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Will Nigel Farage launch his own ‘Stop the Steal’ movement?

Farage is well-versed in spinning a campaign out of the frustrations of the underdog. Credit: Getty

June 17, 2024 - 7:00am

A few weeks from now the election will be over. Though the details of the result will only be clear then, we can already spot the trends. The Labour Party is set to win big, while the Right will be thrown into disarray. One part of this will be the clear disparity between how many votes Reform wins, and how many seats it picks up. This might diminish the parliamentary power of the party but could fuel its argument for the next parliamentary term.

Reform aims to beat Ukip’s 2015 record and pull in four million votes. This is a bold target, but even if it falls short, it will have the backing of millions of British voters. When parliament returns, however, there will be little representation for them. Nigel Farage might win in Clacton, but he will have few parliamentary colleagues.

The Lib Dems, with similar but more efficiently sorted support, could pick up 50 or more seats. The SNP, standing only in Scotland, could pick up dozens of seats on less than a million and a half votes. Even with several million votes, there is still a strong likelihood that Reform ends up with zero seats. Still, losing at the sharp end of FPTP could present just another opportunity for the Reform leader.

Nigel Farage has always known how to speak to his audience, and how to leverage support from those who feel ignored. The greater the disparity between Reform’s vote share and the seats, the more he can do this by highlighting the unfairness of the system. Winning votes but not places in Westminster can allow him to stress this once again.

Indeed, Farage already has a record on this. Proportional representation allowed him to make Ukip’s name in EU elections and he has routinely supported changing the system. He has also criticised the widespread use of postal votes, highlighting the potential for fraud. An astute observer of US politics, he must also have noted the stock that Trump has put in disputing elections, even if he has previously dissuaded the former president from focusing on the past.

With the Labour victory set to dominate the political narrative, Farage will have to find a new way of cultivating popularity. He can’t attack Starmer in the same way he does the Tories and can’t expect the government to dance to his tune or buy him off. Disillusionment could be key to his continued relevance.

Should he be edged out by a few votes in Clacton, or other Reform candidates elsewhere miss out closely, we could see the emergence of a UK “stop the steal” type moment, searching for irregularities in contested results. Though there is little evidence of voter fraud in the UK, there is much suspicion, and sometimes that is all that is needed for a conspiracy to take flight.

Farage is well-versed in spinning a campaign out of the frustrations of the underdog. Millions of votes being ignored by the system will play into it. The Tories will also be faced with a choice — accepting that FPTP dooms a divided Right or pushing for the sort of electoral changes that would empower Reform. Either way, expect post-election disillusionment to be a boost to the populist campaign.


John Oxley is a corporate strategist and political commentator. His Substack is Joxley Writes.

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Gary Chambers
Gary Chambers
1 month ago

The Tories will have to think the unthinkable. Either embrace electoral reform or sanction an alliance with Reform. The alternative is to acquiesce to prolonged rule by Labour. Whatever happens at the GE, the Tories will have to shift away from business as usual.

Arkadian Arkadian
Arkadian Arkadian
1 month ago
Reply to  Gary Chambers

What you describe is the one good takeaway from this election and a big labour win.
However, I wouldn’t describe the last few years “business as usual” for the Tory party.

Martin M
Martin M
1 month ago
Reply to  Gary Chambers

Both of those things would be unthinkable. Better off that they should hunker down for five years, and hope things don’t get better under Starmer.

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 month ago
Reply to  Martin M

I predict that things will get worse under Starmer, but only because Labour appears to be signed up to much the same failed technocratic policy agenda that the Tories followed.

Gary Chambers
Gary Chambers
1 month ago
Reply to  John Riordan

I suspect that’s right. Starmer is a bland centrist wedded to a failed technocratic consensus. A national wave of disappointment with the results of the uninspiring offer Labour is now making to the electorate seems inevitable.

Gary Chambers
Gary Chambers
1 month ago
Reply to  Martin M

Things can’t/won’t get better under Starmer but the Tories are going to have to do a lot more than just hunkering down if they genuinely seek power at the national level.

Martin M
Martin M
1 month ago
Reply to  Gary Chambers

You could have said that after Boris’ big win. I think Labour is perfectly capable of stuffing things up for themselves.

Eleanor Barlow
Eleanor Barlow
1 month ago
Reply to  Gary Chambers

It might be that Farage will shift his attention after the GE to campaigning for some form of proportional representation, whichever party forms the next government. It would be of most benefit to Reform, especially if it beats UKIP’s record in terms of total numbers of votes cast for them.

Gary Chambers
Gary Chambers
1 month ago
Reply to  Eleanor Barlow

Yes, the Tories would never normally opt for PR. Such is the cataclysmic nature of their impending defeat that they may have few available options. If Farage leads the charge, the Tories may have to follow suit. Beggars can’t be choosers.

Martin M
Martin M
1 month ago
Reply to  Gary Chambers

If that happens, Britain would end up with an electoral system no better than those in Europe.

Martin M
Martin M
1 month ago

I’m sure a “Stop the Steal” campaign could be got up in Britain. After all, there was zero evidence to support the “stolen election” campaign in the US, and it still got up and running there.

Wilfred Davis
Wilfred Davis
1 month ago
Reply to  Martin M

I am in no position to state how much voting irregularity there actually was in the US ‘stolen election’.

However, having followed much US news and commentary around that time, I can say that ‘zero evidence’ does not accurately describe it.

