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Should the Tories form an alliance with Nigel Farage?

A Tory-Faragist united front would scandalise respectable opinion. Credit: Getty

May 2, 2024 - 7:00am

According to the Mirror, Nigel Farage is set to return to frontline politics as leader of Reform UK. Of course, we’ve heard this all before. There were breathless reports promising the same in December, January, February, March and April. One might suspect that all he really wants is some attention.

And yet if he is serious about a comeback, now is his moment. That’s because the uncertainty that has clouded British politics in recent months is about to lift. Tory poll ratings have been bad enough for long enough to destroy Rishi Sunak’s authority. However, because we just don’t know whether his colleagues are willing to remove him, his leadership is both dead and alive at the same time. He’s the political equivalent of Schrödinger’s cat.

But as ballot boxes are opened on Thursday night and into Friday, this quantum state is set to collapse. Within days — and possibly hours — Conservative MPs will have to decide whether to stick with Sunak to the bitter end or take their chances on a new prime minister. Either outcome is good for Farage.

If Sunak stays, then Reform can campaign relentlessly on immigration. With every setback for the Rwanda policy, the party can rub it in. With every small boat that lands on our shores, Farage has a chance to be there on the beach, counting the new arrivals.

In June, we have the European parliamentary elections. Neither Sunak nor Starmer will be there in Strasbourg or Brussels, but Farage could be, welcoming the likely populist surge and inviting British voters to send a similar message.

If, on the other hand, Sunak goes, then there’s a Conservative leadership contest to interfere with. For instance, should MPs attempt to disenfranchise the party membership, expect Farage to shed crocodile tears for Tory democracy. He’ll then present himself as the spiritual leader of the Right and invite the grassroots to take revenge at the next election.

The purpose of cutting out the Tory members is to make it more likely that a moderate candidate emerges as leader — Penny Mordaunt, for instance. Except that the Farage factor may impact the calculations of the parliamentary party. MPs may judge that only a Right-winger can stem the loss of votes to Reform UK.

But that still wouldn’t stop Farage’s fun. Indeed, the closer that the Conservative Party gets to the Reform UK position, the more credibly he can offer them an electoral pact.

The approaching general election might not seem to bear much similarity to the last one, but the common thread is change. The Tories won in 2019 because they promised it to Red Wall voters — and they’re now set for a crushing defeat because they totally failed to deliver. There’s no way they’ll be trusted again. Unless, that is, they can present themselves in a radically different form.

A Tory-Faragist united front would scandalise respectable opinion, but that’s just the point: with so little time left before the general election, a deal with Farage is how the Tories reinvent themselves fast. It also blows up Labour’s entire strategy, which is all about running against the last three Prime Ministers — not a new deal.

Of course, this would be an outrageously risky proposition. But the Tories might just be desperate enough to take it.


Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.

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Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
19 days ago

An alliance with Farage would encourage Labour, Lib Dems and the Greens to do local deals of their own, so would probably leave the Conservatives worse off in the constituencies. Nigel is all about Nigel, any deal would be milked to big him up personally, and could not be relied upon to hold. Better to shore up the Conservatives’ right wing through policy initiatives. If the Tories begin to cut the Labour lead momentum could enable them to squeeze the Reform vote anyway. They’ve left it very late though: Sunak should have leaned in to the 2019 mandate much more, rather than chasing middle class soggy centrist votes who are lost forever anyway.

T Bone
T Bone
18 days ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

As an outside observer, I’m curious what you mean by Nigel is all about Nigel? Are British politicians usually party-first and care about their personal interests second? Would Starmer or Sunak gracefully retreat from the limelight if they could ensure their parties a governing coalition? If so, this is remarkable

Because it seems like different standard gets applied to different politicians depending on their popularity or media portrayal.

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
18 days ago
Reply to  T Bone

Party leaders don’t normally opt out of the boring bits between elections only to parachute back in at election time to mop up all the publicity without any of the responsibility.

T Bone
T Bone
18 days ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

Actually it seems reasonable for a movement leader to step away for a period of time in politics. Politics is often driven by irrational emotion. When somebody steps away it makes people realize how much that person is missed or not missed. If they’re not missed than their ability to return is N/A.

I could be wrong but I don’t hear a whole lot of Brits calling for the return of Tony Blair.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
19 days ago

Farage would not save the Tories by doing a deal with them, but he would destroy his own credibility, and that of his party, Reform.
When the Tories are annihilated at todays Council elections expect the return of Farage to the front line under the Reform banner and the switch of up to 12 Tory MP’s to Reform.

David Kingsworthy
David Kingsworthy
18 days ago

It seems to me that Conform’s credibility is already in tatters if not gone. How long before Farage leaves them to support yet another new party?

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
18 days ago

Why would Farage do that?
His Party Reform is polling above expectations, all they need now is a major event to take them forward.
Farage will be that event, when he joins the frontline campaign for Reform to fight the upcoming election.
Why would you think Farage would leave them at this critical juncture?

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
19 days ago

Why would Farage shackle himself to a corpse ??

Aidan Twomey
Aidan Twomey
19 days ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

There’s a great deal of ruin in a corpse.

Bernard Brothman
Bernard Brothman
18 days ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Greetings from the USA. I would like to see Farage as PM. I think the right in the UK has a similar situation to the right in Canada where the right vote gets split and the left wins the elections. Is there a way to have an agreement where Nigel’s party does not run candidates where the Tories run candidates as vice versa.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
19 days ago

If (and it’s big if) Nigel Farage wants real power, the only way is to stay out of Parliament.
He’s arguably the most successful politician of his generation, and would only be emasculated by the low grade Commons dwellers.

