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Nigel Farage was the other winner of this election

Nigel Farage speaks after winning the Clacton and Harwich constituency last night. Credit: Getty

July 5, 2024 - 7:30am

Westminster politics has some of the highest barriers to entry of any marketplace in the world. To get elected you need a broadcast media profile, but you tend to get that on the basis of having done well in the previous two electoral cycles. On top of this, the first-past-the-post electoral system means that only the market leader in any constituency gets any reward at all. And the established big two parties have huge advantages when it comes to name recognition, constituency data and activist networks.

So for a political start-up that had struggled to get double-digit vote shares in Parliamentary by-elections to end up winning four seats at a general election, as well as securing a nationwide vote share in the mid-teens and hundreds of second places, is a stupendous achievement.

For this, Reform UK largely has Nigel Farage to thank. His fame and social media following solved the profile problem, while his political nous and flair for communication galvanised support.

That all this was done within a single month and for a party that had almost zero funding, no activist base, a tiny headquarters staff and was taken by surprise by the election timing — another rule which favours the chief incumbent — makes the feat even more astonishing.

Nobody should be tempted to believe that Reform ought to be disappointed that exit poll predictions of it scoring 13 seats did not come to pass either. For a start, the quartet of candidates it did get elected — Lee Anderson, Richard Tice and Rupert Lowe alongside Farage in Clacton — all have experience of elected office. Anderson was formerly a Tory MP, while Tice and Lowe, like Farage, are ex-MEPs. All are good media performers too. The same can almost certainly not be said for many of the nine further potential Reform parliamentarians who did not in the end make the cut.

The fact that Reform was the clear runner-up in dozens of Red Wall seats won by Labour also leaves it poised to profit as soon as Keir Starmer’s party becomes unpopular in power. And let’s face it: the Labour honeymoon is likely to be brief given all the grisly problems in the in-tray.

A badly depleted Conservative Party must meanwhile soon decide whether to cover its Right flank and attempt to be competitive in seats that will probably be a Reform vs Labour fight next time anyway. The alternative for the Tories is to tack even further towards the centre so as to maximise the chances of winning back seats lost to the Liberal Democrats across the prosperous Home Counties commuter belt where Reform is far weaker. Doing both these things simultaneously would involve taking contradictory stances in different seats on issues such as immigration, and therefore appears to be beyond them.

In short, Farage’s campaign has changed the game long-term. The deprived East Coast resort towns of Clacton, Great Yarmouth and Skegness and the old mining seat of Ashfield are all resolutely socially conservative and full of older voters. There is every reason to think Farage and his colleagues have already created a brand that can hold onto them and spread to similar places too. In the years ahead, that is going to be as much of a problem for Starmer as for whichever returning Tory takes over from Rishi Sunak at their party’s helm.


Patrick O’Flynn is a former MEP and political editor of the Daily Express.

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Martin M
Martin M
7 days ago

I look forward to Farage’s speeches in the Commons.

Tris Torrance
Tris Torrance
7 days ago
Reply to  Martin M

I think it is a great shame that Farage didn’t win more seats. But the vote share is an extraordinary performance and will make a lot of headlines in time. And this rather small bridge head does seem to be at least a very solid one, as the author says.

So my support for reform will continue and here is to a short and very unhappy honeymoon for the Labour Party and all its ministers-to-be. Leaving such a mess for Labour is probably the best thing the Conservatives have done for real conservativism in the last 14 years.

Matt M
Matt M
7 days ago
Reply to  Tris Torrance

I think Patrick is right that 9 extra inexperienced MPs might have been more of a hindrance than a help. Numbers in this parliament are immaterial – 13 MPs are no more able to influence government policy than 4. It is the media game that will grow the local base that is important and here message discipline is likely to be critical. 4 well-vetted and committed MPs might be just the bridgehead required.

M James
M James
6 days ago
Reply to  Matt M

I agree. “Less is more” has become almost trite with overuse, but in this case, it rings true.

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
7 days ago

This is delusional. The same number of seats as the Greens, and marginally more votes than the Liberal Democrats, but a fraction of the seats. And despite everything, miles behind the Tories in both seats and votes. Historically the Right won elections by not splitting their (usually smaller) vote. Now the Right is more divided, and much less popular, than the Left, and going backwards electorally and demographically. More Short Money and media opportunities for Nigel Farage aren’t going to change that.

Malcolm Webb
Malcolm Webb
7 days ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

Not at all delusional – this article has it dead right. What matters are the voting percentages. Labour unmoved. Tory stripped away on the left to Lib Dems but more significantly on the right to Reform. One Nation Tories an endangered species. SNP goose cooked. 2029 Election will be fascinating.

Malcolm Webb
Malcolm Webb
7 days ago

I think this article has hit the nail very firmly on the head .