Martin M
Martin M
1 month ago
Reply to  Wilfred Davis

Well, US Courts stacked with Trump appointees kept saying there was no evidence of it. All indications are that it was Rudy Giuliani who came up with the “stolen election”, but Trump appropriated it, because all good ideas are of course his.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
1 month ago

This has to be one of the worst, most hyperbolic essays I’ve ever read in Unherd. Speculation on future conspiracies for an event that has yet to happen. Wow.

Victoria Cooper
Victoria Cooper
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Hyperbolic? I see none. If you want hyperbole go read Irwin Welsh’s piece. Neither do I read ought about conspiracies.

j watson
j watson
1 month ago

Bring it on. A move to PR would have meant Lab/Lib type coalitions for the last 50yrs. Centre of our nation not where the Faragistas think it is. But it may give him yet more ‘ker-ching’ Grifting opportunities.

Peter B
Peter B
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

I don’t believe you.
You simply can’t extrapolate like that. Changing rules always leads to changed behaviour. The same reason that “cracking down on tax avoidance” (which is, of course, quite legal) never yields the projected savings. As we’re no doubt about to discover. Yet again.
Equally 50 years of Lab/Lib coalitions would have provoked some reaction. Show me a Western country that’s had 50 years of the same parties in coalition.

j watson
j watson
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter B

I think it’s a valid point that had PR existed some voting intentions would change. Possibly the most important and intriguing would be turn out as everyone’s vote would count.
Nonetheless if you look at the data for the last 50 yrs it’s only in 2015 the Right might have scraped a majority.
Be careful what you wish for though. Thatcher would not have held power from 79 for 11 years under PR.

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

Not true. I suggest you read an excellent essay by Nick Tyrone in the Spectator dealing with exactly this issue. The primary mistake people make when envisaging PR is to transpose the same historic voting patterns into the changed rules for awarding seats to arrive at a Parliamentary outcome, when in fact PR changes the voter incentives and therefore changes the voting pattern itself.

The effect of having PR after the 2016 referendum vote, for instance, would almost certainly have been to establish a permanent Eurosceptic majority in the HoC that would exist independently of whether the Left or the Right was in the ascendant at any given time.

j watson
j watson
1 month ago
Reply to  John Riordan

Err no. Look at the 2017 results. The Right went backwards overall. It had a majority in 2015 and would have under PR. Two years later they lost it.
As we are probably about to find out, the hard Brexit we eventually chose has not delivered anything like the promises made because the Right can’t face it’s own contradictions and the whole thing built on nonsense. More than a majority of Brits ‘get’ that now although like most of us we quietly wish a foolish mistake just vanished and we prefer not to be reminded.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

How do know it was a foolish mistake?

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 month ago
Reply to  j watson

You simply ignored the crucial point I made in my initial reply and which was the main insight in Nick Tyrone’s article: PR changes how voters vote, and it is not possible to predict parliamentary outcomes in the PR scenario for past FPTP election results without allowing for this factor.

Peter B
Peter B
1 month ago

It will at least be amusing to see the contortions of the Lib Dems as they demand “fair votes” whilst ignoring the fact that Reform will have an order of magnitude fewer seats per vote than they do.
But at least we shall see the most egregious beneficiaries of FPTP taken down a peg this time. Watching the SNP lose is going to be the only silver lining on July 4th. And to think, only a few short years ago we were being lectured by all the pundits about how Scottish independence was “inevitable”.

Gary Chambers
Gary Chambers
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter B

Completely right on both counts-we are now returning to the 2.5 party stasis of 1997-2015 with the Libs being the 0.5 and the importance of Reform being highly over-stated…but it will be glorious to wallow in the tears of the defeated SNP MPs on 5th July.

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 month ago

The Tories benefited for decades from the tendency of the Left to split, the most notable examples being the SDP in the 1980s to Thatcher’s advantage, and the SNP in the last decade to the advantage of the various leaders of the Tory government.

Now the same phenomenon is about to bite them in the arse instead. And even though I’m a right-wing voter, I can’t say I’m sad about it.

Eleanor Barlow
Eleanor Barlow
1 month ago
Reply to  John Riordan

I’m not a right wing voter and I’m also glad about it. I’m pleased to see the worst government we’ve had in living memory being hoist with its own petard.

Martin M
Martin M
1 month ago
Reply to  Eleanor Barlow

While the current Tory government did have its issues, at least it got Brexit done.

Paul T
Paul T
1 month ago

Make something up then write about it.

Andrew Garcarz
Andrew Garcarz
1 month ago

I’m afraid Mr. Oxley if you believe that there is little voter fraud in Britain, then you haven’t been paying attention. Ballot box fraud, both postal and in person is wide scale and endemic in many constituencies. Both as a former parliamentary candidate and an election scrutineer, I have personally witnessed fraudulent activity, almost always in left wing constituencies, at the ballot box and at the count.

Lancashire Lad
Lancashire Lad
1 month ago
Reply to  Andrew Garcarz

I presume you’ve reported your observations to the relevant authorities? Otherwise, what’s the point of being an election scrutineer? And if so, what action (if any) was taken?

Victoria Cooper
Victoria Cooper
1 month ago
Reply to  Andrew Garcarz

There was a time, not so long ago, where voter fraud was indeed rife in certain parts of London.

DenialARiverIn Islington
DenialARiverIn Islington
1 month ago

Don’t you think that you should await the results before peddling your own pet conspiracy theories?

El Uro
El Uro
1 month ago

In the long run, proportional representation is the best way to replace democracy with totalitarianism.
.
However, it is not my place to give advice to the British

Martin M
Martin M
1 month ago
Reply to  El Uro

I don’t like proportional representation, but not for that reason.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago

PR is simply representative democracy, which is why most countries use it. Politicians must simply make the best of it. FPTP is a Ruritanian hangover.