WRITING in the Guardian on Friday, someone called Naomi Smith opined that ‘it seems that Nigel is once again at home within the Tory party’. Had she been in London the next day she might not have written such tosh.
Saturday saw the third Reform UK party conference. I’ve been to them all – each one about twice the size (in number of delegates) of the previous one. Having been all but ignored by the media before, and though eclipsed by Labour’s conference and the Hamas attack on Israel, this one did succeed in getting some coverage on GB News and the BBC.
Nigel Farage gave a barnstorming speech, in which he issued his response to a question he’d received at the Tory conference, ‘Would he work with the Conservatives?’ and whether Rishi Sunak was holding out an olive branch. He reminded the audience that in 2019 he had stood down Brexit Party candidates in any constituency where there was a Brexiteer Tory sitting (many Brexit Party members were furious about that). The justification was that it prevented the Tory vote being split and delivered Boris Johnson his 80+ majority, which should have given him the parliamentary headroom to deliver Brexit.
Sadly Johnson chose to compromise it, destroying the United Kingdom by allowing an EU border to exist between the mainland and Northern Ireland. His Conservative government had also failed to get a grip of the powerful ‘Remainer’ elements of the civil service or deliver the bonfire of bureaucracy that Brexit should have brought. Then he imprisoned us while he and his lackeys partied.
Given all this, it’s no surprise that Faragesaid he has absolutely no intention of accommodating the Tories. Ever.
That puts Sunak in a bind. On one side of his lacklustre Cabinet incompetents he has the Labour party, equally lacklustre and even more overtly the party of the State. On the other he has Reform UK, who have parked their tanks on what (years and years ago) used to be the Tory turf of small government, personal freedoms and common decency. As any German general will tell you, fighting wars on two fronts leads to disaster. Troublingly for Sunak, Reform’s policies will resonate with the public.
In a powerful speech, party leader Richard Tice outlined the policies Reform will be campaigning on.
On education, while Sunak tinkers with A-levels, Reform UK intends to solve the pernicious, insidious debt trap that students with loans are in – paying interest at 7 per cent makes it almost impossible for them ever to clear the capital sum. The solution is to make the loans interest-free and apply that retrospectively and immediately. That will be paid for by tightening up on the quality of degrees, reducing the overall number of undergraduates. Reform will also introduce the equivalent of the US GI bill for the Armed Forces.
What about the technically impossible and economically suicidal folly of Net Zero? Sunak has tinkered with the date of the car and boiler bans but he’s left the underlying legislation untouched. Manufacturers are still under Sunak’s Soviet-style centrally planned requirements, buried deep in the 2008 Climate Change Act. Reform UK will cut the Gordian knot of the Climate Change Act by repealing it. The party is focused on sound economics and keeping the lights on. Many of its members come from the SME community; controlling costs and delivering for customers is literally their bread and butter.
Migration? Suella Braverman’s speech was praised as being brave. But what has she (or any of her benighted predecessors) actually done about it? Reform UK promises to get very tough on illegal migration, returning migrants to France rather than paying the French to send them here. It will halt protracted legal wrangling by leaving the ECHR and clamp down on the abuse of academic visas. No one voted for more than a million net immigrants a year, mostly because no one was asked by the panjandrums of Westminster. There is a connection between-out of-control immigration, the shortage of housing and the overload of almost all the UK’s infrastructure. Reform UK intends to fix it.
There is a lot more; it’s all online.
The Reform UK candidate for the Mayor of London is Howard Cox, founder of Fair Fuel, a campaign which forced successive governments to keep the tax on fuel down. (Taxing transport is very inflationary.) He intends to reverse the road lane restrictions that plague the capital, cause gridlocks and make driving an HGV into London to deliver stuff far harder than it needs to be. He’s committed to scrapping ULEZ and refunding all the fines and charges (which Sadiq Khan says have been ring-fenced), a policy that will appeal to many.
Sunak and the remoaners and rejoiners of the Labour party, plus their fellow travellers in the media, will no doubt be saying that Reform UK is a flash in the plan, a minority party and a wasted vote. Really? It’s regularly outpolling the Lib Dems and it developed from the Brexit Party, itself the largest party ever in the European parliament. The energy, enthusiasm and commitment of the 1,000 or so people on the conference floor was palpable.
Reform UK will have a candidate standing in every constituency at the general election. (Disclosure: I’m probably one of them.) Then the electorate can speak.
I don’t think the political establishment will like what they hear.