Harold Wilson famously said “A week is a long time in politics.”
What would he have made of 2020?
With the US election days away, and Boris Johnson’s government feeling their way through the Coronavirus Pandemic, nobody was paying all that much attention to Nigel Farage and his Brexit Party, which had been notably quiet throughout most of 2020.
But yesterday, Farage announced that the party was undergoing a transformation. He’d often talked of how the party would shift focus once Britain left the EU, but his plans to form the Reform Party were blocked by the Electoral Commission.
So instead, we have Reform UK – a party looking to compete in upcoming elections, be they in devolved legislatures or on local councils.
Farage and party chair Richard Tice announced the development in a article for The Daily Telegraph, where they expressed the view that the government’s ‘woeful’ response to Coronavirus was the top issue for them – “The ‘strategy’ has been to terrify the nation into submission, coupled with a barrage of lockdowns, rules, regulations and threats. It is all about playing for time, in the hope that a vaccine miraculously comes along.”
Reform UK are now the only significant political party to endorse the Great Barrington Declaration – a alternative approach to the pandemic, by which the vulnerable would shield, whilst the rest of society would not be subjected to lockdowns.
Farage and Tice also make reference to issues that have long dominated their platforms – law and order, immigration, reforming the House of Lords and the BBC, etc.
In their previous form as the Brexit Party, they’d had remarkable electoral success. In the European Elections in May 2019, the eurosceptic party won 29 of the 73 British seats available in the European Parliament – a mere six months after being established.
Farage’s decision to have Brexit Party candidates stand down in Conservative strongholds in the 2019 General Election aided the latter party, and left the former with no seats in the House of Commons.
I knew a lot of people had voted for the Brexit Party out of frustration with the other parties, so I was curious to know how the recent ‘rebranding’ had gone down with supporters.
Michael Gibson is a SDP supporter who is willing to lend his support to Reform UK, as he lamented, “Socially conservative economic interventionists have no mainstream political home.”
It’s worth remembering that the Brexit Party was often marked as a centrist party. Whilst their manifesto included hallmarks of the political right through promises to limit immigration and introduce a £10,000 tax-free allowance for small businesses, they also pledged to abolish interest rates on student tuition loans and to keeping the NHS a ‘publicly-owned, comprehensive service, free at the point of use’ with privatisation ruled out.
Evie (Not her real name) was too young to vote in December’s election, but had given her support to Farage’s party at the time – and has recently renewed her subscription (Currently, Reform UK takes on registered supporters, not members).
“I’ve seen a lot of people building frustration over border controls and migration, even during lockdown millions of people were permitted to enter the country,” Evie said, “Many people are disappointed in the Tories, they do not care about citizens and making promises that can’t be kept or are flat out lies.”
For Lauren, the decision to vote Brexit Party also stemmed from a frustration with the Conservatives – a common theme among the base – but now she’s more pleased that there’s an official opposition to the government’s lockdown measures: “If Farage is good at anything it’s consistently opposing the establishment, which is very much needed with Labour as opposition.”
The future of Reform UK remains unclear. As it stands, the country is not due another general election until 2024 (But given the nature of British politics in recent years, one could be upon us before then).
They currently have no seats in the House of Commons, but have smatterings of representation in local councils across England. Up until recently, they had some members in the Welsh Assembly, but that’s all but disintegrated as members have joined other parties.
Even this article alone can’t give a wholly reliable picture of what is to come. The people I spoke to were all young and engaged with social media – how the rebirth of the Brexit Party will impact the other 642,303 voters who backed them, remains to be seen.