Formerly the Brexit Party, Reform UK performed a pivotal role in the last election – will the party’s rebrand keep the right-wing alternative relevant and resistant to the Conservative Government?
Boris Johnson won a huge majority in 2019. This was largely down to his populist position on Brexit, compared to Jeremy Corbyn’s that was the polar opposite to the public mood outside of the left-wing echo chamber of the Labour Party. What is overlooked, however, is the role that Reform UK played as the Brexit Party, which very much orchestrated the Prime Minister’s presidential-style majority.
Generally, despite some fluctuation in popularity between Labour and the Conservatives, all other third party alternatives remain irrelevant outside of election time – only in the run up to elections are their popularities important.
In Britain’s First Past the Post system, it would be impossible for Reform UK, or other parties like the Lib Dems or the Green Party to get even close to a parliamentary majority. However, it would be ill-judged – and simply wrong – to suggest that these third parties do not or cannot have a major role to play in defining public mood and influencing the outcome of elections.
Take the most recent General Election as an example; Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson are certainly not the best of friends politically, but their shared vision for Brexit and the electoral pact they formed on this basis aided the pair to bring about a ‘harder’ Brexit to what Johnson’s Remainer predecessor offered. Farage may not like the Prime Minister, but he knew that the best – and perhaps only – way to see a Brexit close to what he had envisaged was to aid Johnson in remaining in government, in turn preventing a Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn from threatening the result of the 2016 referendum.
Despite the fact that the pair were already one step ahead of Labour because they were actually attuned to the public mood on Brexit, Farage and Johnson agreed that Brexit Party candidates would not be stood in Tory heartlands, and instead Farage would target Labour heartlands – the once-standing Red Wall – in northern England. In doing so, a pro-Brexit alternative was provided to the frustrated and neglected Labour Party Brexiteers who couldn’t bring themselves to vote Tory.
The fact that the Prime Minister’s majority is so large is undoubtedly down to the pivotal role that Farage’s party had to play in encouraging ‘tactical voting’ – by drawing working-class Brexiteers away from the Remoaner bubble of the Labour Party, thus weakening the chances of Corbyn majority.
But now that now that the Brexit process has finished and the political landscape has shifted, where does that leave Reform UK, and how can they maintain political relevance?
Almost certainly, the party’s rebrand was necessary; there’s no need for a ‘Brexit’ party now that the country is moving past its withdrawal from the European Union (though some exceptions apply). It is a shame that Farage decided to resign as party leader and ultimately step down from politics at a professional level, seeing as he was so instrumental in gaining momentum for the Brexit campaign and shaping the country’s political landscape by drawing attention to ongoing issues like the ongoing migrant crisis.
But without Farage at the helm of the party, can Reform UK stay relevant and prove to be a source of fear for the Westminster establishment, and threaten a future Tory majority by winning the votes of disillusioned voters? What now of his legacy? Can the party maintain the kind of significant impact they had on British politics in 2019 in future elections?
Though Reform are a small party with a small voice, they have certainly been the loudest when it comes to opposition towards the Conservative Government. All throughout the pandemic, Labour have essentially been ineffectual in their role as ‘Opposition’ because they are too preoccupied with fighting amongst themselves instead of fighting the Government – and the Lib Dems and Green Party have been equally useless in opposing Government policy when it comes to coronavirus measures, unlike Reform UK.
Reform have been incredibly vocal when it comes to the more authoritarian and draconian Covid measures floated, and in some cases implemented, by the Government… and rightly so.
Their opposition to the incredibly dangerous, unwarranted and illiberal vaccine passports should certainly be noted – and so should their disdain for the Government’s anti-conservative National Insurance hikes.
Another area in which Reform UK have challenged the Government is the treatment of young people throughout the pandemic. Virtually all mainstream political parties have been complicit in the Government’s neglect of the young people – particularly university students – who will be paying for the recovery of the pandemic for the decades to come. The Stop the Student Rip-off campaign led by Reform was a case of hearts being in the right place, but it essentially led to little… but perhaps that is down to the small size, and thus small voice, of the party (through no fault of their own).
Whilst these are all areas of praise for this relatively new party, what mustn’t be overlooked is the relevance of these issues in the years to come. Though some, including myself, will likely not forget the Government’s attempt to introduce vaccine passports (a policy which is yet to be totally dropped), can it be said that people will remember Reform UK’s opposition to such a Nazi Germany-esque idea? Likely not. And essentially, more or less the same can be said for all of the party’s opposition to Government policy throughout the pandemic, because society will have moved on physically and mentally come the time of the next General Election.
To grow their popularity, the party should maintain their liberal fiscal policy and balance of liberal and conservative-minded social policy. What they really must do, too, is drive home their agenda for ‘reform’, of which some policies and ideas are politically refreshing.
Reform UK’s fiscal policies focus on supporting ordinary, hardworking people – which will be welcomed – with emphasis on their ‘Economic Vision’: “Low Tax, Simple Tax = High Growth”. They also pledge to scrap the Inheritance Tax for estates worth less than £2 million – which is fantastic for hardworking parents – and tax estates above this amount at 20%, which seems reasonable. In addition, small to medium enterprises would be relieved by plans to lift the minimum threshold for Corporation Tax to £100,000, along with the promise to slash employers’ National Insurance from 13.8% to 10% for earners of under £70,000 a year, which is a welcomed contradiction to the Government’s recent tax hike that will punish hardworking people and families.
As for social policies, their pledge to take on woke ideology plaguing British culture and institutions is certainly a vote-winner.
The Conservative Government isn’t doing enough to combat it, whilst Labour continue to actively perpetuate it with ridiculous claims such as that men can have cervixes (said Keir Starmer), or that women’s rights campaigners are “dinosaurs” who want to “hoard rights” (decreed by David Lammy).
Reform’s pledge to take on the “bloated” BBC and “abolish” the license fee is also a popular policy, as well as the ‘reform’ it would like to see to the structures of the “unelected cronyism” of the House of Lords and “unaccountable” Civil Service.
“Restoring” free speech is an incredibly concerning issue, too, on the battlefield of political discourse, which is increasingly under threat from woke ideology. Their promise to “properly protect” British soldiers from “unwarranted, never-ending legal claims” and “housing” our Armed Forces are also refreshing and welcome. And the party’s hard-line, Farage-inspired stance on illegal immigration and people smugglers is an assured vote-winner, in addition to their emphasis on welcoming in skilled professionals like doctors and engineers. The party’s social policies are certainly concentrated towards taking on left-wing [il]liberalism, which will be popular amongst – particularly middle-aged and older – voters.
It is clear, therefore, that Reform UK have lots of policies in the bank, and that they will not be left redundant now that the Brexit Party has served its purpose.
There is still plenty of political battleground to fight for, and with it, voters, to snatch from both the Conservatives and the Labour Party. Evidently, as the country moves on past Brexit and the ‘culture wars’ begin to take the foreground of Britain’s political and social landscape, there is still plenty of room for a third party like Reform UK to play a significant role in shaping elections and impacting their results for years to come.
The Westminster establishment have needed a shake up for some time.
Perhaps, alongside the BBC, Labour and the Conservatives have, themselves, become too bloated, in need of slimming in down by political agitators like Reform UK.
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© 2021 William Hallwell