Why Faragist politics are doomed to fail in Wales
There is an old saying about buses that goes “you wait ages for one, and then three turn up at once”. That might need updating for Welsh politics following the launch of the Reform Party. It joins UKIP and Abolish the Assembly as staunch opponents of devolution.
Reform’s leader, Nigel Farage, says the party will campaign primarily against lockdown measures. This distinguishes the latest vehicle for his ego from the other abolitionist parties, who have no policy platform to speak of other than getting rid of the Senedd.
The arguments for parties like Reform usually stress the electoral space in Welsh politics for a socially right-wing party with left-leaning economic instincts. Proponents of this view claim that the Conservatives are still too tainted by the legacy of the 1980s to win over socially conservative voters in areas like the South Wales Valleys.
With support for independence rising and growing scepticism towards the union amongst some parts of Welsh Labour, they contend that there is a segment of the unionist electorate that is up for grabs.
The electoral case against a new party is just as strong, though. For a start, the Additional Member System (AMS) used to elect MSs disadvantages parties with narrow pockets of support – especially when competing against ideologically similar rivals.
Moreover, as opposition to lockdown and devolution have a significant ideological overlap, Farage’s Reform Party faces duels with the Welsh Conservatives and Abolish in rural Mid and West Wales, as well as battles with Labour in more urban areas.
Abolish have eked out the 7% needed to elect a handful of regional MS’ in today’s YouGov poll, but have done during the week where devolution has probably split opinion more than at any time in its history, and at the Conservatives’ expense in terms of seats.
Throwing Reform into the mix as well might just split the vote further and deny any of them representation.
Reform faces other issues around the values gap between the party’s leadership and potential voter base. Those who voted for its Brexit Party predecessor and UKIP before that typically support more redistributive taxation are against the privatisation of public services.
The gulf between their economic preferences and those of Thatcherites like Nathan Gill is stark. As the implosion of UKIP in Wales over the past four years suggests, an anti-lockdown party will collapse once its raison d’être is gone.
Alongside this is the question of whether Reform will be able to attract defections from any MSs between now and next April. Given the number of defections already from anti-devolution MSs opposed to lockdown, it seems highly unlikely there will be any more (although with Mark Reckless, nothing is ever off the table).
The irony here is that despite UKIP, Abolish, and the Reform Party each purporting to represent an allegedly “voiceless” demographic, there is an abundance of anti-devolution parties hostile to lockdown. Has-been English politicians are almost falling over themselves to establish them.
In the meantime, defenders of Welsh democracy will simply have to endure the devolution-bashing and lockdown hostility. Opinion polling, however, suggests that the parties championing these causes will not be around in the Senedd for too much longer.