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Fed-up Britons consider an election gamble on wildcard Farage

Farage holds Reform UK general election campaign event in London

By Kylie MacLellan and Ben Makori

ROMFORD, England (Reuters) - Britain's two main political parties are battling hard for the east London town of Romford, but some voters there are weary of broken promises, lacking trust in politicians and weighing up a vote for the election wildcard: Nigel Farage's Reform UK.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's Conservatives are trailing the centre-left Labour Party by around 20 points in national polls ahead of a July 4 election, with the rising popularity of Reform threatening to split the right-of-centre vote.

Romford has voted Conservative at every election since 2001, but this time it is predicted to be a much closer fight between the Conservatives and Keir Starmer's opposition Labour.

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Voters whom Reuters spoke to at a busy Friday market in the town centre, where everything from plants to handbags were on offer, cited a range of issues as top in their minds including immigration, healthcare, and the cost of living.

Only Sunak or Starmer have a realistic shot at being prime minister, but the surprise mid-campaign return to frontline politics by prominent Brexit campaigner Farage, a right-wing populist, has made many think again about how to cast their ballot.

"You don't know who to believe," said 68-year-old Jacqueline Harry when asked which party's election pledges appealed to her. "It's trust, if they are actually going to do it."

Retired factory worker Harry said the country was in a mess, she did not trust the Conservatives and wanted change. Usually a Labour voter, she has been tempted by Farage but worries that it might be a wasted vote.

"We like what he's saying. But is it enough?," she said.

A survey published this week found public trust and confidence in government has fallen to record lows, with 45% 'almost never' trusting them to put the needs of the nation above the interests of their own political party.

'TALKS FROM HIS MIND'

Reform, formerly the Brexit Party, has surged in the polls since Farage took over as leader and said he would stand for parliament. On Thursday, it overtook the Conservatives for the first time, according to one opinion poll.

The move is indicative of how a Conservative campaign littered with missteps has left voters ripe to be picked off by former commodities trader Farage, who styles himself as a man of the people up against an out-of-touch political elite.

"I always look at the manifesto. I like to go by that, but I think Nigel Farage summed it up this morning on the news when he said manifesto stands for lies," said retiree Barry Couchman, 76, who previously worked for a water company.

Couchman has backed the Conservatives in recent elections but said he felt the country needed change and this time he does not know who to vote for. His wife plans to vote Reform and he has been impressed by Farage's style.

"He just talks from his mind," he said.

Reform's candidate is unlikely to win in Romford. As in most seats across the country, the party has enough support to come second or third, but Britain has a first-past-the-post electoral system.

In March, a prominent former deputy Conservative chairman who had been suspended over accusations of Islamophobia defected to Reform, giving the party its first member of parliament.

The Conservatives response to the Farage surge has been to say that voting for anyone but them could give Starmer a huge majority - a warning that resonated with some in Romford.

"I want to vote Conservative, but I do like the Reform Party. I agree with everything they say - but what I'm scared of is, is it a wasted vote?" said Caron Webb, 51, a market trader.

"If I vote for them, and then Conservatives don't get in because there's more people voting Labour - that is my main concern."

(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan, writing by William James and Kylie MacLellan, Editing by Angus MacSwan)