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A Turquoise Revolution?


No politician can mobilise an audience quite like Nigel Farage. That was evident yesterday as I headed to the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham to observe the Rally for Reform. The event, for me, represents a significant turning point for the British political landscape. 


The rally was resplendent with confetti, fireworks, neon lights, all enjoyed by an impressive turnout of some five thousand people. Speeches from Farage, Richard Tice, Ann Widdecombe, and Zia Yusuf hammered home the party’s vision on political, societal, and economic reform were received jubilantly by many of the attendees clearly seeking a new direction for the country. This was an event unimaginable to Labour and the Conservatives. 


In Zia Yusuf, we saw a future political leader. Yusuf, a British Muslim entrepreneur, is Reform UK’s largest political donor and was afforded the keynote speech of the rally. Relatively unknown in the political arena, Yusuf emphasised eloquently the need for Britain to regain control over its borders, highlighting anecdotally the acute strain that high levels of migration have placed on public services and infrastructure. He also condemned illegal boat crossings, deriding the negative consequences of such on legal migration and the crucial contributions of those immigrants who abide and assimilate.


The underlying message of Yusuf’s speech was one of unashamed patriotism and pragmatic policy to protect, promote, and perpetuate British values. This is exactly the type of person Reform needs in the spotlight. 


Yusuf has not explicitly made clear any desire or ambition to seek leadership within Reform UK, but his growing prominence is difficult to ignore. Least of all when, in the culmination of the rally, he emerged centre-stage atop the party double-decker bus (yes, they got that in the room!), arms raised with Farage and Tice either side. It felt presciently seismic, almost an ushering in of the new guard. 


The context under which the rally took place is important, too. Reform UK is currently embroiled in a race row controversy over a secret Channel 4 investigation that ‘revealed’ a canvasser for Farage in Clacton-on-Sea using grotesque, inflective racist and Islamophobic rhetoric and a slur against Rishi Sunak. If you have seen the footage, you will know it is almost too racist to be conceivably genuine.


Farage, in his speech, re-emphasised his assertion that the canvasser in question - Andrew Parker - is in fact a secret actor, employed by Channel 4. A quick Google search of his profile will reveal a serious element of truth to this. Faragist parties have been routinely plagued by racists and bigots, in both support and office. A handful of Reform candidates have been outed for holding pretty abhorrent views and have rightfully been disowned by the party. However, the overwhelming majority of Reform UK looks and feels much different and Yusuf’s centre-stage speech yesterday reflected that. 


To fully appreciate the impact and significance of yesterday’s rally, it is imperative to compare it with the Brexit referendum rallies of 2016. On the surface, both events share several commonalities: the centrality of Nigel Farage, the populist mobilisation of discontent and dissatisfaction with the political elite, and a strong libertarian, anti-establishment rhetoric throughout. However, the Rally for Reform felt much different. Tice and Farage have perpetuated the narrative that “something is happening out there”. I am inclined to agree. 


The Brexit rallies were focused solely on the issue of the United Kingdom exiting the European Union. This single issue united a broad coalition of voters, across the political spectrum, under a sole cause. In contrast, the Rally for Reform addressed a whole plethora of issues, from economic policy to electoral reform, positioning Reform UK as a comprehensive alternative to the existing parties. 


Those I spoke with had either switched from the Conservatives or Labour, dissatisfied with the malaise of duopoly, or had never voted before. I was also taken aback by the diversity of the crowd. Having observed a Brexit Party rally in Birmingham back in 2019, that was admittedly a very ‘grey’ demographic, the Rally for Reform boasted a diverse audience. From class, to ethnicity, to age, people from all walks of life were in attendance. The smears in the mainstream media do not reflect the party I saw yesterday. 


People are tired and disenchanted with the status quo. They want change and they want to feel as though their concerns are shared by those in power. For what it is worth, my prediction is that people will vote for Reform in their droves, on an unprecedented scale, to make them the second largest party by vote share. Whether this translates into a significant and reflective seat share is a question in and of itself but either way, come July 5th, Reform will have cemented its position as a major political force in this country. This could be the start of a turquoise revolution. 


Image: Will Kingston-Cox/Europinion

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