• UK Reform Party Gets An Critical Convert

    March 13, 2024
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    There is a pub in the centre of Westminster, the Westminster Arms, or the Wessie as it is known. It has been serving the great, good and the downright rabble of British politics for well over 100 years.

    On Monday evening, one of its more famous regulars (Bill Clinton had a pint here once, but he doesn’t count as a regular) was outside with some of his team. Nigel Farage had a glint in his eye, he was about to go live on his nightly TV show, and he had something to talk about. The party that he helped create and with which he retains an avuncular interest had, in the morning, just scored a coup. Lee Anderson, a working class MP from an old coal mining district in the decaying Midlands of England had defected to his party, Reform UK that morning, and the UK was ablaze with political gossip.

    Anderson, until recently a Vice-Chairman of the rapidly sinking governing Conservative Party had decided, after he had been suspended by the Conservatives for making some strong comments about the London Mayor’s failure to get a grip on the pro-HAMAS behaviour of the weekly anti-Israel marches in London, crossed the floor.

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    What this means is that the insurgent centre right party now has its first representation in the Parliament, something which, only 3 and a half years after its foundation is quite a remarkable feat.

    A few minutes earlier, before Farage had arrived, the Conservative Party Chairman, Richard Holden, unkempt, furiously puffing on a cigarette, ears stuffed with pods, and gabbling into the ether like a vagrant, had bustled past. Holden, who is responsible for internal party discipline had seen the small knot of boisterous Reform supporters, and responded to their raised glasses and broad smiles with a chewed rictus grin. It had, for Holden, not been a bad day at the office, it had been catastrophic.

    The Reform Party is now regularly polling in the low teens, and its share of the popular vote is above that of the perennial 3rd Party in British politics, the Liberal Democrats. In two recent by-elections one in the Midlands and one in the liberal suburbia of Bristol it achieved higher than its average, and condemned the Conservatives - who had held both seats with significant majorities in 2019 to oblivion.

    With the Government looking down both barrels of electoral disaster the rise of a challenger to its right creates existential angst. Most of them now realise that their 14 years in office are drawing to an ignominious close, but the rise of Reform threatens not just their grasp of power, but their very existence.

    During the 2019 general election, in order to save Brexit and the UK’s departure from the European Union, Farage, leader of Reform UK’s predecessor party, The Brexit Party, and Richard Tice, then his deputy and now the leader of Reform UK, took a momentous decision not to stand against Conservative MPs. The possibility of a hard left Government, and one that planned to overturn the result of the 2016 European Referendum was too great, and the prize was too important to risk. So in an act of enormous political sacrifice they stood down to let the Conservatives under Boris Johnson win.

    The Brexit Party was destroyed as a political outfit, but Britain’s departure from the European Union was secure. Farage went on to reinvent himself as a political commentator and TV celebrity, and Richard Tice picked up the pieces of the Brexit Party, renamed it the Reform Party and started the long haul of turning a single issue pressure group into a party.

    The differences between then and now are manifold. Then there was a single defining issue, today Reform is a fully fledged political party with a full program for government. On a whole raft of issues it takes positions that until very recently would have been mainstream centre right perspectives. Low tax, low immigration, low regulation, strong on law and order, strong on national defence. Caring about decent healthcare and education, passionate about the environment but unswayed by the moral panic created by the devotees of the Net Zero Agenda. Unconvinced by the religious fervour surrounding the global religion of diversity and Inclusion, instead preferring the tried and tested concept of equality before the law,. Supportive of the entrepreneurs, the family, and proud of the country's history, culture and heritage. Nothing controversial about any of it. In fact only 20 years ago its project would have been seen as centrist and many of its policies would have sat comfortably with the Labour Government of Tony Blair, let alone the Conservative Government of Margaret Thatcher. But today Reform UK are the only party that actually espouses anty of this

    The mistake the Conservative Party is making in dealing with the threat of Reform is that it has drunk its own kool aid and believes its own hype. The Conservatives, they think, are the natural party of government. They think they have some God given right to exist. And some of the poor deluded fools think they can win the next election. They cannot.

    Their only counter to Reform is to say that by voting Reform one would be supporting Labour “Letting Labour in by the back door” they say. Whether they like it or not,and as a direct result of their own failures Labour are not coming in through the tradesman’s entrance, but they are walking up the red carpet to Number 10 Downing St and in through the front door, left wide open by the Government.

    According to polling, for every 2019 Conservative voter that is planning to vote for labour, another is planning to vote for Reform. Arguments about letting Labour in are both inaccurate and irrelevant. Centre Right voters know that Labour will win. They also know that a Labour majority of 30 or 300 makes not a jot of difference.

    Because of this voting for Reform would be a reasonable act. The Conservative Party is over. They have been living on death row for years, condemned by their own actions. Now it is dawn, and the country will punish them.
    The defection of Lee Anderson is a seminal moment and Farage who has no day to day involvement in the Party right now, but talks to its leadership and provides regular mentoring was enjoying his ale. He was smiling.

    That pint in the cool evening sun on Monday must have tasted as sweet as any he has drunk.


    Gawain Towler

    Gawain Towler was recently the Director of Communications of the Brexit Party and has run his own Communications and Strategy company. Before that he worked in the European Institutions in Brussels. He has worked at a high level in politics, policy, charity and commercial sectors. He is regularly published in a variety of national and specialist publications. His work has been recognised by industry bible, PRWeek as one of the UK's top 300 PR professionals in 2016/17 and this year, being placed as one of the top 10 political PR professionals in 2017.
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