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Artillery Row

Will Reform conform?

Reform will become the Tories before replacing them

As Nigel Farage announced his candidacy in Clacton and several polls predicted a result putting the Conservatives below the Liberal Democrats, I was called upon to console many a friend who “works in politics”, deep in their cups at the prospect of losing their place. From the stately parapet of the apolitical Artist, I mused, was there really that much to be frightened about in a decade-long spell of unemployment?

At the same time, we have all been following the more exciting developments in France where the troubles of Marine Le Pen’s Rally for the Nation party offer a snapshot of Reform’s future. The party was founded under the name Front National in the 1970s by Le Pen’s father, under whom it marched steadily across the desert of political triviality to, eventually, become the main opposition party in France by 2017 under his daughter’s leadership. At this point, it seemed like the road to power was wide open but within four years, RN faced a new, unexpected challenge from the Right in the form of Eric Zemmour. Zemmour pointed out that Emmanuel Macron had come to sound like Marine Le Pen and Marine Le Pen like Emmanuel Macron, a cutting comment from the same election in which Macron’s Interior Minister accused RN of being “weak on Islam”, and one redolent of a British present in which all parties make extravagant promises about the border which would’ve once been the preserve of extremists. The Zemmour phenomenon shows that self-proclaimed populists can fall victim to their own tactics.

How likely is Reform to share the fate of Le Penism? What both right-wing amateurs and left-wing detractors of Reform are reluctant to admit is that the party is, objectively, closer to the centre-ground of Westminster opinion than any of their European or American counterparts. Everyone vaguely assumes Nigel Farage is an immigration hardliner but the man’s statements on immigration, a record which now fills several decades, have rarely exceeded the norms of Blairite political behaviour. Farage has appeared to embrace David Cameron’s language of “British values” as a civic nationalist identity from which certain groups, like Muslims, are excluded on ideological grounds but from which immigrants per se are not. Yes, Reform’s manifesto contains some fighting talk about stopping the boats but the concrete proposals, renaming the Home Office for example, are not so far off Keir Starmer’s “Border Security Unit”. One must remember that the Conservatives have also made promises to stop the boats in successive elections. Farage distrusts manifestos, and so his off-the-cuff comments are more likely to reflect his real beliefs; like Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer, he has some hangups with the effects of immigration policy but it is not something he is going to reverse.

Once in Westminster, we can expect this tendency towards moderation to become more pronounced. Farage will be exposed, more than ever before, to the world of SW1 with its newspapers and think-tanks. Already, Conservative commentators like Tim Montgomerie are making approving noises about Reform. Unlike Trump’s “Project 2025”, Reform have no plans to address the personnel imbalance between themselves and legacy Westminster, in light of this, it is likely Farage’s platform will start to slowly resemble that of the Conservatives by the osmosis of key individuals. When Reform does become the unofficial opposition, it will absorb a lot of fresh, or at least shelf-life fresh, personnel from the remnants of Toryworld. Psychological speculation about seasoned political actors is rarely fruitful but a fairly obvious fact about Farage’s make-up is his social ambition. The glittering silverware of state dinners, the trip to the Palace, the boozy Freemasonry of City events and the company of seasoned Fleet Street hacks are not charms from which this heart is immune. His comments about Conservative leaders like Boris Johnson always carry something of the tsundere about them; why, oh why, won’t they notice me? When long-coveted recognition comes, as it will in September, much of the bile will vanish. 

Are there not underlying convictions standing in the way of Reform’s metamorphosis into Tories 2.0?

If these are the facts of material analysis, what of ideology? Are there not underlying convictions standing in the way of Reform’s metamorphosis into Tories 2.0? The key to Faragism, separating it from both dark murmurings on the continent and its well-to-do Trumpist cousins, is that it does not believe the country is lost. The European right have thrown up an anthology of doomsday in titles such as Zemmour’s The Suicide of France, Thilo Sarazin’s Germany Does away with Itself and Rolf Sieferle’s Finis Germania. It is, contrarily, essential to Faragism that England is still alive and well, that there exists, somewhere North of the North Circular but South of Watford, a land of proper people living in proper places. It is taken for granted that Islington or Huddersfield will be diverse for the same reason Clacton and Thanet are not. The proper object of politics is to represent the interests of the latter against the former but the terms of the equation itself need not be changed. 

These different outlooks lead to different ways of doing politics. If one believes oneself to be living under an occupational regime, dead set on abolishing all dear things, then the natural outcome is to become a revolutionary and tear the old order down. On the other hand, the defender of an established, if subaltern, identity can content himself with slaying the odd dragon and bedevilling the odd, ill-omened, dwarf; and the proper people will thrive without further action being necessary. Farage occasionally traffics in the tropes of “the deep state”, scepticism towards the civil service and criticism of individual Royals; yet, can anyone really see him, in his heart of hearts, trying to abolish these things wholesale and replace them with what is new fashioned? I doubt it.  It would be completely against Farage’s character to claim, for example, that England lost World War Two. Cricket at Lords, Remembrance Day and Buckingham Palace are still, at heart, “his” country.

Conservatives, then, do not have anything to fear from Reform. Reform is already, well on the way, to coming round to the worldview of Theresa May and will soon be ready to take the disillusioned “Researcher” under the fold of a forgiving wing for £40,000 pa. The time for fear and loathing and gnashing of teeth shall come, perhaps in the form of the Start Up Party’s bright labarum but it has not come today. Those of the Left who dislike Farage would be advised to consider that their invective is his main selling point among an audience who increasingly view him as identical to the Conservatives.

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