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How Nigel Farage’s Reform UK Party Impacted the British Election


Nigel Farage Addresses Voters At Clacton Pier On Final Day Of Election Campaign

Eighth time proved the charm for right-wing British politician and Brexiteer Nigel Farage, who was finally announced as a Member of the British Parliament in the early hours of July 5, following the U.K. snap election.

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The Farage-fronted populist party Reform UK—a rebrand of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) Farage was a founding member of—enjoyed an unprecedented performance at Thursday’s general election, proving to be a thorn in the incumbent Conservative Party’s side. The party secured more than 4 million votes and won four parliamentary seats in a historic win that eclipsed UKIP’s 2015 performance.

While the center-left Labour Party claimed a widely predicted landslide victory, Reform UK tempted right wing voters disillusioned with a Conservative Party that had run through five Prime Ministers and several scandals in its 14 years of rule, with a new political home.

“There is a massive gap on the center-right of British politics. And my job is to fill it,” Farage, 60, told supporters in his newly won constituency of Clacton, on England’s East coast. Farage also said the Labour majority was “simply an anti-Conservative vote” and that his Reform party would now set its sights on Labour voters to build a national movement large enough to challenge the mainstream parties in a general election in 2029. 

“We’re coming for Labour, be in no doubt about that,” said Farage, who returned to frontline British politics this year after saying he would steer clear of it and focus on supporting his ally Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential race.

Farage’s six-week campaign focused largely on freezing immigration and stopping small boats of refugees and migrants from crossing the English Channel to reach Britain from mainland Europe. Rather than a traditional manifesto, his party released a “contract with the people.” 

Other priorities for Reform are tax cuts for small businesses, as well as the scrapping of net-zero carbon emission targets and the remainder the High Speed 2 rail link. The party also emphasized its desire to leave the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)—which some Conservatives have also supported to enable them to enact tougher action against migrants, including deporting some to Rwanda. Reform has also called for a ban on what it calls “transgender ideology” in primary and secondary schools. 

But despite an impressive vote share, experts say Reform lacks the appeal to attract Labour’s core voter base. “Reform’s economic policies are pretty Thatcherite and their immigration policies are just far too radical and harsh for most Labour voters,” Tim Bale, a professor of politics at Queen Mary, University of London tells TIME.

“The thing about Reform is they haven’t proven to be very organizationally effective, so we’ll see if they can professionalize that” says Anand Menon, the director of U.K. in a Changing Europe, a London-based think tank. “If they want to become a serious party they’ve got to organize and do their due diligence about candidates… It can’t all be ‘let’s have a pint down the pub and get the cameras there.’” 

Reform saw swathes of support in areas where the Conservatives won in 2019, under Boris Johnson’s leadership. Farage himself overturned a Conservative majority of more than 25,000 in Clacton. 

Indeed, Farage’s popularity with British voters is often credited with pulling the Conservative Party further to the right. Most notably, the former Member of the European Parliament’s once-fringe campaign for the U.K. to leave the European Union ultimately led to former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron calling for a 2016 Brexit referendum that resulted in Farage getting his wish.

“The Conservative Party played right into Nigel Farage’s hands because they are so worried about losing voters to him, they have tended to try and move on to his territory,” Bale says. “All that has done is increase the importance of the issues that he loves to campaign on. And in the end, people tend to prefer the original to the copy.” 

Alongside Reform, the Liberal Democrats, Greens, and other small parties won more than 40% of votes on July 4, but only 18 seats due to the country’s first-past-the-post system, Reuters reported. 

Read More: Labour Delivered a Decisive Victory in Britain. Now Comes the Hard Part

Reform’s success comes despite a number of campaign controversies, including the suspension of six candidates over offensive online comments. The party has since threatened legal action against Vetting.com, a company it paid £144,000 ($184,095) to vet hundreds of candidates. A video of a Reform supporter calling outgoing Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who is of Indian origin, a racial slur, forcing Sunak to speak out and condemn the racist language used against him. 

Reform’s gains come amid a wave of increasing right-wing populist momentum sweeping across Europe. The French Rassemblement National, the Austrian Party for Freedom, and the German Alternative for Germany have all seen increasing support beyond their core voter base. 

Read More: How Europe’s Far-Right Parties Are Winning Over Young Voters

“It is clearly part of the same populist wave. People are very concerned about migration and cultural change. People do feel that the economy is not working for them,” says Bale. “They are fed up with and distrustful of mainstream parties.” He adds that it remains to be seen if Farage will align himself with Europe’s far-right movements, or whether this would make him more of a pariah in the eyes of average Brits. 

For Menon, Britain’s formal exit from the E.U. in 2020 means that Farage can pick and choose when he wants to engage with or distance himself from the figures he is likened to, namely France’s Marine Le Pen, of the Rassemblement National, or National Rally.  He notes that Farage’s biggest challenge will be to convince Brits that Reform is “a sensible, mature party” that is capable of winning votes en masse. 

“To try and combine insurgency with seriousness is what Le Pen has managed to do quite well in France up to now,” says Menon, “but it’s quite a difficult balancing act.”