The vaccines make you magnetic, didn’t you know? And Covid is a form of biological warfare, released by the Chinese to weaken the West. New 5G technology is melting people’s brains and the Bank of England is owned by the Rothschilds.
I am listening to three delegates from Reform UK’s first party conference, held in parallel to the Tories' much larger jamboree just down the road. They are outside chaining cigarettes and they’re fired up. At last, they feel they can talk about this stuff without being shut down.
I nod along. I’m not a scientist, I explain, and I don’t really know how central banks work. But why, I ask, aren’t these things being discussed on the Reform conference stage? ‘They’ll just be labelled conspiracy theorists by the fake news media,’ explains one man who travelled from Preston for the event, lighting his third cigarette. ‘We’re still looking for all the evidence’.
Reform UK is a strange political animal. Remade from the remains of the Brexit Party but shorn of both Brexit and Farage, it seems to know what it’s against more than what it’s for.
They’re certainly against the ‘Con-socialist government’ and its high taxes and freedom-busting lockdowns. And against the ‘rampant communist intersectionalism’ of the liberal elites. But on their conference stage, there’s an odd lack of radicalism.
Dr David Bull, the party’s deputy leader, suggests copying an old New Labour policy: paying for private health care to cut NHS waiting times. ‘We’re actually putting a lot of money in but our outcomes aren’t very good.’ Another party bod explains how a Reform government would cut emissions. ‘But why?’ shouts one exasperated delegate to much nodding under the seedy hotel chandeliers.
Reform is a party that lacks the molten Eurosceptic core of the Farage era. ‘We have a blank slate; we are a relatively new party at the dawn of a new age,’ says one speaker in an attempt to capitalise on the lack of policy. But Reform is a rebel without a cause, a party that doesn’t quite know what it’s for.
Farage’s heir as party leader, the handsome Richard Tice, hops up on stage. The room, which smells a bit like an auction house, is subjected to a brief burst of Status Quo. ‘I’m quite keen on the idea of zero tolerance on crime,’ he explains, ‘zero tolerance on anti-social behaviour, zero tolerance on illegal immigration.’ I’m quite keen on zero tolerance for bad stuff too, but then I suspect are most of the British public.
The fire alarm goes off midway through one speech. There’s a ripple of awkward laughter. We traipse down the stairs, a rabble of raincoats and G&Ts in plastic cups. The party’s social media team continue to film the exodus, one videos us as we come out of the hall, another points a boom pole camera down the stairwell. Everything is filmed, to be chopped up and posted on Facebook groups for the party faithful. Digital content without much in the way of content.
Outside, two Manchester fire engines pull up at a bus stop. ‘Sabotage,’ whispers one delegate. He’s ex-army, he assures me, so he knows his stuff. A couple of protesters, strolling home from an anti-Tory rally, turn their attention to the gaggle of oldies decamped on the chilly autumn pavement. Something about anti-vaxxers and killing people.
Why are you here, I ask a kindly looking couple stood next to a sign which reads: ‘Children need mothers AND fathers’. They joined because of Brexit. Because they voted for something and then those in power tried to stop it. They’d delivered leaflets for the Brexit Party during the 2019 election and wanted to meet up with some of their old activist friends. But it's done now, I say, so what’s the point of the party? ‘Everything needs changing,’ they smile at me, ‘everything needs reform.’