Nigel Farage is back and that means we have a problem.
The political world has been pretty distracted over the last week by events happening across the pond. So what would ordinarily make the top political headline in the UK, has been allowed to slip under the radar.
Nigel Farage has been busy over in the States campaigning on the side of the (now former) President Donald Trump, but he has also had a scheme brewing over here to meet the disquiet caused by the second wave of Covid-19.
Is Covid the new Brexit?
On 1 November, The Telegraph announced that Farage’s Brexit Party has submitted an application to change its name to Reform UK. The party, while keeping an eye on developments surrounding Brexit, would change its focus and become an anti-lockdown party; with the supreme aim of combatting ineffective coronavirus restrictions that have been imposed by the government.
Farage originally planned for the Brexit Party to transition to the Reform Party once the UK departed from the EU, with a focus on such issues as reforming the House of Lords. But the Covid-related lockdowns clearly have more gravitas, and so are now the issue at stake.
The rationale for lockdowns
At a first glance, the idea of ending the only strategy that seems to have had any effect on improving the illusive ‘R’ rate seems ludicrous. So let’s examine the science and political logic behind the idea.
Presently, any opposition to Johnson’s majority Conservative government has proved ineffective. Especially on the issues surrounding Coivd-19. Bills surrounding the new lockdown rules have been passed through the Commons with very little coordinated or meaningful opposition. A prime example of this is the passing of the bill to enforce a second short-term national lockdown, that came into force last Thursday. This was passed with effortless speed through the Commons, with only some 38 MPs rejecting the bill out of the 554 that voted.
Farage sees this as a new gap in the market. A need for a coordinated opposition to virus restrictions to hold the government to account. It is also important to note that 32 of the 38 MPs that voted down the measure were Conservative. These MPs forming Farage’s Reform Party will be of libertarian leaning; in support of that ancient idea of ‘freedom of the individual’. A concept which presupposes that people should be free to govern their lives as they see fit, and have autonomy over the most important decisions with minimal government interference.
Farage’s new project not only fills the void created by Covid concerning individual liberty, but also revitalises the Brexit Party who have declined virtually to the point of non-existence following the 2019 general election, when they failed to win any Westminster seats, and after Britain’s subsequent withdrawal from the European Union. It is expected that the party will be able to rebuild upon its existing supporter base if the name change is approved.
Farage also details in his Telegraph article that the party will appeal to those who have been most impacted by the restrictions, such as small business owners and the self-employed. On paper at least, there seems to be the potential voter base for the party to grow its membership anew after the Brexit party’s membership fell from around 115,000 registered supporters into the ‘tens of thousands’, as Farage put it.
The party’s argument is that the economic impact and the impact on people’s mental health resulting from lockdowns and aggressive pandemic measures, has been greater upon the nation than the effects from Covid deaths. This is a typical ‘Farage-style’ polarising view, but one that will likely find many supporters amongst the worst affected.
The ‘science’ behind the idea
There is some ‘scientific backing’ supporting the Reform Party’s agenda. If successful in their name change, the party will be the first and only mainstream one in Britain to adopt the Great Barrington Declaration.
This is a medical assessment signed by scientists in America, advocating a more risk-based approach to the pandemic. People who are more at risk of dying or becoming seriously ill from Covid-19 would be shielded and receive better government support. The rest of society would carry on as normal. It is important to note that the declaration makes no reference to so-called ‘long Covid’ that some young, fit and healthy individuals seem to have developed — which counters the argument of the assessment. The declaration also makes no mention of the most popular measures advocated by the government, such as keeping physical distance or wearing a face covering. The declaration is also largely US-based — in a country which, at the time of writing, has recorded 238,000 deaths from the virus.
To date, the declaration has 618,050 signatures from ‘concerned citizens’; 11,795 signatures from ‘medical &public health scientists’; and an additional 33,930 signatures from ‘medical practitioners’. Some of those signatures have been proven as forged, so we should take the numbers with a good pinch of salt but without ignoring the central call for a risk-based response to the pandemic.
Brexit provided British politics with a strong divisive theme. One that in the end was not really settled, but rather, wiped away with the Leave campaign presiding over Remain.
Are we going to see a divide on the same scale, only this time with Covid being the cause of fracturing? Probably not. But if the pandemic continues to rumble on and the death toll continues to rise, and if we lock down for a third time, then this presently minor disagreement over response measures may grow into something much bigger and play straight into Farage’s eager hands.