Reform UK: Populist camouflage for unbridled capitalism

26 June 2024

By Jeremy Dewar

Nigel Farage’s Reform UK is running neck and neck with, or slightly ahead of the Conservative Party with a week to go before election day. The party is on course to win 19% of the vote, higher than the 15% UKIP secured in 2015.

Its self-appointed leader is basking in the full glare of ‘respectful’ radio interviews, televised debates and mainstream newspaper quotes, which treat him as ‘a contender’. Below the radar Reform’s social media output is generating large audiences, especially among the youth.

But behind the glare of publicity there lurks a plan to rehabilitate right wing, libertarian capitalism by scapegoating migrants, ‘foreigners’, the LGBT+ community and environmentalists for British imperialism’s long decline on the world stage. Farage is quite open about how he can achieve this:

‘The Right of politics needs to come together after the election – the proper Right, not the liberal wets… We need to come together after this election for the sake of the country, we really do.’

By winning a few seats (his own in particular) and reducing the Conservatives to a parliamentary rump, he hopes to present himself to the Tory faithful as a Boris Johnson or even Donald Trump figure, who can challenge Labour in the next election.

Contract without obligations

It would be easy on this basis to dismiss Reform’s policy offer, called a ‘contract’ because ‘the word “manifesto” is associated with lies’ according to Farage, as mere bluff, because it is a contract, as he openly acknowledges, he will never have to sign. However, Reform’s policies are important because they both outline how he thinks a right wing conservatism should be developed and how they could be presented in a populist, vote-winning manner.

Reform’s ‘election communication’ leaflet claims this is ‘the immigration election’, despite the issue falling to third or fourth among voters’ main concerns, behind the NHS and the cost of living crises. It threatens to ‘freeze non-essential immigration’, allowing only doctors and other public service professionals in, and to ‘stop the boats’ by leaving the European Court of Human Rights and (illegally) turning the boats ‘back to France’.

This, they claim, will magically reduce demands on housing and social services, which would receive no plans for expansion but, rather, further cuts.

The racism that motivates these policies lurks in every corner of the document, from barring immigrants from accessing services for five years (during which they pay full taxes) to deporting dual nationality citizens (i.e. second or third generation migrants) after serving custodial sentences and halving the already meagre foreign aid budget. Companies that employ migrant labour will be penalised.

Other targets of this bigots’ party include the LGBT+ community (‘“woke” ideology has captured our public institutions [with] transgender indoctrination’), environmentalists (‘Scrap energy levies and Net Zero’) and benefit claimants (‘find employment within 4 months or accept a job after 2 offers. Otherwise, benefits are withdrawn’).

Meanwhile capitalists will enjoy a boon. Corporation tax will fall rapidly to 15%. ‘Red tape’, otherwise known as workers’, consumers’ and environmental protection laws, will be binned. Private health companies will be invited to profit from (though far from resolve) the NHS crisis. And there’s even a nationalist twist her, as ‘foreign multinationals’ will be diminished, as all public institutions are obliged to ‘buy British’.

Nod to far right

Whether or not Farage himself has retained any of his youthful fascist convictions, he certainly knows how to benefit from bringing figures more openly to the right of him into the mainstream.

The vile misogynist and alleged rapist Andrew Tate is heralded as an ‘important voice’ for otherwise unconfident boys. The fascist islamophobe Tommy Robinson has endorsed Reform’s election campaign and plans to take his racist mob onto the streets on 27 July ‘to take over London’.

Even Farage’s denunciation of Nato’s eastward expansion is merely cover for Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian rule and military expansionism. Far from decrying the West’s new cold war strategy, Reform would boost military spending up to 2.5%, then 3% of GDP.

Like his friend Trump, Farage envisages the future world being divided among bellicose dictators who can whip up nationalist fervour at home, while super-exploiting the Global South. The living standards, let alone moral fabric, of ‘British workers’ would undoubtedly be sacrificed on this alter of imperialist profit.

Where does this all leave us? First it is essential to expose Reform in our schools and universities, in our workplaces and communities. It is the plaything of a billionaire, posing as someone standing up for ‘the poor guy’. If we can puncture his populist bubble before the election and prevent them getting a single MP, good; but we need to continue the fight after 4 July.

But secondly we also need to stop a new right populist/far right political formation being born in the aftermath. This could include the right wing, probably majority of the Tories, Reform UK and representatives of the far right, like Robinson. All out to defend Trans Pride on 27 July.

Part of that struggle has to be to force the Labour government to deliver real working class reforms. Fascism and far right parties thrive from the betrayals of reformism. If Starmer and Reeves are allowed to preside over crumbling services, increased poverty and reactionary wars, then it is more likely that the right will rise from the ashes of this election, more dangerous than before. The strategy of Labour and the union leaders to protect profits and the global interests of British imperialism, taking up some of the right’s tropes, like scapegoating migrants, will not stop the right but give them oxygen.

But anti-fascism can never be a solely or even mainly a negative strategy. We have to provide real hope to those who have been so chewed up by the wheel of capitalism that they consider voting Reform, even in ‘protest’.

That hope can only be truly expressed by a revolutionary party. In the coming months and years, we will have to make real strides forward in building such a party, here and internationally, if the rising tide of the right, seen not just here but in the US and across the EU, is to be halted.

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