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How Nigel Farage is courting the Muslim vote

Nigel Farage speaks in Birmingham yesterday. Credit: Getty

July 1, 2024 - 4:30pm

National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham

“If anybody in this room is motivated by hatred and loathing of others because they’re different,” Nigel Farage pronounced in front of a reported 4,500 people in Birmingham yesterday afternoon, “I invite you to leave now.” Besides posing a dilemma for audience members in need of the bathroom, this was a clear statement of intent from the leader of Reform UK: whatever charges the media lobs at us, we’ll prove that we are a modern, diverse and welcoming party.

This kind of talk doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Reform is still dealing with the consequences of the revelation last week that one of its canvassers in Clacton, Andrew Parker, made racist remarks about Rishi Sunak and called Islam a “cult”. Though Farage, speaking yesterday at Birmingham’s National Exhibition Centre (NEC), reiterated his belief that Parker was an actor paid by Channel 4, Reform candidate Liam Booth–Isherwood nonetheless defected to the Conservatives later in the day, citing a “significant moral issue” in the party.

Birmingham was a canny choice of location for Farage’s mega-rally in the aftermath of a race scandal. Less than half the city’s population is white, with British Asians making up almost a third of the total; 30% are Muslim, compared to the 34% who identify as Christian. The make-up of yesterday’s NEC audience went some way in reflecting this: not exactly a white British minority, but more diverse than Reform’s critics would suggest.

Besides punters, one of the speakers at the rally was Zia Yusuf, a 37-year-old Muslim entrepreneur who has given Reform hundreds of thousands of pounds — the exact figure has not yet been reported — and in doing so has become the party’s single biggest donor. During his speech, Yusuf stated: “My parents came here 40 years ago, and have given half a century’s service to our NHS.” He added: “Nobody knows better than I do the good that immigrants can do for Britain.”

The benefits of immigration is not a talking point usually associated with Farage’s party. And for Reform’s opponents, this young Muslim entrepreneur is an unexpected poster boy. Yet borders remain a key issue for many Muslim voters too. One attendee I spoke to, 29-year-old software engineer Mahir, said that he and his family liked Reform because “no other party is telling the truth about immigration here.”

Reform’s manifesto doesn’t make explicit reference to British Muslims or radical Islam, but it does propose a “one in, one out” migration policy, which it bills as “smart immigration”. Four in 10 ethnic-minority Britons believe immigration is too high; the figure for British Indians is 61%, with 36% of British Pakistanis and Bangladeshis — who are predominantly Muslim — thinking the same.

Farage’s own history with Islam is complicated. After the 2017 Westminster terror attack he claimed there was a “fifth column” of Islamists seeking to undermine European countries from within; he used the same term in 2015. Most recently, last month he argued that many Muslims in the UK do not share British values.

When I asked Yusuf after the rally whether he agreed with this assessment, he answered that “most British Muslims I’ve met are patriots. They’re hardworking and they love their country. But Nigel has a point about some — and it is a minority — young immigrants who are constantly negative about our history, and who don’t share our values.” At the NEC, Farage had earlier warned of the dangers of “sectarian voting”, calling it “a new form of politics in which women are completely excluded”.

Farage’s position on Islam is still considerably more accepting than some of the figures associated with his previous party, Ukip. In 2018, having stepped down as leader two years prior, he left Ukip altogether because of its increased “fixation” on Muslims. In particular, Farage objected to then-leader Gerard Batten’s appointment of far-Right activist Tommy Robinson as an advisor, adding that Ukip “wasn’t founded to be a party fighting a religious crusade”. Much of Ukip’s support base moved to Farage’s next vehicle, the Brexit Party, renamed Reform UK in 2021. Several of Reform’s candidates this year have been accused of Islamophobia: as the party broadens, attitudes to Muslims may become a dividing line between a hardline base and a leader seen as being too soft on the issue.

It is this history which has led the Reform leader to claim that he has “done more than anyone else to defeat the far-Right in Britain”. Farage was keen to remind the audience yesterday of new polling from YouGov which revealed that his party presently has more ethnic-minority supporters than the Liberal Democrats.

One of the reasons Zia Yusuf revoked his Tory membership and threw his lot in with Reform was that he feels the UK has lost control of its borders. I told him that it was unusual for party donors to be so prominent at campaign rallies. How public-facing would his role be in the next few days? “I just want to help Nigel as best I can,” he responded — a politician’s answer. What about standing as a candidate in the next election? His speech prompted some to tip him as a possible successor to Farage as party leader. “I’ve only just got involved with Reform,” he said quickly. He paused. “Let’s see. You never know.”


is UnHerd’s Deputy Editor, Newsroom.

RobLownie

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Santiago Excilio
Santiago Excilio
11 days ago

It was a very impressive speech. Yusuf reminded me a great deal of Konstatin Kishin, another great speaker, and I think one could be looking at a future leader of the Reform party assuming he is interested. It has always been a nagging concern with Reform that they only ever been a one trick pony (Farage) however if they can garner up a few more like Yusaf then that could be the basis for a formidable team.

J B
J B
11 days ago

Agreed.
I was at the NEC rally on Sunday and found Zia to be a very impressive, nuanced and engaging supporter. Loved the Royal Navy story…
Lots of passion and enthusiasm on the ground.
I looked for cynicism, racism and political chicanery at the event (cynical old b*****d that I am) but failed to spot any.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
10 days ago

He’s backtracked on his vision of eliminating rhe NHS healthcare model and is now doubling down on this fruitless desire to be everything to everyone. Populism is somewhat different to being popular.

Andrew Garcarz
Andrew Garcarz
10 days ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

You have clearly never read or listed to anything Farage has said about the NHS. It will always be “Free at the point of need”, is a clear statement in the Contract with the people, and something he reiterates at every opportunity. The Labour Party and the Tories have been privatising the NHS for the last 20 years.

Nathan Kennerley
Nathan Kennerley
9 days ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

Dear Mr Durden, may I just say that “The benefits of immigration is not a talking point” because “The benefits of immigration are not a talking point”. Thank you and I wish you well with the soap.

Alan Gore
Alan Gore
8 days ago

To make this work, immigrants have step forward to define a Muslim mainstream. Are enough of them willing to do that?

Citizen Diversity
Citizen Diversity
11 days ago

A member of the crew leaves a paddle steamer and joins the Titanic. What genius joins a sinking ship?

Santiago Excilio
Santiago Excilio
11 days ago

A poor analogy; Yusaf used to be a conservative, now he’s switched to Reform. A better analogy would be: A member of the crew leaves the Mary Celeste and joins the Cutty Sark.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
11 days ago

I took it as a reference to the guy who left Reform to joins the Tories. Unless i’m mistaken, seems as if many others have misinterpreted CD’s comment.