Rod Liddle Rod Liddle

Does anyone actually like Reform?

Getty Images

‘Alastair, it’s been absolutely fascinating talking to you. Thank you for your honesty.’ And thus ended Kirsty Young’s interview with Alastair Campbell, broadcast to the nation on BBC Radio 4 on Monday. This was part of the series Young Again, in which Kirsty interviews left-of-centre people, agrees with them and makes them feel better about themselves.

Reform’s obvious problem is that it cannot appeal simultaneously to its divided voter base

It is difficult to know how she could have been more fawning in this particular episode, short of performing what the Daily Telegraph used to refer to as ‘an obscene act’ on the psychotic former spin doctor. Later, Campbell tweeted his agreement with the analysis that Young was a ‘brilliant’ interviewer. The aforementioned ‘honesty’ to which we were privileged consisted of Campbell admitting, quite openly and without caveat, that given his time working for Tony Blair again, he really wouldn’t do anything very different. Not the Iraq stuff, nope. Not lying to the press every day – although Kirsty did not actually suggest, at any point in this soft-focus smugfest, that Campbell may ever have lied to anyone about anything. Remarkable.

I listened to this broadcast shortly after reading through the Reform UK party manifesto, which includes a commitment to reform the ‘bloated BBC’. This is a policy with which I would be in full agreement if the reformation were to be carried out with an array of ice-picks, or perhaps a pistol in a basement as per Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon. The corporation’s distance from the values of the people who pay for the licence fee is now measurable only in astronomical units and seen in red shift as it spins further and further beyond the reach of even the most powerful reflector telescopes.

‘In the long run, you’re definitely worse off.’

That is just one reason to vote for what we might call Continuity Ukip. There are others, even if one is not a Thatcherite Conservative. A more robust kickback against the increasingly deranged ‘woke’ agenda is another, seeing that Conservative party pledges on doing the same can be taken with less than a pinch of salt. Most of the fashionable absurdities have developed during the party’s past eight years in government and very often useful idiots in the party in parliament have been instrumental in putting them into effect. The ‘one-in, one-out’ policy on immigration also has a certain allure, even if the people who really run the country – the third sector and their lawyers – will prevent it ever happening. And that’s about it.

Of course, if you are a Thatcherite Conservative, the only possible reason not to vote for the Reform party is because you suspect, rightly, that it does not stand a snowball’s chance in hell. The last prediction I saw for its projected number of MPs, based upon its opinion poll standing, was zero. That is rather less Reform’s fault, of course, than a problem with our first-past-the-post system, which ensures stable and vibrant government, just like the one we have right now.

Aside from the voting system, Reform has two major problems. The first and most obvious is that it cannot appeal simultaneously to its divided voter base. The first are those voters – and indeed activists – who have cut loose from the Conservative party because they believe it is betraying its conservative principles on the issue of taxation. The Trussers, we might call them: those people who, like both Nigel Farage and the party’s leader, Richard Tice, carry within their hearts a beacon for Margaret Thatcher. A couple of pence off the National Insurance rate isn’t going to convince many of those people that the Tories are the party of low taxation.

But this is a much harder sell to the other tranche of potential voters, up here in the Red Wall. These are older voters in the north and Midlands who ditched Labour in 2019 en masse (although this was also part of a more gradual shift away from the left over 25 years) very largely, although not exclusively, for what we might call ‘cultural reasons’. They were once described to me by a voter I vox-popped as being ‘elderly men with no teeth on mobility scooters’, which is unfair but not wholly inaccurate.

The problem here is that the further north you go, and especially the further north and east, there is still a strong aversion to the economic ideology which, they might argue, turned their towns and cities into skint and empty wastelands. Places such as Middlesbrough, Consett, Hartlepool and so on are still suffering from the effects of the recession of the early 1980s and may feel disinclined to vote for the same set of policies 40 years later. Generally speaking, these voters are not at all averse to nationalisation of the utilities and the rail network, still less to taxes which clobber the well-off.

The second problem is that these voters were drawn to Ukip and later to the Brexit party by two powerful forces: the first was a wish to see us leave the European Union properly, no arguments. The second was because the party was led by a compelling populist politician, Nigel Farage. Neither of those two conditions apply today, even if Farage is honorary president of Reform and may yet play a greater role in the party. The one thing Reform might hope is that these people will vote for them out of a kind of existential despair, occasioned by the fact that there is simply nobody else on the ballot paper who interests them. (That they should be voting SDP is beside the point. Except in areas where my party has made local headway, they won’t.)

My suspicion is that a fairly hefty proportion of those former Ukip and Brexit party voters in the north and Midlands might transfer straight over to a Labour party which they believe may have shed its self-flagellating hatred of our country (patriotism is still the big cultural issue here) and offers a route out of a Conservative government which has outlived its welcome. By my reckoning, then, the effect of Reform will be even more injurious to the Tories than the current polls suggest.

Watch Nigel Farage discuss 14 years of Tory failure on SpectatorTV

Comments

Comments will appear under your real name unless you enter a display name in your account area. Further information can be found in our terms of use.