How worried should the Conservatives be about new polling which suggests that up to a quarter of voters would consider supporting a new party led by Nigel Farage?
According to the Daily Telegraph: “A new poll shows that 12 per cent of the public would be very interested in backing a new venture if it were launched next year, while 16 per cent would be quite interested.”
Meanwhile one poll recently showed Reform UK, a potential Faragist vehicle which already exists, getting eight per cent, although that is quite a long way from a sustained pattern.
But then, a right-wing challenger party wouldn’t necessarily need to get anything like eight per cent of the vote to do huge damage to the Tories. Any serious threat could not just tip the balance for Labour or the Liberal Democrats in key races on election night, but would also restrict Rishi Sunak’s room for political manoeuvre beforehand, making it harder for him to shore up the Blue Wall and the Conservatives’ liberal flank.
At the outer edges of possibility lurks the spectre of the Canadian general election of 1994, when the rise of the Reform Party (on top of sundry accumulated woes) saw the once-dominant Progressive Conservatives plunge from 156 seats to two; Kim Campbell, the incumbent prime minister, lost her seat.
That’s certainly the Faragist fantasy. But to pull off such a heist, you need to be in the right political place – and it’s far from obvious that the established dissidents on the British right are anywhere near it.
Even during the successful insurgency that delivered Brexit, there was a gulf between the movement’s intellectual and organisational leadership and its support base in the country.
Subsequent years of Conservative government have done little to bridge it; whilst Boris Johnson grasped the nature of the problem with his gestures towards a higher-spending Toryism, he lacked the discipline to deliver on it. It seems unlikely that Jeremy Hunt, likely gearing up to plunder the capital investment budget to protection pensions, will do much to win hearts in the Red Wall via Austerity 2.0.
Combine that with the consistent failure to get a grip on Channel crossings, policing, and other sundry Home Office failures, and it does look like there is space on the right for a party prepared to go hard on law and order, border security, and a Red Wall-friendly approach to public spending and investment.
Happily for the Tories, there is no sign of such a party. As this report of a recent political meeting nicely illustrates, the established leaders of the dissident right (if that isn’t a contradiction in terms) are out of step with the new mood. Richard Tice’s Reform UK offers an ill-judged mix of warmed-over Thatcherism and self-serving, Lib Dem-style constitutional reform talk. Farage is much better at playing to the gallery, but his instincts are much the same.
And so the space identified by the great sage, Jeremy Driver, as “love our NHS; hang the paedos” will remain vacant, for now. If Sunak and Hunt can’t somehow turn the Conservatives’ fortunes around over the next year or two, the Party may well have cause to be extremely thankful for that at the next election.