Nigel Farage has decided to soft reboot the Brexit party. This 'new' party will be anti-lockdown, anti-quango, anti-House of Lords, with a lot of talk about illegal immigration along the way. Particularly in an age where populism appears to be on the wane, the Reform party will only appeal to a niche audience. Will it get more than eight per cent in the polls? It's hard to see how. The party will struggle to manage to scale the boundaries the voting system pits against small parties and win a seat in the House Commons. Even at local level, they won't do all that well. But as Ukip did, Reform might just change everything in British politics.
Passionate anti-lockdown sentiment is only felt by a small minority. All polling suggests efforts to restrict the spreading of Covid are overwhelmingly supported by the public. Yet those who believe that locking down is an outrageous curbing of our God-given rights as free-born Englishmen are extremely passionate in this belief. There is also seemingly a huge overlap between those who are vociferously anti-lockdown and people who clamour for a no-deal Brexit, think the government isn’t doing enough to curb illegal migration into Britain and believe the whole 'establishment' is out to do over the common man. This group of people is also most likely to feel that any deal struck between the UK and the EU before the end of this year constitutes a form of betrayal and further, will take Nigel Farage’s word on this point as gospel.
In other words, even if Reform can only muster say, eight per cent in the polls, that will come directly off of the Tories’ poll figures. Unlike Ukip, which in the end managed to hurt Labour even more than the Conservatives, Reform will only damage the Tories.
Imagine next May’s local elections. The Reform party manages to get around 50 seats or so. Yet they also rack up votes in all sorts of places that causes huge problems for the Conservatives. As a result, Labour pick up over 1,000 seats, while the Tories lose a commensurate number. All this while in the national polls, the Conservatives are in the low 30s while Labour are in the low 40s, enjoying a consistent ten-point lead. The combination of all of this could end Boris Johnson’s premiership.
A reasonable question to ask here is this: why, given everything I’ve just set out, would Nigel Farage want to put so much time and effort into something that is most likely to lead to a Labour government? At least with Ukip, one could easily understand the chief motivation – the Tory leadership was keen to avoid a referendum on EU membership and Farage wanted to jump on that fault line within the Conservatives in order to get Brexit to happen. Now that we’ve left, what is Farage trying to achieve here? I believe there are three things that are behind his decision to launch the Reform party.
One is simple: Nigel Farage has always seemed to dislike the Conservative party, and I believe this sentiment has, at least in part, motivated much of what he’s done over the last decade, more so than is usually discussed. The chance to get revenge on Boris goes along with this, Farage having had his legs cut out from under him after the arrangement with Varadkar was made, Nigel having to suffer the humiliation of being forced to stand down his army in order to avoid being charged with having destroyed Brexit.
The second reason is even more simple: a desire to return to the spotlight and redeem himself after that general election embarrassment. I’m sure Farage misses the role he held for so long – that of the one, true Brexiteer, and he sees his chance to come back has arrived.
Third and finally, it comes down to Brexit and what shape it finally takes after years of negotiation and stalling. Whatever form it does assume from 1 January, it will come as a disappointment to many hardcore Leavers. In the same way that Corbynism was always going to fail and rely on a 'stabbed in the back' myth to save its followers from admitting the truth, Brexit will never live up to its billing for the truly diehard. Farage understands this and sees that Covid lockdown backlash combined with Brexit disappointment is about to create the perfect storm.
Ukip never succeeded in any traditional electoral sense, yet it changed the country. I wouldn’t underestimate Farage’s ability to pull off the same trick again. The strangest thing of all is that the biggest winner out of Reform’s launch will probably be Keir Starmer. It could also ultimately – if it puts Labour in Downing Street – eventually lead to the UK re-joining the single market. This makes me wonder: is it that Nigel Farage would rather Brexit was reversed than have it exist as something less than the perfect dream he envisioned all those years he shouted for a referendum? It would be interesting to hear his answer.