credit: Dylan Bueltel via pexels

Hidden in plain sight: Reform UK

By Rebeca Edwards

The Glasgow Guardian examines the extent to which Reform UK could disrupt the British political climate, and how they obtained their subtle control

From the ashes of the single-issue Brexit party, Reform UK has established itself as a threat to the Conservative party, despite currently having no MPs. In 2019, Reform UK had agreed not to stand in any of the 317 seats which the Conservatives won in 2017. However after expressing their intent to destroy the Conservative party, this deal has now been “guaranteed” not to be repeated.

Reform UK is led by Richard Tice, but is often spoken about in relation to Nigel Farage, the party’s previous leader, current director and only individual with “significant control” over the party.

The upcoming 2024 election will be Reform’s first official debut in a general election, but its history is somewhat more complicated. Reform UK was borne out of the Brexit party, briefly led by Catherine Blaiklock, but endorsed by former UKIP leader Nigel Farage who maintained his status as a member of the European Parliament. The Brexit party was formed in 2019, and a few months later Farage led it to the largest vote share in the European Parliament, acquiring 29 MEPs. The party pressured a no-deal Brexit from MPs but in the 2019 general election they won no seats. In November 2020, the party was renamed Reform UK and expanded from single-issue policies. Despite Farage stepping down as leader there is no doubt about his continued participation in the party, resulting in speculation about his potential to return.

The question raised by Nosheen Iqbal in The Guardian’s recent Today in Focus podcast –  as to whether Reform UK is constituted as “far right” or just “very, very right” – brings to light the type of party Reform UK is, and their ideological stance. Classing the Conservatives and Labour as two sides of the same socialist coin and both as bad as each other, Reform’s aim is to catch disillusioned Conservative voters and in populist spirit, “make Britain great again”. Its means to this end is through reducing taxes, putting a stop to “Starmergeddon ” and ensuring we don’t get “closer to the failing, sclerotic, recessionary European Union”. Apart from reducing public spending and taxes, they also meddle with  scepticism towards climate change, championing a zero tolerance immigration scheme and a resurgence against the betrayal narratives surrounding Brexit.

The Guardian’s political respondent, Ben Quinn, called attention to the risks for the NHS and care homes, already struggling with staffing, of a party pressuring a zero tolerance stance on migration when the number of people immigrating to the UK approximately equals the number emigrating out of it. Further, the agenda to simply reduce taxes to prevent the working class from shouldering the burden of transitioning to net zero emissions would further slow the climate agenda, already predicted to be wildly insufficient.

For a party that averages 7-10% of the vote in opinion polls it may seem overly cautious to constitute Reform as a threat; nevertheless, their position in the polls has until very recently been strengthening, at points overtaking the Liberal Democrats to become the third biggest party in the UK. Despite disappointing performances in the recent Wellingborough and Rochdale by-elections, it would be naive to underestimate their ability to potentially split the vote and cost the Conservatives even more seats. The party maintains that the Conservatives have been unmoored from their ideological roots, and that Reform will stand in Conservative constituencies against Starma and Sunak, labelled by Tice the “socialist twins”.

To understand the magnitude of the threat posed by Reform, commentators have drawn parallels between the upcoming general election and the 1993 Canadian General election. The political climate had many similarities: the economy recovering from a recession, no one to blame but a long-standing incumbent government, and issues of devolution concerning Quebec and its independence, similar to that of Scotland. The Canadian Conservatives suffered greatly, whilst a party coincidentally called Reform gained 52 of the seats the Conservatives lost. This led to Reform being credited with splitting the vote, and the Conservative party, unable to recover, were forced to form a coalition with Canadian Alliance (previously Reform) in 2003. This is a blueprint for which Reform could pose such a large threat as to undermine the existence of the British Conservative party.

Turning to the reality of our future, Farage has been on the record claiming he would “be very surprised if [he] were not Conservative leader by 2026”, later announcing this was intended “in jest”, but nevertheless the reality is not entirely impossible. Contextualised with respect to Reform’s climb in polls from 6% in September to up to 13% by late January, their ability to split right wing votes is growing, and by extension their threat to the existence of the Conservative party.

In Scotland, the Conservative hold is even lower with only 7 seats in the House of Commons. In the polls however, they hold just 15% of the vote, comparatively more than Reform’s 4%, but small enough that a split for right wing voters could be catastrophic

for Scottish Conservatives.

But it’s not just the conservatives that Reform poses a threat to. Former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has raised concern that if Labour did not deliver radical change in its early days in office, then “inevitably disillusionment will set in”, posing the risk that people will look to the far-right to meet their demands. Even now, he used Reform’s strength in the polls as an indicator of how “a far-right populist programme can pull the major parties on to a right-wing agenda”.


Share this story

Follow us online

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments