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Lee Anderson’s Defection is Bad News for the Conservative Party

Updated: 1 day ago

Here we go again. Further evidence of fracturing within the Conservative Party emerges after controversial MP Lee Anderson decided to jump ship and join ReformUK. Whilst some argue this move is inconsequential, to me it represents a turning point. There is a change happening in the Party, promoted by the Conservative Party’s attempt to divorce itself from an identity that it spent years cultivating. 

It was an identity forged from the fiery chaos of Brexit, and the divides that it created amongst the party and its membership. This led to the split between remainers and leave advocates over the direction of the party and its aims, and a further split between hard and soft brexiteers. This division impacted the electoral strategy and Party identity. The Tories went from compassionate conservatism to the convictions of a cold conservatism which had little room for ideological sway. 

Leave ultimately prevailed, and this left those who had fought for the cause of Remain a not insignificant chunk of the party. Leave had taken over as one of the predominant conservative ideas, whole manifestos hinged on getting Brexit done. Lee Anderson had initially embryonically emerged from the catalyst of this Brexit ideological shift, creating a more dogmatic group, following Theresa May’s Brexit reshuffle. It changed what it meant to be a Tory in Parliament, it altered the very genetic makeup of the Conservative Party and its operations. 

Figures such as Lee Anderson procured positions of prominence in the party, and as politicians like him hatched more spawned whose sole purpose was advocating for Brexit. They talked of severing routes for free movement with the EU, creating a system with far more red tape, and have hammered on about growing levels of immigration that are ultimately linked to these immigration supply cutoffs. This made Anderson the perfect Reform candidate. ReformUK is a party which is attempting to rekindle these dissipating Tory Party Brexit values once championed by their predecessors UKIP and the BRexit Party. But, as the Conservatives seek to appeal to a more conservative audience, Reform looks to mould a reactionary voting base that could overtake them.

Principally, Reform UK lure their audience through illegal immigration alarmism, despite most of those entering the country being economic migrants, looking for work, and coming through legal routes. Those migrants that are pursuing proclaimed illegal routes make up a far smaller proportion. Anderson is attempting to play into the emotions of Britons, to capitalise on fear.

Although his desire to pursue Brexit and his relevance in the Conservative Party's recent ideological shift, Brexit has led to a greater requirement to outsource non-EU labour and therefore to bring in immigrants. Because of greater constraints placed upon Europeans, who now look for opportunity elsewhere, the UK denies European’s essential working benefits and so finds its labour force from elsewhere. He, as with all Brexiter politicians, have to contend with that responsibility and face up to their hypocrisy. However, there is still great emotional attachment to ‘Brexit values’ amongst Reform supporters, despite the paradox Brexit creates whereby it is now harder to control levels of immigration. 

Now, in a post-pandemic world, where workforces need to be resupplied - and in the context of fractured economic conditions - there is greater need for immigration. Levels of migration have risen only comparatively as stats are juxtaposed by the lower levels of migration during the pandemic. This post-pandemic spike ensures the sudden appearance of ‘more’ immigrants remains particularly shocking. It’s the perfect time for fear mongers to strike as it seems to many that the mass migratory waves have arrived. It’s hard to imagine that the high levels of immigration could be (or indeed should be) quelled in the nation’s current economic state. Frankly, the Conservatives have failed to address immigration, have failed on their Brexit promises and supposedly ReformUK can put an end to it all. 

Anderson attributes his defection from the Conservatives as a direct consequence of Sunak’s prevailing lack of hard action when it comes to high levels of immigration. This ‘lack of action’ obviously affronted him and his spiky hot-button culture war rhetoric. The Conservative Party have shed themselves of a deeply polarising figure and his rhetoric. And this isn’t the first time a figure like Anderson has left the Party recently. His increasingly marginal position in the Party certainly influenced his resignation, and now it’s the reason, he argues, for his sympathy for the ReformUK cause. For Anderson Reform better champion his views.

Anderson fancies himself a spokesperson for the people of this country, while he forfeits his obligation to honesty and the essential responsibilities of a situation that his politics has induced. But, Andersonm how do we actually lower the levels of immigration? Well, we can start by getting the economy in better shape. ReformUK’s obsessive focus on reducing levels of immigration wouldn’t put us on a path to economic recovery nor lead to proper economic management. We have to address the present economic conditions of the country and be unconcerned by dogma. 

Ultimately, ReformUK is no different to any other pestering pressure group, being the only private company to also have an MP. But they present a serious problem for Lee Anderson’s former Party. 

Reform will capitalise on the unpopularity of the Conservative Party and will look to leapfrog them. But, they won’t get further than that. Their goal is recognition and to take the right of the British vote for themselves. Their cause is to disrupt, spur other Parties on to their agenda and to ensure that the voter base roused by Reform are accounted for in other manifestos. This pressure may well lead to excerpts that look out of place in the Labour Party, but we’ve already seen Keir Starmer play ball

It has often been the case in this country that smaller parties such as the Greens can influence policy pledges but it depends on the popularity of the leading Parties and arousal of the electorate. Labour and the Conservatives want to retain key seats, the latter is desperately unpopular and the former desperate to win an election. These Parties believe that voters will tick the box as long as they see their ideas and beliefs burrowed in the manifesto somewhere.

The visceral imagery associated and the over-bloated number of crossings over the Channel have struck fear in the hearts of many Britons and sorrow in the hearts of many more. But, Anderson is again hopping onto a new boat and setting sail for the next opportunity that will benefit his political career.  Who knows where he’ll end up next but considering his reputation has taken such a hit as of late it surely won’t be much of an upgrade.

No matter how talented a politician one is, you aren’t afforded a position of significant prominence for long if all you are is a polarising figure. But, this does not mean that right now, for just a moment, Anderson’s defection to ReformUK won't have significant consequences for British politics. Even if ReformUK finds out that the many are not voting for the clumsy and hyperbolic rhetoric of a man with hair as spiky as his words, it could show us the backside of the Conservative Party.

Image: David Woolfall

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