Reform UK: Who is the party biting at Tory heels in local elections?

Reform has so far failed to win a single council seat – but may have inflicted more ‘devastation’ on Tories if it had fielded more candidates

Andy Gregory
Friday 03 May 2024 22:03 BST
Lee Anderson clashes with Nick Robinson in fiery exchange over Nigel Farage standing for Reform

Rishi Sunak’s Conservative are on course for one of their worst local elections defeats, with polling experts suggesting they are on track to lose some 500 council seats.

While Labour are benefiting most, the Tories have also been troubled by the ascendancy of Reform UK, which – with 17 per cent of the vote – were just 117 ballots away from snatching second place in South Blackpool, where Sir Keir Starmer’s party inflicted a crushing by-election defeat on the Tories.

And despite so far failing to win a single council seat, the insurgent right-wing party also succeeded in pushing the Conservatives into third place in 16 town hall seats in Sunderland.

And polling guru Sir John Curtice said Reform UK could have done greater damage to the Conservative vote had it fielded more candidates in the local elections.

Noting that the Tory vote dropped “most heavily” in wards where Reform fielded a candidate, Sir John wrote in the Daily Telegraph: “The only silver lining for Tory HQ was that Reform only contested one in six of the wards where there was an election on Thursday. A full slate would have been even more devastating.”

How and when did Reform UK emerge?

The party was initially founded as the Brexit Party in 2018, with the backing of former Ukip leader Nigel Farage.

While it stormed to victory in the European elections of 2019, winning nearly a third of the vote while campaigning for a no-deal Brexit, it ultimately stood aside against Boris Johnson’s Conservatives in 2019’s general election, receiving just shy of 650,000 ballots – 2 per cent of the national vote.

Nigel Farage stood down in March 2021 (Good Morning Britain/ITV)

With Brexit progressing and the Covid pandemic in full swing, Mr Farage announced in November 2020 that he had applied to change the party’s name to Reform UK – and planned for the party to focus on electoral and constitutional issues, as well as opposing Covid lockdowns and reducing immigration.

Who is Reform’s leader and who are its candidates?

Shorty after the party’s rebrand, Mr Farage announced he was resigning as Reform’s leader and would be stepping back from frontline politics.

The party’s chair Richard Tice assumed the leadership in March 2021, with former North West England MEP David Bull taking the role of deputy leader.

Among the party’s more well-known candidates and members have been former Tory minister Ann Widdecombe, GB News host Michelle Dewberry, and former Loaded editor Martin Daubney.

Last June, the party announced a “mutual co-operation and support agreement” with Laurence Fox’s Reclaim Party to allow him to run in the Uxbridge by-election, in which the actor attracted 2.3 pe cet of the vote.

And Reform landed its first MP in March, following the defection of former Tory deputy chair Lee Anderson, who was suspended from the Conservative Party after making racist comments about London mayor Sadiq Khan.

What are Reform’s policies?

Sitting to the right of the Tories on immigration, Reform calls for “net zero” immigration and claims it would turn small boats back to France while leaving the European Convention on Human Rights.

It also pledges to make “major changes” to the “unelected cronyism of the House of Lords, the unaccountable civil service and the bloated BBC”.

Referring to “net zero” as “net stupid”, Reform says it wants to “use our own energy treasure under our feet” in a nod to fracking and coal mining, and to nationalise 50 per cent of key utility companies, with the other 50 per cent owned by British pension funds.

It has recently been campaigning for English flags to be hung by councils on St George’s Day.

Could Nigel Farage rejoin the party?

There has been speculation that Nigel Farage could return to frontline politics for the general election – but he is also courting advances from the right wing of the Tory party, which looks on course for a period of radical overhaul.

Asked on Friday if Mr Farage could return to Reform, Mr Tice said: “The more help Nigel feels able to give the better. He’s got a big decision to make... and of course the clock is ticking.”

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in