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UKIP 3.0: Can Reform UK change politics for good?

Noel Yaxley
January 25, 2021

Nigel Farage has shaken the British political establishment to its core, however his new Reform UK party seems to be his toughest sell yet. Noel Yaxley explains how the new party could shake things up yet again.

Whilst populism on the right has somewhat gone beyond acceptable boundaries in America, on this side of the pond it appears to be thriving. Its chief architect, Nigel Farage, has decided to once again kickstart his Westminster aspirations. After months of political procrastination, the Electoral Commission have finally permitted Farage to re-enter politics with the party now named Reform UK.

Farage has had genuine political aspirations for years. Despite standing seven times for election to the House of Commons, the former leader of UKIP has never won a Westminster parliamentary seat. The closest he came was when his now obsolete UKIP received 4 million votes in the 2015 general election, with Douglas Carswell elected as an MP for Clacton. Although never elected as an MP himself, Farage has always existed on the periphery, with his considerable influence outweighing his position as an MEP for South East England.

The sands of UK politics further shifted with his new party: The Brexit Party. Securing 31.6% of the vote at the 2019 European elections, overnight he turned 29 people into MEPs to sit in the EU parliament, with the goal of helping the UK leave the European Union.

But since leaving the EU, the Brexit Party have become pretty much irrelevant, with any last breath left in the party stamped out when Boris Johnson started hammering out trade deals. With the European project firmly in the rear-view mirror, can his newly rebranded Reform Party play a role in national politics?

Reform UK's list of combatants are a broad church.  As a party committed to reform of the Lords, the BBC, the electoral system, and a focus on an increasingly paternalistic nanny-state, it's easy to see where Reform UK can potentially pick up votes. The party looks an appealing place for disillusioned Conservative voters, frustrated with Boris' top-down 'liberal-conservative' driven response to the coronavirus. Farage's senior aide, Richard Tice, has been especially vocal in his opposition to the lockdown.

One issue that may hurt Farage will be his unwavering support for Donald Trump. This will no doubt be repeated ad nauseam by every mainstream newspaper up and down the country. Expect the video of him praising Trump as "the bravest man I've ever met" at an Arizona rally to surface on every news channel whenever he is mentioned. Then there's his support for Tony Blair's position on a Covid vaccination programme. A position which led him to release a video on YouTube explaining his rationale. This, I fear, will naturally alienate some of his more die-hard supporters, who view Blair's intervention In Iraq as anathema to Farage's more laissez-faire approach.

Despite the relevant and topical issues Reform UK hopes to address, I fear it will lack the mass-appeal that the Brexit party managed to captivate in the hearts and minds of so many who voted to leave the EU. I agree with Farage that our first-past-the-post system of voting is, in his words, "totally bankrupt" and proportional representation (PR) is a far better, more democratic version. If PR had been implemented in 2015, the solitary MP UKIP gained would have soared to 83. I also agree that the Lords is in need of serious reform, as I have argued in this very publication.

Amongst their supporters, the strongest argument that could sway indecisive voters lies with immigration. Farage has reported numerous times from the south of England, documenting illegal migrants crossing the channel.  He's taken frequent shots at the Home Secretary Priti Patel, telling her to "get tough on illegal immigration." With record numbers of people crossing the channel, he clearly eyes an opening for Reform UK to lead the way on immigration reform.

I envisage a situation where the party could debut in the opinion polls around 10 per cent, but will these positions alone translate to the wider population? For example, the anti-lockdown stance advocated by civil libertarians and lovers of freedom is a position only a fraction of the country appear to support. Every opinion poll has shown clear support for the numerous lockdowns the country has been placed under.

With votes likely to come from ex-Conservative voters, the result could prove strategically flawed. An opinion poll conducted at the end of December by Sir John Curtice suggests that both Conservative and Labour are on an equal footing with 39% each. The potential for Reform to steal away Conservative voters could leave the country with a Labour government, something the staunch libertarian Farage would surely see as the worst possible outcome.

As it stands, a general election is a long way away. The local elections will provide us with some answers. But if Reform UK can capture the hearts and minds in the same way the Brexit Party did, things could get very interesting indeed.

Noel Yaxley is a freelance writer and political commentator and his work can be seen in a number of different publications
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