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Nigel Farage is no friend to the Tories—yet

The poison of Nigel Farage and the Tories will be a legacy of the Conservative governments since 2010
Issue 2809
Nigel Farage is pleased with the way his campaign is going

Nigel Farage is pleased with the way his campaign is going (Picture: Twitter/ Reform UK)

Rishi Sunak risks becoming a pariah in his own party. The Financial Times newspaper quotes a “senior Tory party” official who said that his decision to leave the D-Day commemorations in Normandy early was an “absolute catastrophe…a gift for Farage”. One motive behind Sunak’s decision to go to the polls early was to cut short Reform UK’s erosion of the Tory base.

But this hasn’t exactly worked out. Nigel Farage seized the opportunity offered by the Tory meltdown and took charge of the Reform UK campaign. The Brexit Party—Reform UK’s predecessor—made an electoral pact with the Tories under Boris Johnson in the December 2019 general election that helped to make possible its best performance in 30 years. Now Farage says, “I don’t want to join the Conservative Party, I think the better thing to do would be to take it over.”

Across the Channel, Marine Le Pen’s fascist National Rally has just demolished the French centre-right in the European Parliament elections. A YouGov survey last week put Reform UK on 19 percent, only two points behind the Tories. One angry Tory candidate told the Times, “It feels like the Reform crossover (when it overtakes the Tories) is inevitable now.”

This could cut the number of Tory MPs—365 after the 2019 election—down to double figures. No one should put this down just to Sunak. John Burn-Murdoch, the Financial Times stats boffin, points out that the Tories’ steep fall in the polls started in early 2020. “Johnson’s victory was much flimsier than it first appeared,” he wrote. “Conservative voters in 2019—especially those who defected from Labour—were motivated primarily by two things: getting Brexit done, and keeping the opposition’s Jeremy Corbyn away from power, not by deep support for the Tory party. With Corbyn gone and the Brexit deal signed, the two strongest ties between many voters and the Conservatives were cut.”

This drop in Tory support belongs to what political scientists used to call “partisan dealignment”. The social links that bound voters to one of the main parties have grown much weaker. As a result, voting has become much more volatile. The June 2017 election saw, after a long decline in voters’ support for the Labour and Tory parties alike, a massive switch back to them in a sharply polarised election.

In 2019, the combination of Labour’s disastrous decision to support a second Brexit referendum, the concerted ruling class campaign to destroy Corbyn, and Johnson’s pact with Farage produced a sharp swing to the Tories. Now it is they who are being crucified in a shift of loyalties that has dramatically tilted the balance back towards Labour. And of course they are being punished for the disastrous premierships of Johnson and Liz Truss.

As Burn-Murdoch puts it, “The Conservatives’ 2019 voter coalition was a short-term loan. It is being paid back with interest.” Keir Starmer is lying low to avoid doing anything that might stop the wall of votes predicted in the polls from heading Labour’s way. But it’s not just that he offers nothing. The pressure on the deeply corroded party system is coming from the far right. 

Farage’s toxic racist politics is pouring into the mainstream. Every blunder by Sunak, every drop in the polls, will encourage the Tories to match him with yet more attacks on migrants and other oppressed groups, flag-waving, and promises to increase defence spending. Indeed, the Sunday Times reports “Farage is now the focus of Tory leadership manoeuvring…Priti Patel…has made clear that she would admit Farage to the party—a view shared by others on the right such as Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, who predicted that Farage might even become Tory leader.”

Suella Braverman says, “I would welcome Nigel into the Conservative party.” Kemi Badenoch is against, no doubt because Farage would threaten her own leadership hopes. If Farage joins, let alone leads the Tories, it would be comparable to Donald Trump’s takeover of the Republicans. Even if he doesn’t, the poison Farage and the Tories are pumping into a decrepit political system will be one of the main legacies of the Conservative governments between 2010 and 2024.

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