Reform UK is the great enigma of right-wing British politics. Despite lacking a memorable name, leader, policy platform or record of electoral success, the party is polling just shy of 10 per cent – two points off the Liberal Democrats. The party held an eagerly awaited press conference this morning at which Richard Tice set out his plans for the forthcoming general election.
All the familiar hallmarks of the Ukip and Brexit party playbook were present: talk of defections, disgruntled donors and plans to ‘punish’ the Tories, set in the familiar haunt of the Hilton Hotel in Westminster. Unlike 2019, Tice pledged, there would be no pacts with Conservative MPs, even the true-blue Brexiteers: ‘You’ve all broken Britain. You’re all responsible. So there’s no special deals: we stand in every single seat in England, Scotland, and Wales.’
To the disappointment of the 50-plus assembled journalists, Nigel Farage did not make a surprise appearance to announce his return to frontline politics. According to Tice, Farage is ‘still assessing’ the ‘extent of the role he wants to play in helping Reform UK’. But there were hints: Tice called the recent star of I’m a Celebrity the ‘master of political timing’, adding that a ‘good poker player doesn’t show their hand too early’. He went on to say that the more help Farage could offer Reform UK ‘the better’ because the ‘job at hand is so big, to save Britain’.
Novelty was provided in the unveiling of Reform’s latest attack on Labour: an apocalyptic poster of the party’s leader emblazoned with the word ‘Starmergeddon’. Reform, Tice claimed, ‘is the party of the working class’. Yet the bulk of his speech seemed more targeted at Tories in the shires than Labour voters in the north: the risk of bond market wrath, Whitehall spending cuts of 5 per cent and a ‘bonfire’ of EU law.
The purpose of the press conference seemed to be to trumpet the party’s candidate in the Wellingborough by-election: Ben Habib, the deputy leader.