The departure of Nigel Farage from the stage does not necessarily mark the end of the 'revolt on the right' that has so shaken up British politics over the past decade. Followers of the fortunes of the Brexit party, which has now morphed into Reform UK, will know that Richard Tice has been the coming man for many months.
Today Farage’s newly-appointed successor as party leader (the party doesn’t, as yet, do internal elections) sets out the ground on which he has chosen to take on the political establishment — for which one should read 'nibble away at the Tory vote share'. And Tice has chosen to ignore the fashionable notion that these days culture trumps economics when it comes to delivering votes. Instead he is going to park Reform UK’s tanks — perhaps we should regard them as light and speedy armoured cars — all over the traditional Tory lawn of economic management.
Reform's 'alternative economic plan' is a full-throated Thatcherite and Reaganite cry for a less over-bearing state that regulates with a lighter touch and levies lower and simpler taxes. By becoming a low tax, high growth economy, Tice believes the UK can ultimately shrink its debt burden without entering into another grim decade of austerity. So confident is he in Britain’s capacity to grow at a faster rate that it doesn’t really bother him if public debt as a share of GDP continues to rise in the short-term.
While he thinks that £50 billion of waste could be stripped out of public spending by smart people brought in from the private sector without touching frontline services, such reductions are envisaged as making only a marginal contribution to a UK economic renaissance.
By far the biggest impact, Tice believes, would flow from dynamic tax cuts — in both business and personal taxation alike — supercharging incentives for inward investment, wealth creation and good old-fashioned hard work. These, allied to smarter and generally lighter regulation, would see the economy grow by well over 1 per cent extra every year. Compounded up over a decent stretch of time, such a change would be transformational.
Those who have spoken privately to him about his vision say he talks a very good and appealing game and there will certainly be parts of the Tory right — both in parliament and outside — that will find themselves nodding along in agreement. Yet the key question is not whether the plan will work economically — it is, after all, most unlikely ever to be implemented — but whether it will work politically.
The Tice era at Reform UK could easily have been launched off the back of a culture war issue — perhaps scrapping the idea of 'protected minorities' under the Equality Act so that we are all again formally equal in the eyes of the law. But he has eschewed such a move. He is said to consider such ideas 'rather Ukippy' (a bad thing in his books). Neither will he make immigration his central campaigning issue, presumably for similar reasons.
Instead, he will sink or swim based on whether enough voters have misty-eyed memories of the entrepreneurial 1980s and enough younger voters think they sound like fun to push up the Reform UK poll rating, which is currently on about 3 per cent and not causing much trouble to anyone.
Certainly nobody could fault his timing. Anyone perusing the Telegraph letters page recently can’t have failed to notice an upsurge of complaints in the wake of Rishi Sunak’s Budget that the Conservatives are not conservative anymore. Tice has his own term for this. 'Con-socialists' is what he calls the Tories. It is not the wittiest soundbite I have ever heard, but again he is sticking to it.
All those business figures — mainly lifelong Tories — who have been complaining about the idea of corporation tax at 26 per cent or the sheer complexity of the system and scope of the state will now have another party to support. But will they, or are they just letting off steam while in fact having no intention whatever of abandoning their true-blue affinities?
For his part, Tice believes the idea of putting more pounds in the pockets of ordinary working people via a hefty further rise in the personal allowance will be just as electorally potent as fighting the culture war. Tice has been telling friends that he thinks he needs 'get to 10 per cent' to have a big political impact. If the bulk of such an uplift comes off the current Tory rating then he thinks he will have Boris Johnson on the run.
Tice faces a huge organisational challenge to get his party into anything like good shape in time for this May’s big round of local elections — half its website still carries Brexit party branding and candidate selection is miles behind.
But great credit is due to Mr Tice for seeking to broaden the political choices available to the electorate. No party in the Commons is offering a Thatcherite economic agenda right now, with Boris Johnson’s refusal to do so actually being seen as his top cunning killer move against Keir Starmer.
The becalmed Starmer may have no clue about how to get his own party ahead. But were the Tice onslaught against those 'Con-socialists' to bring down the Tory poll score and start shifting the government rightwards on economics, then even he could hope to be back in the game.