Katy Balls

Farage’s anti-lockdown party spells trouble for Tories

Farage's anti-lockdown party spells trouble for Tories
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As the Tory rebellion over the government's lockdown plan grows, Nigel Farage has entered the fray. The former Ukip leader is to relaunch the Brexit Party as a new force in the coronavirus debate. The outfit will be renamed Reform UK and promises to provide a counter-voice to the two main parties' support for lockdown as a way of tackling coronavirus. Farage's party will instead argue for a policy of 'focused protection' from coronavirus for the vulnerable. 

The news of Farage's plans has been met with surprise — and even laughter — in some quarters. Several Tory MPs have been quick to dismiss it as Farage needing a hobby on the basis that his ally Donald Trump could be out of the White House soon. However, while the Brexit Party failed to win any seats in the 2019 election, Farage new project ought to be taken seriously. While Farage's parties and campaigns have rarely resulted in seats in parliament, they have repeatedly changed the terms of the political debate. Beyond securing the EU referendum in the first place, Farage's Brexit Party was instrumental in pushing Theresa May and her successor away from a softer Brexit position. 

So, what will the Reform UK party mean for Westminster politics? Expect to see its effects in two places before too long. First, Wednesday's vote on lockdown. With Labour backing Johnson's plan, the government is expected to win this comfortably. However, there will be a Tory rebellion — with MPs including Graham Brady and Esther McVey planning to vote against the government. The prospect of a rival party adopting a harder line against lockdowns could lead wavering MPs to decide to warn the government against further restrictions by opposing the vote. It will also lead many of these MPs to push Downing Street for relaxations on restrictions — warning voters could move their support if they don't.

Second, the Tories and Labour have been pretty neck in neck in the polls of late, with the Conservative party often having a small lead. While polling suggests the public still backs strict lockdown measures, a significant portion of Tory voters now oppose lockdown. Farage has the potential to split the Conservative vote — giving Labour a lead as a result.

Written byKaty Balls

Katy Balls is The Spectator's deputy political editor.

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