What Farage's Return Means for the Campaign

 

 

 

3rd June 2024

Nigel Farage’s double-whammy announcement this afternoon – that he will lead Reform UK into the General Election and that he will stand as a candidate himself in Clacton – is exactly what Rishi Sunak does not need.

After Farage declared (eleven days ago) that he would not stand in the election on July 4th, we asked the public what they thought of his decision. Half (50%) of our sample said they thought it was the right choice, about twice as many as thought it was the wrong one (26%). This verdict was replicated across political groups – with one exception. Among those who intend to vote for Reform in the upcoming election, 70% said it was the wrong choice. When Farage announced his change of heart today, he said it was because he has heard from many of his supporters that they want him to stand. On the basis of this evidence, that’s true.

It is clear that Farage remains an influential figure in British politics. Indeed, among a certain subset of the electorate, there may be nobody else who holds the same sway. In a poll from March of this year for Helm Partners, we found that 71% of Reform supporters would be more likely to vote for the Conservative Party if it was endorsed by Farage. Well, the opposite has happened. Instead of campaigning for the Conservatives, Farage will be competing against them. This makes it much trickier for Rishi Sunak to win back voters who have drifted from the Conservatives to Reform.

The trouble for Sunak is exacerbated by the fact that much of his campaign strategy to date has targeted Reform supporters. The Rwanda plan, the “triple lock plus”, and national service are all policies tailor-made to appeal to these voters, even as they risk alienating others. This strategy makes sense if (as Sunak presumably has judged to be case) Reform supporters are more easily winnable for the Conservatives than other voters. But with Farage at the helm, it will not be straightforward to squeeze the support for Reform – especially in light of the evidence that he continues to command significant loyalty among these voters.

This complicates matters for Sunak. It is too late to pivot towards targeting a different cross-section of the electorate, which means he now must compete with Nigel Farage for the support of the same voters. That is not a position any British politician would envy.

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Matthew PriceAuthor: Matthew Price