Nigel Farage and Reform were the Cleggmania of the 2024 campaign

by Atul Hatwal

Earthquake? What earthquake. Nigel Farage might be talking up the result Reform secured but the facts tell a different story.

In 2015, Nigel Farage’s Ukip secured 3.9 million votes, 13% of the total and 1 MP. In 2024, Nigel Farage’s Reform won 4.1 million votes, 14% of the total and 5 MPs.

Yes, 2024 was an improvement over 2015 for Farage and his party’s vote was better distributed but remember who they, and all of the other parties, were running against: a tired, divided government in its 14th year that had presided over a parliamentary session where, for the first time, the country was worse off at the end compared to the start. Nothing works, public services are on their knees and even Nigel Farage has said that this version of Brexit has been a disaster.

The real question to be asked is why didn’t they do much better?

Reform was averaging 17% in the polls at the end of the campaign and only 3% behind the Conservatives but in the final result, they were 10% behind the Conservatives. Unlike the other smaller parties, Reform had huge levels of media coverage. Analysis of the prominence of the party leaders in the media and on social media shows that over the course of the campaign, Nigel Farage was the most prominent of all of the party leaders, followed by Rishi Sunak and then Keir Starmer.

The combination of an overestimated vote share in polling with such high levels of media visibility, inflated a Reform bubble during the campaign which was only popped on election day when the electorate cast their actual votes. For context, the rag tag collection of Gaza independents secured the same number of MPs as Reform while the Greens won 4 seats, in both cases with just a fraction of the media coverage that Reform enjoyed.

The only analogue to the level of mismatch between media and commentator focus and final result was in 2010 with Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats. Back then there was a similar trajectory, with a media frenzy ignited by Clegg’s performance in the first debate comparable to when Farage announced he was standing in Clacton. This was followed by a poll boost which drove even more coverage and comment and further rises in the polls. The bubble inflated, only to be popped on election day when the Lib Dems increased their vote share, compared to the 2005 election, by a mighty 1% and actually lost 5 seats.

The 2024 Farage bubble not only skewed reporting during the election campaign, it is now distracting one of the key lessons following the result: the voters that the Tories most urgently need to win back are not Reform’s (not least because in a post-vote poll, only a third of them said that the Conservatives would be their second choice), they are the ex-Conservatives that switched to the Lib Dems to help Ed Davey secure 72 seats, a quite extraordinary result, with the bulk of seats across southern Conservative heartlands. Not that Labour or the Lib Dems will be complaining if the Tories lurch to the right, chasing a Farage mirage, leaving even more of the centre ground vacant.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Labour Uncut

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