Patrick O’Flynn Patrick O’Flynn

Are the Tories about to fall into Farage’s trap – again?

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Nigel Farage’s tail is up. The Reform party election campaign has gone better than he dared hope and its poll rating is up by several percentage points since he re-entered the fray. Today he went to South Wales to launch what he insisted was not a manifesto, but a ‘contract’ with the electorate over its campaigning priorities for the next five years. He also tacitly acknowledged that its contents were not quite as honed as he might have wanted, owing to the election happening in early July rather than the autumn.

Farage has admitted that Reform can’t win this election, but is mainly expecting to secure a Commons bridgehead to assist it in 2029. He probably hopes to nullify criticisms by manifesto nit-pickers from the bigger parties and the media. He is likely to succeed in this. That’s partly because he was able to blow out of the water Rishi Sunak’s repeated salami-slicing of National Insurance rates. He offered up no income tax on the first £20,000 of earnings.

It’s a big and readily understandable measure, and Farage is convinced it has already achieved massive cut-through out on the campaign trail. Those of us who worry it would overly narrow the tax base and would therefore prefer the 10p starting rate of tax to come back instead must nonetheless acknowledge its headline-grabbing impact. To Farage’s advantage, if the major parties rail against it, the more attention they will draw towards it.

Reform proposes to fund such a tax cut, as well as drastically reducing the tax burden on small businesses and raising the inheritance tax threshold to £2 million, by no longer allowing the Bank of England to pay interest on quantitative easing money deposited with it by the big banks. It also wants to reduce public spending by £50 billion through eliminating ‘waste’ and unproductive budgets and by ‘scrapping net zero’. This latter measure will, it says, save £30 billion per year of public spending for each of the next 25 years. 

At the very least therefore, Reform has got a conversation going about tax and spend that will resonate both with right-wing Tories and millions of working people who feel overtaxed.

But immigration control is still Reform’s home banker in this election. That owes as much to his uncompromising long-term campaign for tougher measures as to Reform’s current plan to ‘freeze’ net migration at zero for the next few years. A quarter of a century of mass migration scepticism has given him an authenticity on the subject that the other party leaders lack.

Could Reform also ‘stop the boats’ where Rishi Sunak failed and Keir Starmer is barely going to try? Again, Reform’s obvious motivation to do something about this scandal will probably be more important to those considering voting for it than the detail of its proposals.

Although Farage is clearly deadly serious about making the transition from protest to governing, for now it is his established credentials at the former which form the bedrock of his political appeal. It was Ukip’s victory at the 2014 European elections which locked in the Brexit referendum for two years later. It was the Brexit party’s victory at the 2019 European elections that secured the removal of Theresa May and forced the Tory party to ‘Get Brexit Done’.

Immigration control is still Reform’s home banker in this election

Millions of voters are expecting a vote for Farage’s latest vehicle to teach the establishment parties a lesson they will never forget about the penalty for massively excessive immigration volumes. By inflicting a massive defeat on the Tories, many such voters also expect to serve up a warning to Labour to get the numbers down or else.

We saw a more conversational Nigel Farage today. He was less hyped than either Sunak or Starmer had been at their own launches last week.

‘We are not pretending that we are going to win this general election. We are a very, very new political party and we would have much preferred this election to take place in October or November. But we are running very fast to catch up’, he admitted.

Another change came in the form of taking half a step back from the buccaneering right-wing persona of old. ‘We are a party that knows what we believe in – family, community, country’, he said at one point.

‘I think there’s a complete lack of leadership. People need some sense of being inspired’, he added. That served to remind us of the limitations of both Starmer and Sunak.

‘You can be traditional and radical at the same time. I support real, genuine change to give us a better brighter, and stronger future. I have been back in this job for a couple of weeks and I sense we are doing really rather well’, he concluded.

If the big battalions that favour politics-as-usual at Westminster respond by setting out all the reasons why they think his objectives can’t be achieved, then they will once again be playing into his hands. 

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