlay said: “We have created 800 jobs every single day across those 14 years of government."

He also said there are jobs available but that “more can be done” to get people into work, adding that Clacton is not much different to South Thanet, both being coastal towns which are finding themselves again.

When asked about Channel’s 4 investigation into racist comments by Reform supporters in Clacton, Mr Mackinlay said: “I don’t know what the truth is about that.”

“There’s accusations that Channel 4 put the guy up to it, I certainly hope they haven’t…

“I’ve had my days with UKIP, but I was getting just a bit annoyed that we seemed to be attracting odd types, and it seems that Reform might be doing the same.”

He added: “I have known Nigel for a long time, and he is not a racist.”

The full list of candidates for the Clacton constituency is: Matthew Bensilum (Lib Dem), Nigel Farage (Reform UK), Craig Jamieson (Climate Party), Tony Mack (Independent), Natasha Osben (Green Party), Jovan Owusu-Nepaul (Labour Party), Tasos Papanastasiou (Heritage Party), Andrew Pemberton (UKIP), Giles Watling (Conservative).