Robbie K
Robbie K
19 days ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

He’s a brilliant campaigner, I’n uncertain it goes any further than that however, he runs away from actual governance.

Damon Hager
Damon Hager
18 days ago
Reply to  Robbie K

Well, he hasn’t really had a shot at actual governance. Yet.

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
18 days ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Opinion polling from the mid 1990s frequently showed a majority in favour of the UK leaving the EU. Whenever a referendum was granted there was always a fair chance of a leave vote, regardless of anything Nigel Farage, Dominic Cummings or anyone else did. It was backbench Tory MPs who bounced Cameron into making the referendum commitment and it was the Conservative majority in 2015 which forced him to honour it. By fielding UKIP candidates in every constituency in 2015 Farage did his best to prevent a Tory victory and thereby a referendum. But even when the referendum was won there was no guarantee that a meaningful Brexit would actually happen. It was the Tory “Spartans” in parliament, rather than Farage spluttering outside, who prevented May’s BINO. And in the 2019 election every Tory gain was made in the face of Brexit Party opposition, which frequently split the pro-Brexit vote to let Labour survive in many constituencies. Other European countries are stuck with the EU consensus because they lack a large electorally successful right of centre party. They just have minor right wing parties who can be easily excluded from power. And if the Tories are smashed next time, Britain will be the same.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
18 days ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

Nope, it was not back bench tory MP’s that brought about Brexit, but Cameron’s fear of the increasing popularity of UKIP in the polls.
Cameron was a charlatan, the man who promised to steer his through the process whatever the final result was.
He was gone in 24 hours after the result.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
19 days ago

He should lead. I’d like to see the combination of free market values with a degree of economic nationalism and certainly a pronounced opposition to the neoliberal and neoconservative international orthodoxy. Farage would be the only leader to pull that off for the benighted British Conservatives.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
18 days ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

So you want a protectionist free marketeer? Is that possible?

Damon Hager
Damon Hager
18 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

“So you want a protectionist free marketeer? Is that possible?”
No, it’s not. Protectionism plays well to the blue-collar conservative base (with whom I greatly sympathise), but in the long run, protectionism is self-defeating.
On the other hand, there’s a case for protecting strategic industries, such as steel. And when certain huge international players seek to game the system to garner unfair advantages (looking at you, China), one eventually has to respond.

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
18 days ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

A protectionist free trader is impossible. A protectionist free marketeer is possible in that they would seek to protect the domestic economy from dumping, but encourage competitiveness within the domestic economy. But meddling in the economy is a hard drug to wean the State off.

Richard Calhoun
Richard Calhoun
18 days ago
Reply to  Tyler Durden

In reality Farage is no leader, he is a great campaigner, a demagogue par excellence, but no leader.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
18 days ago

I’m voting Reform because I want to see the Tories die and be replaced with a more modern, progressive, conservative movement. I don’t think Reform is that. We need electoral reform for new parties to emerge, and given that Farage managed to swing Brexit I’m optimistic that he can nudge the dial on PR. Certainly the Libdems and the Greens have been a dead loss on that score.

Charlie Dibsdale
Charlie Dibsdale
18 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

do you really mean progressive? As in woke?

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
18 days ago

No. As in not woke!

Russell Sharpe
Russell Sharpe
18 days ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Then vote SDP. Their London mayoral candidate’s campaign slogan is Stand Up To Woke.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
17 days ago
Reply to  Russell Sharpe

I voted for them 40 years ago, but didn’t realise they were still going in some form so thanks for the heads up. I like the look of their policies.

Charlie Dibsdale
Charlie Dibsdale
18 days ago

It might be that Farage comes into his own after a catastrophic first term of a Labour government, which will be far worse than the current shower.

Damon Hager
Damon Hager
18 days ago

“One might suspect that all he really wants is some attention.”
Sneering is a bit of a self-defeating strategy. Farage completely changed the British political landscape. I don’t suppose he did so purely for fun.

R S Foster
R S Foster
18 days ago
Reply to  Damon Hager

I think he was deadly serious in his intentions, but had great fun delivering on them…which is one of the reasons why he comes over as much more likeable than most politicians, who tend to behave as though they are doing us all an enormous favour by honouring us with their wisdom and beneficence…

Douglas Redmayne
Douglas Redmayne
18 days ago

Wishful thinking which illustrates Tory desparation. Farage is incentivised to do everything he can to destroy the Tory party so Reform can replace it. If he has an electoral pact with them then Reform are damaged by association.

j watson
j watson
18 days ago

Of course the chicken waiting to see what the Local elections bring first before committing. Been clear a mile away. What an opportunist. Doesn’t want to have to declare all his sources of income either does he until he thinks he’s a cert.
Now Nige’s problem ain’t immigration. It’s what he and the Reform-ists say the moment scrutinised on everything else. In many regards bring it on. The more antiseptic light shone on the paucity of thinking on how we solve our many problems the better.
Part of me would like to see this Grifter in power so we all quickly observe how it would unravel. Truth is he knows that too hence caught between the play-acting and really stepping up.

R S Foster
R S Foster
18 days ago

For a lot of people, a Badenoch/Farage deal would be a very cheering prospect….

Elon Workman
Elon Workman
18 days ago

Reform may destroy the Conservative Party but there is no guarantee that it could ever gain enough support to form a government. The best it could hope for would be part of a coalition and the only plausible one would be with a Conservative Party which it had just annihilated. Since 1974 the party of the right i.e. the Conservatives has never won more than 44% of the vote in a General Election and even then it was dependent on English votes as both Scotland and Wales were always leaning to the left. An incoming Labour government might well introduce a bill giving voting rights to 16 year olds and to E U citizens living in the U K. Were this to happen there might never again be a party of the centre right in the U K no matter what its name.