'It's going to wake a lot of people up': Rochester voters may be toying with Reform, but apathy reigns

With Guinness the pub cat curled up next to him, Andy is clear what he'll be doing come polling day.

"Having a beer", he says, before chuckling into his pint.

"I won't be voting for no one. They all tell lies. I've only voted once in my life and I'm 66 years old", adds the long-time Kent resident.

That lack of faith in politics is widespread in Temple Farm Working Men's Club in Strood.

Behind a bar draped in St George's flag bunting, Lorraine says she's also only ever gone to the ballot box once.

"I voted once before and that was for Maggie Thatcher… I just think they come out with a load of promises and they don't follow up on it so it's a waste of time."

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'Normal' Nigel

Amid a poll surge for Reform, Nigel Farage is one of the few politicians to come in for any praise.

Kelly, sat sipping a white wine, says she "might vote for Nigel" before adding: "I suppose he's like the normal people, ain't he? All the others, they're not like us, are they?"

Election results in Rochester and Strood - and its previous incarnations in the Kent Medway area - have always tended to mirror the national outcome.

Given that, Labour's chunky poll lead is probably enough to unsettle the Tory incumbent.

But there's another political front here.

Ten years ago, this constituency turned UKIP - after a defection and by-election win in the fraught years leading to the Brexit referendum.

Suspicion over Labour

During that campaign, Labour frontbencher Emily Thornberry was forced to resign after posting a photo online of an England flag and a white van with the accompanying caption "image from Rochester".

Ten years after that row over Labour snobbishness, Ms Thornberry is back in the shadow cabinet but her party are still viewed with suspicion by some.

Back in the Working Men's Club, Max says he usually votes Labour, but may go Reform this time - "I don't think Starmer's very good".

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Others, unprompted, bring up concerns about possible tax rises under a Labour government - a key Tory attack line.

Reform in the running

Sitting across the table, Dave says he's a long-time Conservative voter also toying with Reform.

"Farage, he's a right frontman, isn't he? He says what he means… it's going to wake a lot of people up, isn't it?"

Max chips in: "It's certainly woken up the old Conservatives."

No one can argue with that.

The YouGov poll showing Reform ahead of the Tories has led Mr Farage to claim he is the "real opposition" now.

It's also seemingly forced a change in strategy from the Conservatives, with the prime minister now warning of Sir Keir Starmer being given a "blank cheque" in government.

For many, that will sound an awful lot like a Tory leader coming close to admitting defeat.

Widespread political distrust

But with Reform still unlikely to win many actual seats in this election, what's the end game?

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In his hastily arranged press conference, Mr Farage refused several times to rule out joining the Tories if he did make it to the Commons and has spoken in the past of his desire to remake the right of British politics.

There's still a word of warning from the Temple Farm Working Men's Club though.

Sipping a pint of John Smiths, Ken says: "Even Nigel Farage, he's still not saying how things would be done, how he would make things better. No party is."

The overwhelming feeling here is one of distrust in the political system and despondency with the state of the nation.

Mr Farage may be trading off this well of apathy now, but he's not immune to its impact either.