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Saved by the Poll: Reform UK secure bridgehead in Parliament

The 2024 British general election has been nothing short of fascinating. The political landscape has been well and truly shaken up. Labour have secured a historic victory as the Conservatives crash into their electoral nadir. And, at the eighth time of calling, Nigel Farage procured a long-coveted seat in the House of Commons. When the exit poll was revealed at 10pm last night, Reform UK were predicted to win 13 seats. That has not come to fruition, with only Farage, Richard Tice, Lee Anderson, and Rupert Lowe winning their seats. This has saved Reform from an ugly premature implosion. Winning only four seats is good news for Reform UK. 

During the campaign, Reform UK faced significant issues with its candidate vetting process. Farage’s party reportedly paid over £140,000 to vet over 400 of its potential candidates, in the hopes of ridding its list of closet racists, bigots, and former BNP members. The firm allegedly failed to deliver these background checks. As a result, several unvetted candidates with questionable, problematic histories were selected. This created uncomfortable public scrutiny for Farage. 

Some candidates were found to have shared or engaged with racist and Islamophobic content on social media. Jonathan Kay, the candidate for South Ribble, was revealed as making derogatory comments about Muslims and African people. Mick Greenhough, the prospective for Orpington, had promoted antisemitic views and conspiracy theories, according to Hope Not Hate. Whilst Farage claimed the vetting company had “stitched up” the party for its inclusion of unsavoury and unsuitable candidates, ultimate liability lies with him. 

The scandal has acutely underscored the necessity for Reform UK to professionalise and detoxify its image. The inclusion of candidates with extremist views has undoubtedly stifled Reform UK’s momentum towards polling day and clearly repulsed many assumed Tory defectors. The limited success in securing only four seats is a blessing in disguise for Farage and his crew, enabling the party to manage its representatives more effectively and focus on building a robust and reputable core team. In securing four seats, Reform UK has avoided subprime candidates being elected to the house, reducing the risk of internal conflicts and public controversies. 

The four elected Reform MPs - Farage, Tice, Anderson, and Lowe - provide a solid foundation for Reform UK to build its presence in Parliament. These individuals, relative to the other candidates put forward by the party, are experienced and can effectively represent the party’s interests. Reform talked a lot about a desire to create a “bridgehead” in Parliament to establish a professional and credible image to create conditions for long-term electoral success. Had any undesirables been elected, which was a real risk, this plan would have almost certainly crashed and burned before it had even got off the ground. 

Reform UK must now focus on professionalising its operations and detoxifying its brand. There is no place in British political society for intolerance, bigotry, or discrimination. The parliamentary party must now distance itself from any unsavoury elements and ensure that all representatives adhere to high standards of conduct. Whilst I don’t think the top brass of Reform is inherently racist or discriminatory, it must now make a concerted effort to move away from the dogwhistle politics that so often attracts those with dogmatic, parochial and insular views and offer a real, positive blueprint for the future. It might find it fairs far better at the ballot box that way.

This was no turquoise revolution as I had predicted. Although I had suggested Reform UK was set to come in second in terms of vote share, the racist controversies around some of its poorly-vetted candidates has clearly taken its toll. Irrespective, the party did secure an impressive four million votes to be the third largest party by votes. The final outcome of securing four seats, however, is arguably more beneficial for the party’s strategic interests. A classic case of ‘be careful what you wish for’. The limited success has prevented an overextension, mitigated the election of an objectionable representative doing untold damage to the party image, and has given Farage and Reform the chance to build a strong, disciplined parliamentary group.

All eyes will be on Farage as he enters Parliament for the first time. The ball is now firmly in his court to clean up Reform’s image, hold Starmer’s Labour supermajority to account, and advocate positively for the change he so often demands. 

Image: Owain Davies

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