Edward Hamer
Edward Hamer
7 days ago

I think it’s a mistake to think that the Tories would necessarily appear right-wing by advocating stricter controls on immigration. In other countries the Left are now much more hawkish on that issue, because they have concluded that mass immigration doesn’t mix with social democratic policies, generous welfare states etc. There are also obvious environmental issues that stem from overdevelopment, the intensive agriculture needed to feed a larger population, and so on.
The key will be how the issue is presented. Finding a way of talking about immigration (and other similar issues) in a way that sounds fair and moderate while also advocating substantive change should be at the top of the Tories’ to-do list.

Dr E C
Dr E C
6 days ago
Reply to  Edward Hamer

In a sane world you’d be right, but we’re not there any more. In a lot of people’s minds today immigrants are the oppressed and need protecting, no matter what they do: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/world-news/2024/06/28/german-woman-given-harsher-sentence-than-rapist-for-calling/

Jeff Carr
Jeff Carr
5 days ago
Reply to  Edward Hamer

The perception is created by the MSM commentary and their efforts to derogate concerns about immigration.
I note that Blair is suggesting that Starmer needs to do something about immigration. He is right because this issue will not go away. People will make their choices in the privacy and anonymity of the voting booth not in public discourse.

j watson
j watson
7 days ago

Some victory – split the Right, massive Labour majority and 5 years of Labour in power. World may look v different by then and he’s not getting any younger. Well done Nige.
Tories will be v angry with him and he’ll not be forgiven. Going to be a proper fight and some dirty tricks no doubt to come. Get the popcorn.
As regards being an MP – the number of seats means he won’t be getting the airtime or right to ask questions at PMQs to quite the degree some might be hoping. Similarly Broadcasters will be obliged to give Lib Dems more airtime. Plus he’ll have to make much clearer declarations of income sources and can’t be eating pigs testicles in the Jungle for ÂŁ350k. He and the others will also come under much more scrutiny. We’ll see if he stands up to that. Sense is he’s a bit prickly when put under more scrutiny. And of course Reform can’t remain a ‘personality cult’ so he has to take more time to vet his candidates. They’ll have to be a major clear-out as it appears most of the ex-BNP have infiltrated!

Martin Layfield
Martin Layfield
7 days ago
Reply to  j watson

Any Tories ‘furious’ with Farage rather than their own useless party are complete morons who can be safely ignored.

Peter B
Peter B
7 days ago
Reply to  j watson

Farage Derangement Syndrome as strong as ever JW. What’s he ever done to you ? Still, perhaps someone’s working on a vaccine ? The media are going to need one.
Just stop and consider the fact that the Conservative national vote dropped from 13.6 million in 2019 and 14.0 million in 2019 to 6.8 million in 2024.
Might I suggest that it takes more than a bit of aggravation from Nigel Farage to lose half your voters ?
Note also that the total Labour vote in 2024 was down from both 2017 and 2024. Lower than even Corbyn’s worst performance.
And don’t forget one of Margaret Thatcher’s better quotes:
“I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.”
I’m sure Nigel Farage won’t have. If he ever reads your comment.

j watson
j watson
7 days ago
Reply to  Peter B

I have no doubt PB Farage a track record on ‘destruction’. As regards ‘construction’ we await. Amplifying rage with immigration an old playbook. Let’s see what happens when he’s asked more about his policies on the NHS and Social care and everything else. One trick pony, albeit I give you he’s good at that.

Citizen Diversity
Citizen Diversity
7 days ago
Reply to  j watson

Mr F saved the Tory Party in 2019. And what did they do with that?

Michael Cazaly
Michael Cazaly
7 days ago

P***ed it away because they thought they had won it by themselves…

Campbell P
Campbell P
7 days ago

Any move to the Left in Conservative policies will only increase Reform’s support. Just look how the Cameton-Johnson-Sunak cohort of rich kid O E’s and a Wy’ist gave in to the loony woke hustlers. They were soooo out of touch with young and old.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
7 days ago

I was expecting Reform to garner something a little under 6 million rather than the 4 million they got. However, looking deeper, this is a straight consequence of the historically low turnout – the overall number of votes gained by every party is much lower than the percentage might suggest on a normal turnout.

Spencer Dugdale
Spencer Dugdale
7 days ago

It’s now 5 MPs (after several recounts in Basildon). At this aftenoon’s conference Nigel mentioned ‘professionalising’ the party. There will be a constitution and election of party leader (hot tip: he’ll win) and proper branches that elect their own officers. The focus will be outside of parliament on building a movement capable of competing in local elections and constructing a base form which to get more MPs with the focus on Labour. Sounds like a plan!

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
7 days ago

There’s a third winner here: Islam. Currently several ‘independent’ MPs who stood on a platform of supporting ‘Palestine’. One almost kicked out Jess Philips. Interesting to see if this becomes a more focused movement over the course of this parliament.

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
6 days ago

Don’t you mean a platform of murdering Jews?

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
6 days ago

I wouldn’t be surprised if we have an Islamic party standing candidates in 2029, that’s for sure. It’s now clear that they don’t need the Labour Party and Labour still got in despite many Muslims deserting them.

Don’t have much time for Phillips, but I’d choose her over that alternative any day of the week.