It was only a matter of time, in retrospect. There is a new political party in town. This one is called Reclaim and is the brainchild of the actor and singer Laurence Fox. I’m sure all of you know who Fox is already, but if not, here’s a refresher: earlier this year, Fox went on BBC Question Time. While on the programme he said some fairly innocuous things that for some strange reason blew up into a new battleground in the culture wars. Since then, Fox has become something of a hero to a certain segment of social media while being demonised by another. He’s now decided to start a ‘new political movement which promises to make our future a shared endeavour, not a divisive one’. Unfortunately for Laurence Fox, this new party is a terrible idea, one that will almost certainly end in embarrassment for him.
For a start, I think there is a paradox in launching a political party to end the culture wars which will only inflame the tensions that are at the centre of those conflicts even further. Reclaim can only make the cultural divisions that we suffer at present even sharper. Secondly, I think having an actor front a new political party is a really bad plan in and of itself. No one likes luvvies sticking their noses into politics, and just because this one comes from the cultural right doesn’t make it any more appealing.
Yet there is a much bigger reason why Reclaim is a poor idea. Under the Westminster system, it is extremely difficult to have any success whatsoever as a newly created challenger. One only need look at the electoral history of Nigel Farage and his various projects for proof of this. Seven times he tried to become an MP with no luck. UKIP got 13 per cent of the vote at the 2015 general election — and one seat. The Brexit Party got to 20 per cent in the national polls and won the 2019 European elections in the UK — mirroring UKIP’s victory in 2014 — and yet was forced to mostly stand down at the 2019 general election to protect Brexit. Trying to break the duopoly, even to the point of becoming a minor party with enough MPs to make any sort of a difference, is almost impossible.
There is an argument to say that even though Farage never had any electoral success at the national level, he achieved his ultimate goal. He managed to bounce the Tories into a referendum on British membership of the UK and then for Leave to win the subsequent plebiscite. Fine — except what is Reclaim’s similarly easy to explain goal here? I’ll phrase the question in a different way: who does Laurence Fox think he is going to convince on the opposing side of the culture wars with his new political party? Again, all I see is something that will cause divisions in this country to become more acute — if Reclaim has any cut through whatsoever, I hasten to add.
In fact, bringing up Farage in this context is even more pertinent, since I agree with Fox on one thing — there is a space opening up for a new right-wing party in Britain. One that can criticise a bound to be imperfect Tory Brexit, talk about continued immigration by refugees despite Home Office rhetoric and all the various other sore points in and around the culture wars. But that space is Nigel Farage shaped, not made for Laurence Fox. Reclaim has already been described as ‘UKIP for culture’. The only new right-wing party I can see working is UKIP 3.0.
In order for a new right-wing political party to succeed in this country, it will require a leader with the following attributes: vast amounts of political experience, particularly in trying to take on the established national parties; massive name recognition and cachet among the target audience; a type of political genius, one that has been honed over decades of battle. Only the second of those is even remotely possessed by Laurence Fox — and even then, I don’t see how anyone could argue he’s more beloved by Brexiteers than Nigel Farage. I just don’t think any party that looks and sounds like Reclaim has any shot at success without Farage at the helm.
Some will point to Trump as an example of an outsider who made it to the top. I would retort that Trump’s success owes a lot to the American system of primaries, not to mention the fact that Trump infiltrated an already existing party. If he’d tried to start a new party, Trump would have got nowhere. If Fox wants a lesson from the politics of the last decade, it’s that outsiders can’t do it alone.