‘We’re coming for Labour’: Reform’s few seats conceal size of its threat

Shortly after 3.30am on Friday, as Nigel Farage was finally elected to Westminster at the eighth time of asking, the Reform UK leader stood to deliver a speech that was fully intended to interrupt Labour’s euphoric celebrations elsewhere.

Having played a large part in the implosion of Conservative support, Reform would now be targeting Labour voters, the new member for Clacton said. “We’re coming for Labour – be in no doubt about that.”

Vowing to build a “mass national movement” that could mount a “proper” general election challenge in 2029, Farage said: “This is just the first step of something that is going to stun all of you.”

This result was remarkable enough. Though the shocking initial exit poll prediction of 13 seats for the populist hard-right party did not, in the end, come to pass, its final tally of five seats still represents a big advance. Founded only in 2018 as the Brexit party, it had never previously won a Westminster seat at any election.

And if that headline figure remains small, it conceals a much more significant breadth of support in a wide range of seats, Conservative and Labour, right across the country. Nationally, Reform won more than 4m votes, over 600,000 more than the Liberal Democrats who returned 71 MPs, thanks in part to their sophisticated ground campaign and targeted tactical voting. The Green party won four parliamentary seats on under 2m votes, less than half the tally of Reform.

Inevitably, Farage told a press conference in Westminster on Friday, that meant Reform would be lobbying to abolish first past the post, an electoral system he said was “not fit for purpose – and we will campaign with anyone and everyone to change this electoral system”.

Drilling into the constituency results reveals the scale of the potential threat Reform could pose in future. The party came second in no fewer than 103 seats, of which 93 were claimed by Labour.

As Farage noted in his acceptance speech, this was achieved without a significant party infrastructure and with only four weeks of real momentum, after his personal decision to throw his hat into the ring turbocharged Reform’s campaign in early June.

‘This is going to stun all of you’: Nigel Farage elected MP for Clacton – video

That large latent vote means that to Keir Starmer’s government the insurgent righwingers could pose almost as great a threat as the badly wounded Conservative party that will form the official opposition.

Reform’s buoyant result will also lead to intense scrutiny of what comes next for the Tories, whose future relationship with Reform is likely to be determined by who its members elect as the next leader. The defeat of Penny Mordaunt, a key leadership contender from the moderate wing, boosts the chances of those on the party’s right, such as Kemi Badenoch or Suella Braverman, although they have taken very different approaches to the Reform threat.

Braverman has argued Farage “should be welcomed” into the Conservative party, while Badenoch dismissed him as an attention seeker, saying: “This is all a big show for him.”

Farage will be joined in parliament by Richard Tice, the wealthy property developer who has bankrolled Reform and was its leader until Farage elbowed him aside a month ago. He overturned a 25,000 Conservative majority to claim Boston and Skegness in Lincolnshire, previously a Tory stronghold.

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Elsewhere, Lee Anderson was returned to Ashfield, where he has been MP since 2019, albeit in different party incarnations. The outspoken politician was first elected as a Conservative, succeeding Labour’s Gloria De Piero, for whom he once served as office manager. He was made deputy chair of the party under Rishi Sunak, and the party backed him in August 2023 when he said asylum seekers unhappy with the Bibby Stockholm barge should “fuck off back to France”.

Anderson resigned from the government in January 2024 to vote against its Rwanda plan. The following month he had the Tory whip suspended for refusing to apologise for comments claiming “Islamists” had “got control” of the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, and sat as an independent before defecting to Reform. Before his election to parliament Anderson, a former coalminer, had been a Labour councillor.

Rupert Lowe, who won Great Yarmouth for Reform, is less well known, although as a former chair of Southampton FC he will be familiar at least to Sunak, who has supported the club since he was a child. Lowe is a former banker and businessman, who was chair of the club from 1996 to 2006 and again from 2008-09. He was previously an MEP for the Brexit party for the West Midlands constituency. He has pledged to donate his MP’s salary to a local charity each month. And there was a late win for a fifth Reform MP, James McMurdock, after a recount at South Basildon and East Thurrock. McMurdock is a former banker who grew up in the constituency and describes himself as “the opposite of a career politician”.

Reform’s campaign momentum was checked by accusations of racism by some candidates and activists, and the party’s press conference on Friday was delayed after a succession of protesters heckled Farage. He said a priority would be to “professionalise” Reform and remove “those few bad apples that have crept [in] … we will never have any of their type back in our organisation, you have my 100% promise on that”.

While Reform’s MPs were too few in number to be the official parliamentary opposition, he added: “Let me tell you something. We are going to be the opposition around the country.”

The Guardian

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