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Artillery Row

How Reform can reform itself

Reform can be major player — but it will take good sense and dedication

So; no more, Mr Tice guy.

It’s hard not to have some sympathy with the ousted leader of Reform. As Steven Edginton put it:

… he spent years keeping Reform going with almost no money or resources. Disagree with him over strategy or whatever but he worked to keep the show on the road with a small dedicated team.

But he failed to achieve cut-through; and with the opportunity for a 93-style right-replacement firmly on the cards, the time came for him to play Chamberlain to Farage’s Churchill. A good man, perhaps; but not the right man.

Tice’s problems were many. As I previously diagnosed, he offered: 

… an ideologically confusing and unappealing platform of reheated Thatcherite economics with mindlessly rehashed, unconnected talking points that have little public salience — the WEF, “common sense coal”, taxing working from home, the “woke brigade in California” — to an electorate that as, Matt Goodwin identified, is more motivated by distrust, fears about the actual or perceived destruction of their national community, identity, and ways of life, relative deprivation and political dealignment.

This is why he struggled, despite his media platform, to achieve the gains Reform should have done. Tice never had the understanding of his electorate; he was peddling cultural grievances to a caricature of his voters, drawn largely by left-wing commentators in the wake of Brexit who explained the vote as the result of that atomisation wrought by neoliberal economics, or ressentiment against the loss of status of the white working class.

These cultural grievances soon turned into incoherent messaging based on individual issues. That is a dangerous game to play in politics, as it makes it more difficult to develop a narrative, which voters thrive on; when the average person spends so little time thinking about politics, stories are a convenient way of transferring complex concepts into a simply understood, concise narrative.

It is Tice’s inability to shift the dial towards right-replacement that has pushed Nigel Farage back into the frontline, rather than the immediate concerns of this General Election. It is not yet clear what form this will take, and Farage’s plan doubtless rest on the outcome of the election. Will he, as per The Sunday Times, stage a ‘takeover’ of what is left of the Conservatives? Or, as he claimed in his speech announcing his return, is his intention to turn Reform itself into the successor by becoming the biggest party in the 2029 election?

His return as leader for a full five-year term suggests the latter. But it was not just Richard Tice holding back Reform; if Farage does, indeed, want to finally supplant the Tories, Reform will need to Reform itself first. 

Principle amongst these reforms will need to be party structure. As I can attest to personally, local politics might not be glamorous or of interest to the Westminster rigmarole, but it provides a party with a solid base of supporters, a talent pool, knowledge of local issues, data and income. 

The success of previous Farage vehicle UKIP was built up, over many years, from grassroots. This provided a base of support, which is partly why UKIP was such a successful movement; whilst its achievement in Westminster elections was little to write home about, it reached a high watermark of almost 500 councillors in 2016, and even controlled Thanet council. This provided a serious threat to previously safe Tory seats that made Farage’s message more resonant amongst Tory MPs; fear can be a great motivator.

Reform does not have a similar base. It has just 10 councillors, and is, as I wrote before:

… an entirely autocratic organisation that is structured more like a company than a political party. The party is entirely under the direction of its leadership. As a result, the party has no feedback loop to voters; despite Reform’s protests at the disconnect of politics from ordinary people it is — perhaps even more than mainstream parties — ensconced entirely within the Westminster bubble.

Given the collapse of the Tory vote, Reform doesn’t necessarily need that to pick up seats at this election; but to build upon success in 2029, it will be essential.

Reform will be hoping that the combination of Red Wallers and disaffected shire Tories will be enough to propel them into official opposition. But this may be limiting their ambitions; there may be happy hunting grounds amongst an entirely new demographic.

Recently, former Brexit Party MEP Martin Daubney X’ed (formerly tweeted) that 18-24 year olds in Britain voted for the left, rather than the right, as they do in France, because they have been consumed by identity politics. “When will young Brits wake up?” He asked.

Daubney was dangerously close to the more pertinent question; not when will young Brits wake up, but when will the right stop appealing solely to boomers? This has been labelled “the Saturn Campaign” by Ben Ansell, who argues that “the UK has been in a generational Cold War that has just turned hot.”

A punitive approach towards younger generations has cratered what little support there was left for Conservatives amongst young people. But, as has been well-elucidated in these most august pages by Sam Bidwell, young people are not necessarily deaf to Reform’s pitch:

Young people really do support lower immigration, even if the crowing of radical university students might lead you to believe otherwise. The great majority of young Britons live outside of insular, socially liberal bubbles in places like London and Brighton, and share little in common with the ranting, raving ideologues who dominate public perception.

A much more concerted effort to younger voters, who are all too often on the losing side of mass migration’s effects, could future-proof Reform by providing a base amongst the pre-retired. Across Europe, working-age voters have propelled populist parties like the National Rally, AfD and PVV forward in the polls. Policies with direct appeal — for instance, cutting childcare costs, a mass government-backed housing programme and policies to redress intergenerational disparity — could provide fertile ground for a right-wing party untainted with the toxic legacy of the Conservatives. The path of duty lies before Farage; little will it trouble him if it runs through shadows.

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