Thursday, June 13, 2024

Election campaign: the impact of Reform UK

The 2024 general election campaign feels, smells and sounds like the election of 1997. Those of us politically active 27 years ago will recall how the campaign had a Labour landside built in to election expectations. The Conservatives were fighting a rearguard action based largely on their MPs trying to save their own skins and hoping the tsunami of anti-Conservative sentiment could be held back in their own constituency.

Other similarities included tactical voting which benefitted Labour, Lib Dems and the SNP.

But there are some significant differences. Firstly, back in 1997, Labour's poll ratings were stratospheric though they were never able to reproduce them fully at the general election. The SNP were beneficiaries of tactical voting but they weren't the dominant force in Scotland they have become. Blair was highly regarded and was a charismatic leader, unlike Starmer who is seen as a safe pair of hands but not a towering leader.

It is the state of the Conservatives that is the biggest difference however. They typically had poll ratings in the high twenties or low thirties. Currently the Conservatives can only dream of such poll ratings. No matter what the share of the Labour vote is in the opinion polls, the Conservatives now remain stubbornly 20% behind. The Conservatives can thank Reform UK for that.

I've been politically active for 43 years but this is the first time I have experienced fractures in the right win vote in the UK. The biggest losers are the Conservatives. A split vote will let in Labour and Lib Dems, depending on which party is the main challenger in the constituencies the Conservatives are defending.

The other loser will be Reform UK whose chances of winning seats is remote. They will be lucky to have 2 or 3. But their longer term plan is materialising: replace the Conservatives as the main right wing party. While the challenges faced by the Conservatives and Reform UK may bring some pleasure to the rest of us, the signs for the future are not good. While the Conservatives may be riddled with right wing rubbish, they remain closer to the centre ground than Reform UK. Imagine the impact on the UK if the Tories disappeared, Reform UK took over as the main party of the right, and won a general election. That would be horrifying.

So while the Conservatives show every sign of sinking out of sight in this election, the future of the UK with Reform as a main political party is very worrying.

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