For the liberal commentariat, Nigel Farage, and the three parties he has been associated with, have become the boogiemen of British politics. UKIP, the Brexit Party, and now the Reform Party, all continue to exist and, in their eyes, have toxified the political landscape. However, others view Farage in a more positive light – an adaptable figure, who’s parties and policies have not only kept up with the times but have had a significant impact upon them.
While each of these groups has failed to receive any momentous form of electoral success, both Farage and his political parties have garnered considerable media coverage.
To understand what the future holds for Farage and his newly concepted ‘Reform Party’, we must first analysis his previous political ventures, before asking ourselves if there is indeed room for a third option within the so-called two-party system of today.
A Brief History Of Farage’s UKIP:
After a career as a city banker, Nigel Farage got involved with the United Kingdom Independence Party. In the past he identified and was a member of the Conservative party’s Eurosceptic wing. UKIP was founded in the nineties with the sole purpose to take Britain out of the European Union. When Farage arrived, it was on the margins of British politics, however, he would lead the party to increase its share of the vote gradually before it peaked in the 2014 European and 2015 general election.
It was this success of a Eurosceptic party which drove those on the right of the conservative party to pressure David Cameron into calling the E.U. Referendum. The rest of this saga, as they say, is history.
According to the British Election Study, UKIP’s 2015 electoral coalition was primarily comprised of 2010 Conservative voters. In 2017, with the Conservative party firmly on the Eurosceptic side of British politics, and UKIP in decline, the Conservatives were able to assemble an electoral coalition to become the single largest party in Parliament. UKIP was capable of stinging the conservatives where it hurt; without UKIP, they would have had access to over 10% more of the electorate.
UKIP was hurt to some extent, by its decentralised structures. UKIP was a broad-church uniting people from the left and right in pursuit of Brexit. Its open organisational structure left it open to entryism and limited the powers of the leader, which would often lead to a number of interviews in which Nigel Farage would be confronted by his councillors’ often ‘racist’ or ‘homophobic’ remarks. Even its Founder lamented how much the party had focussed on ‘creating a fuss, via Islam and immigrants’. This was particularly problematic for the party as it contributed to its reputation of belonging on the ‘Far Right’ of British politics.
Aside from Brexit what does UKIP stand for? The answer is not a lot anyone cares about. Their 2017 manifesto included pledges to invest billions in the NHS, while reducing taxes and turning our passports blue. These policies may seem mild, unremarkable even, but at this time UKIP took on a new cultural stance. It would poise itself, at a time when many believe that we are in the midst of a culture war, as the anti-political-correctness party.
Big names such as Katie Hopkins and Sargon of Akkad (Carl Benjamin) would join hand-in-hand with the new leader of the party, Gerard Batten, and proceed to create a storm of controversy along the campaign trail. From the hullabaloo of Benjamin’s comments on rape (or lack of) to Batten threatening to sue a Labour MP on live television, UKIP was not short of media attention. However, while the phrase ‘all press is good press’ might indeed be true, it would not pay off for the party on this occasion. UKIP would win less than 2% of the vote and by 2019 would even have their former leader, Nigel Farage, denounce them as a ‘thugs and extremists’
A Brief History Of Farage’s Brexit Party:
Nigel Farage disappeared after the E.U. referendum and UKIP continued to slump in the polls. UKIP was rudderless without its main-man and was plagued by self-inflicted wounds, such as when the then-leader Henry Bolton’s girlfriend was found to have made racist remarks about Meghan Markle. But Brexit was done. Nigel Farage enjoyed a well-earned retirement and went to America to help campaign and socialise with his friend Donald Trump. Farage was driving off into the sunset, his work was complete, and he could finally enjoy himself.
Theresa May was driving into a storm. Brexit had divided Parliament and after having gambled away her majority in the 2017 general election, she could not build a consensus in Parliament around her Brexit deal. At this moment, Nigel Farage caught the scent of an opportunity. The Conservatives were neck-to-neck with Labour in the polls; however, this lead was shrinking. What’s more, Farage’s hard-won Brexit seemed to be in danger of being lost forever.
Created in 2018, as a private company by hotelier Catherine Blaiklock (who served as the first leader until July 2019), the Brexit Party had one purpose, to bring about a satisfactory Brexit. Nigel Farage joined the party properly in 2018 and would later become its leader – a post he still holds to the present day.
The party quickly experienced enormous success. The Brexit Party was run as a private limited company, which provided both Nigel Farage and chair Richard Tice the authority to handpick all their candidates up and down the country. This level of autonomy would indefinitely prevent much of the scandal associated with the UKIP brand.
While Farage would gather the traditional media attention that one has come to expect, the Brexit Party would begin to innovate and would quickly become the most influential party on social media. Although the party would only produce 13% of all posts made by political parties, it would report over 50% of all shares – a staggering number.
The Brexit Party would effectively use people’s mistrust of politicians by painting Brexit as one of a long string of broken promises. They ran in the European Election with one pledge- to leave the E.U. on no deal terms. This messaged resonated with the leave-voting public and would not only result in one of the worst Conservative Party defeats in history but would see the party outperform all others by a remarkable 13 seats.
The Brexit Party & The General Election:
After its conquest of the European elections, the Brexit party experienced positive polling numbers. It went into the general election campaign polling above 10%. This is all the more remarkable when you remind yourself that this party has never held a seat at Westminster.
