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Thursday, July 11, 2024 | Back issues
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UK Conservatives face electoral oblivion amid Nigel Farage poll surge

The right-wing firebrand's entrance into the July 4 election campaign is a nightmare scenario for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, as Farage's Reform Party drains support from the governing Conservatives.

(CN) — The latest opinion polls for the United Kingdom's Juy 4 general election spell disaster for the governing Conservative Party, with the right-wing, anti-immigration Reform Party rapidly catching their more established rivals.

Reform, the latest political vehicle for English right-wing populist Nigel Farage, is polling at 17% in three separate surveys published this week. According to pollster YouGov the Conservatives are currently only 1 percentage point ahead — and momentum is not on their side.

The polls are the latest twist in the ongoing U.K. general election campaign, which has been shaken up by the entrance of Nigel Farage, a political machine of the extra-parliamentary British right who was instrumental in pushing the Conservative Party toward holding the U.K.’s fateful referendum on European Union membership.

Farage initially ruled out campaigning after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak unexpectedly called next month’s election on a rainy afternoon in Downing Street. However, Farage reversed his decision last week, entering the contest by declaring his candidacy for a parliamentary seat in the seaside English town of Clacton, as well as taking over the leadership of Reform.

While the U.K.’s first-past-the-post electoral system means Reform is unlikely to win anything more than a couple of seats in Parliament, their popularity looks set to split the right-wing vote in hundreds of constituencies, potentially handing a large number of otherwise safe Conservative seats to the opposition Labour Party.

Support for the Reform Party had gradually crept up ever since Sunak ascended to the premiership in 2022. Despite his Thatcherite, Brexit-backing credentials, Sunak is unpopular on the right-wing of the Conservative Party due to his technocratic approach, and because of a perception that he is soft on social issues and has “globalist” tendencies.

But Reform’s support has surged further since their key figure Farage reentered the political fold, after spending the previous five years pursing a media career and forming relationships with people close to former President Donald Trump.

The Reform Party has emerged out of the ashes of the Brexit Party, another Farage vehicle established in 2019 to pressure the Conservatives toward negotiating a harder exit. That party’s success in European elections ultimately led to the downfall of Prime Minister Theresa May and the ascendancy of Boris Johnson, who struck an EU deal more to Farage’s liking.

While the Brexit Party partially stood down for Boris Johnson’s Conservatives at the last general election in 2019, Farage is determined to fight Sunak’s party head on this time, telling the BBC that “there are no circumstances whatsoever” in which a deal might be struck between the parties.

"We have been betrayed by a Conservative Party I have given considerable help to," Farage said, citing the growing number of migrants entering the country as the key failure of the Conservative government.

Speculation has been rife over the past few years that Farage could end up becoming the next Conservative Party leader. Such a proposition becomes possible if he is able to finally secure election to Parliament, a goal which has eluded him on his previous six attempts. However, Farage has publicly stated that his aim is to perform a “reverse takeover” of the government party.

“I think the better thing to do would be to take it over. You can speculate as to what'll happen in three or four years' time, all I will tell you is if Reform succeed in the way that I think they can, then a chunk of the Conservative Party will join us,” he said.

Farage’s entrance into the election campaign is a nightmare scenario for Sunak, whose party was already struggling to stay united and keep core supporters on side. Farage is uniquely poised to sweep up millions of disaffected Conservative voters who have been angered by Johnson’s dishonesty, Liz Truss’s economic mismanagement, and Sunak’s inconsistent governing strategy.

Conservative lawmakers are reported to be furious with Sunak’s chosen timing for the election, privately believing that a November date might have prevented Farage from participating, given that he was committed to campaigning for President Trump’s reelection in the U.S.

Meanwhile, Sunak has spent the campaign lurching from crisis to crisis. The defining moment of the election thus far has been his failure to attend D-Day landing commemorations in France, leaving his Foreign Secretary David Cameron to pose for photos alongside French President Macron, German Chancellor Scholz and Biden.

The absence infuriated much of his own electoral base, for whom the D-Day landings represent a foundational part of the national myth. Clips of World War II veterans — widely regarded as national heroes in the U.K. — criticizing the prime minister were repeated for days on British broadcast news. The clips have been electorally toxic for the Conservatives and played perfectly into the hands of Farage, who regularly evokes the landings in his rhetoric.

In recent days Conservative ministers have begun to publicly concede defeat in the election, arguing that voters should back them to prevent Keir Starmer’s Labour Party from winning a “supermajority” in Parliament.

The latest YouGov poll has Labour down three percentage points to 38%, with the Conservatives at 18% and Reform at 17%. The Liberal Democrats, with 15%, are also gaining support from the Conservatives’ left flank.

Categories / Elections, International, Politics

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