July 23. 2024. 2:12

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The Brief – Farage’s UK election tactics means a far-right that is all talk but no trousers

Nigel Farage has been generating almost unprecedented levels of interest in the UK recently, which has injected his Reform UK party with new polling success. However, a lack of strategic focus from Euroscepticism’s ‘charismatic leader’ could undermine him as he rails against both of Britain’s major parties.

Polling on 15 June awarded Farage’s far-right Reform UK seven of the UK’s 650 parliamentary seats in the 4 July General Election. This is a sharp increase from their lone MP, Lee Ashfield, who defected from the Conservatives in March 2024.

Seven out of 650 seats is however a tiny 1.08% of the parliament, and the amount of popular support Farage has garnered is significantly higher than this.

YouGov polling from 13 June had Reform at 19% of the popular vote, putting them in second place behind only the Labour Party, and one percentage point ahead of the Conservatives.

If seats were awarded proportionally in the UK, Farage would head to Westminster with 122-and-a-half colleagues in tow and sit directly across the benches from Labour’s Keir Starmer as leader of the opposition, a line of messaging he has embraced.

The quirky British electoral system

The reason for the disparity between the popular vote and seats awarded is Britain’s infamous First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) voting system. In each of the 650 constituencies, the candidate with the most votes becomes MP.

This favours candidates running against a divided opposition, and it also means a party’s voter base needs some geographic contiguity in order to translate votes into seats.

FPTP has historically most favoured the Conservatives, who could often rely on Labour and the Liberal Democrats to bring each other down enough to ‘let in’ the Conservative candidate.

This is exactly the risk in a constituency like Ely & East Cambridgeshire, which has the three parties operating within two percentage points of each other, according to tactical voting initiative GetVoting.org.

Tactical voting, in simple terms, usually meant that the LibDems and Labour encourage voters to support the stronger candidate from one of the two parties in a given constituency, to avoid fragmentation that would give the seat to the Conservatives.

The same dynamic, but on the Conservative side, is also on display in Farage’s target constituency of Clacton, where Reform and the Conservatives total just shy of 60% of the popular vote, but are instead split almost equally and in a close race with Labour.

Clacton polling on GetVoting.org

Vote Reform, get Labour, or is it get Tory now?

Conservatives have warned that Farage’s fight to become the main opposition party will lead to Labour MPs being elected. However, Reform attacking Labour could have the reverse approach, something that looks like it is beginning to unfold.

On Monday (17 June), Reform launched their manifesto from Merthyr Tydfil in the south of Wales, a constituency with a Labour MP ever since it was formed in 1983.

The Reform manifesto mentions the Conservatives only once more than it does Labour (5:4), and the five priorities fall evenly across Labour and Conservative talking points. The day after the launch, Farage crowed on X about Reform’s potential to take seats from Labour.

If Farage’s attacks on Labour succeed, a constituency like North West Cambridgeshire could swing back from Labour to Conservative, who are only two percentage points apart.

Reform UK has no chance in this constituency, however, polling at only 10%, so the end result is a reduction of the Labour majority, but also of Farage’s chance to be able to claim second place.

If, however, his strategy is simply to generate notoriety and headlines, then this piece is further proof of success, even as it leaves the far-right voiceless in Westminster.

The Roundup

France’s financial markets lost further ground on Wednesday after the European Commission announced it intends to open an excessive deficit procedure (EDP) over the national budget, exacerbating fears that the ongoing political reshuffling may compound the country’s economic headwinds.

The French far right, united behind the Rassemblement National (RN), has made the carve-up and sale of public broadcasting one of its priorities, although the details of the sale remain unknown.

The question of how to support the Ukrainian agrifood sector amid Russia’s war remains unanswered after last week’s Ukraine Recovery Conference, the president of the Ukrainian Agribusiness Club (UCAB) told Euractiv in an interview.

All three blocs running in French parliamentary elections are promising rebates on energy bills, with most of the envisaged measures compatible with European law but subject to certain conditions.

France is lagging behind in the production of medicines, the association of French pharmaceutical companies, Leem, warned in a new barometer published on Tuesday.

The bilateral military agreement between the USA and Sweden has been adopted by the majority of the Swedish Parliament, despite the concerns of the ecologist and far-left opposition about the transfer of nuclear weapons to Swedish soil.

Backstage talks over the EU top jobs continue after an informal summit earlier this week did not seal a preliminary deal, with the centre-right raising additional questions over the Socialist pick, ex-PM Antonio Costa.

For more policy news, don’t miss this week’s Green Brief and the Health Brief.

Look out for…

  • Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni participates in 12th Annual Meeting of European Stability Mechanism in Luxembourg on Thursday.
  • Commission Vice President Vĕra Jourová speaks at European Data Protection Summit on Thursday.
  • Eurogroup meeting on Thursday.
  • Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (Social policy) on Thursday.

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