In the run-up to the election the Brexit Party would launch a contract. The Contract was intended as an alternative to the traditional manifesto, which were typically books ridden with lies and deceit in the eyes of Farage. Theresa May, had of course, failed to deliver Brexit. So, the contract marked a mutual trust between the Brexit Party’s elected representatives and the voters and a break with the disappointment of the past. There were several pledges which included:
- Reform the voting system to make it more representative.
- Abolish the unelected House of Lords.
- Make M.P.s who switch parties subject to recall petitions.
- Overhaul the postal voting system to combat fraud and abuse.
- Reform the Supreme Court – judges who play a role in politics must be subject to political scrutiny. Ensure political balance by broadening participation in the Selection Commission or conduct interviews by Parliamentary Committee.
- Make the Civil Service more accountable to the public – we would require civil servants to sign an oath to act with political neutrality.
- Phase out the BBC licence fee.
- Require Universities to incorporate an obligation to protect legal free speech.
- Introduce Citizens’ Initiatives to allow people to call referendums, subject to a 5m threshold of registered voter signatures and time limitations on repeat votes.
- Abolish inheritance tax.
- Invest in strategic industries.
This seems the perfect recipe with which to target those economically on the left, but who are socially conservative, who abandoned Labour this election. Brexit with a group of policies designed to please people while being relatively uncontroversial has proven a winning approach. It is also worth noting many of these policies straddle political divides. Socially conservative policies like protecting free speech, sit alongside Labour-esque pledges to abolish inheritance tax.
We see the Conservative party’s vote share experienced very little change in the 2019 General election, only up 1.4% across the country when compared to the 2017 election. For Labour, it’s another story. Unlike UKIP, the Brexit Party famously didn’t stand in most Conservative seats. In seats where a Brexit candidate did run the average Labour vote share fell over 8% (over a percentage more than in seats without a Brexit candidate), which proved to be fatal in the so-called Red Wall.
Although the Brexit party failed to win any seats, they did help secure Boris Johnson a thumping majority, while dealing a severe blow to the Remainer parties.
Boris took advantage of this majority and has gotten Brexit done, at long last. While Nigel Farage would criticise Boris for his betrayal of fishermen, he would nevertheless still provide his support for the deal. His project was a success… His lifetime’s aspiration was now complete.
The Reform Party | What’s Next For Farage?
Nigel Farage is many things. A banker, a politician, an activist, and perhaps one of the most polarising figures in British history. However, above all else he is a great opportunist. I don’t mean this in a derogatory sense. Indeed, I would say it is testament to his skilfulness as a politician that he is so able to understand public opinion and where there is a political void waiting to be filled.
He senses one such opportunity in lockdown. Nigel Farage is using his party as a vehicle to stand up for the ordinary person whose life has become more financially difficult due to the government’s policy of repeated lockdowns. Proudly emblazoned, on the Reform Party website is a summation of their approach, inspired by the lockdown-sceptical Great Barrington declaration:
This seems a somewhat short-term approach when considering the finite period (broadly) under which we have to live with coronavirus. There is a small minority who oppose lockdown, but as reputable pollsters YouGov has shown, 79% of British people backed a national lockdown in January and only 16% of the 1,592 adults surveyed across the U.K., opposed further restrictions. On hearing these statistics, it would seem the potential for the Brexit Party to find success is sorely missing.
However, what has it achieved? Its bought it back some form of relevance and won them appearances on the morning shows and radio airwaves. Farage has done what has served him well in the past… moved to a more extreme position than the Conservative party.
A Green Deal?
Since 2019, Nigel Farage has sewn hints about the potential for a different approach to climate change. In the first instance, he voiced his opposition to onshore Windmills during a set-piece Andrew Marr Show interview. This is a view shared by only 8% of people, according to polling commissioned by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. While this indicates that it may not be the most effective strategy to pursue, it does certainly pivot the party towards opposing Boris Johnson’s ‘Green Industrial Revolution’.
In a study across 14 countries, the polling company Ipsos Mori found that only 66% of Britons believe long-term climate change is as serious a crisis as covid-19, as opposed to 71% in the other countries. While only 2% of the British people don’t believe in climate change, 30% of the British public support the continued investment in non-green industries.
There is clearly some portion of the electorate which would be receptive to a milder message on climate change and the green recovery. It’s noticeable that when participating in a 2019 election debate when other parties set out their green industrial strategies, Richard Tice (chair of the Brexit party) focussed on encouraging recycling. The Reform Party may not deny the Climate Crisis, but they sense an appetite amongst the British public for a different approach to tackling it.
Richard Tice has recently coined the phrase – “low tax, smart regulation”. Drawing on their scepticism of lockdown, he has combined it with their conservative instinct toward low tax, in the hope that people’s desire to return to normal will garner them electoral success. At a time, where average incomes fell by 4.5% due to coronavirus, Farage smells an opportunity to drive forward a relatively traditional low tax agenda. Even the Labour Party has said that now is not the time to increase taxes. The implications of the Conservatives becoming the party of tax rises is certainly an interesting prospect. Tice in an op-ed piece for Spiked, attempted to place the Brexit party firmly on the side of small businesses, who he argues would be the losers of any tax increases. He argues this low tax approach will help businesses not just survive but thrive into the future.
This is where the future of the Reform Party lies. There is little evidence to suggest they should be anymore electorally successful than its past iterations. However, as we have seen, electoral success necessary to create impactful changes. Nigel Farage knows what he is doing and he may yet alter the face of British politics once more.
Written by Ruairidh Maclean | Illustrated by Andrea Miranda