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Id Foundation

Immigration at the heart of the forthcoming UK elections

Every Monday morning, you can listen the director of the Identity and Democracy Foundation on Ligne Droite, Radio Courtoisie’s morning show, followed by his column on our website. This week, we take a look at the forthcoming elections in the UK. The patriotic wave that hit the European Union in the last European elections could soon reach the UK in the general elections to be held on July 4, 8 months ahead of schedule.


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British politics


The situation in the UK has been very stable for almost a century. Two political parties dominate the political landscape: on the right, the Conservative Party, the British equivalent of the Republicans in France or the European People’s Party, and on the left, the Labour Party, affiliated to the Party of European Socialists. This high degree of political stability is due to the specific features of the British electoral system. It is a first-past-the-post election, meaning that in each constituency, the party that comes first wins the constituency, which encourages a “useful vote” mechanism. Indeed, if a right-wing party obtained 35% of the vote in a constituency, and two left-wing parties each obtained 30%, the right-wing candidate would be elected. Under these conditions, it’s very difficult for a new party to emerge, as voters fear that a dispersal of votes would give victory to the opposite camp. And it’s very difficult for a party to get elected, because even a party with 15% or 20% of the vote risks not coming first in any constituency and therefore not getting elected at all. Other parties do exist in the UK, but have little influence on public debate, such as the Liberal Democrat Party in the center or the Green Party. There are, however, local nationalist parties, notably in Scotland and Northern Ireland, which are successfully challenging the leadership of Labour and the Conservatives.


The Conservatives’ failure


The Conservatives have ruled the country since 2010, and in 2019 their new leader, Boris Johnson, had won the election by driving a populist line following the Brexit victory. Very popular, his more social and very firm stance on immigration and sovereignty had enabled him to win back a working-class electorate in the north of England historically loyal to Labour. But little by little, Prime Minister after Prime Minister, the Conservatives’ popularity waned until their rout in the local elections in May 2024. Faced with the Conservatives’ failure and his government’s unpopularity, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak took the gamble of calling early elections to try and outmaneuver his Labour opponents. The Conservatives’ unpopularity is largely due to the abandonment of Boris Johnson’s populist line. In the face of the Conservative establishment, Boris Johnson had succeeded in imposing his own line, combining a patriotic discourse (defending Brexit and fighting immigration) and a social discourse (defending public services, defending purchasing power) that contrasted with the usual very liberal Conservative discourse. His position within the Conservative party was not unlike that of Donald Trump in the United States. Nevertheless, Boris Johnson’s management of Covid had undermined his popularity, and Partygate, the revelation that various Conservative leaders had organized illegal parties during the Covid period and confirmed it, led to Johnson’s resignation.


Boris Johnson’s departure was accompanied by a collapse of the Conservatives in the polls. Part of the reason for the Conservatives’ decline is wear and tear. After 14 years at the helm of the UK, the Conservatives appear worn out to a population that wants change. But there is a deeper reason. Part of the population feels that the promises of the Brexit have been betrayed. Brexit supporters had campaigned on defending public services, particularly the NHS, the British health service, and on defending British identity, particularly in the face of immigration. Boris Johnson’s speech reflected these aspirations. However, his defeat led to a return to power of the Conservative establishment within the Party. This led to a shift away from the populist line and a return to a much more liberal discourse. This line was first taken by Liz Truss, who became Prime Minister after Boris Johnson, but only stayed in power for 49 days due to her extremely unpopular nature. Her successor, Rishi Sunak, continued with her liberal program, to which he added a strong criticism of immigration. However, this anti-immigration rhetoric has hardly been applied. As a result, not only has immigration increased under successive Conservative governments, but there has also been a shift from European immigration, particularly from Eastern Europe, to Commonwealth immigration, particularly from Pakistan. At the same time, the Conservative Party’s liberal turn has seen it lose the votes of northern workers, who have returned to the Labour Party. All these factors mean that, little by little, people are beginning to feel that the Conservatives have not been able to fulfill their post-Brexit hopes, even though Rishi Sunak has benefited from a certain economic recovery in recent months and has announced firmer anti-immigration measures.

The evolution of the Labour Party


At the same time, the Labour Party is undergoing significant change. Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour Party had followed an evolution quite similar to that of La France Insoumise in France, very left-wing on the economic front (Jeremy Corbyn is a self-proclaimed Marxist) and very communitarian, particularly with regard to Muslim immigrant populations. Like Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Jeremy Corbyn has been repeatedly accused of cultivating a form of anti-Semitism aimed at winning over the Muslim electorate. His failure in 2019 led to his resignation from the party leadership and a major shift in the party line. Labor’s new General Secretary, Keir Stermer, has abandoned much of his predecessor’s left-wing economic program in favor of a social-liberal center-left agenda. At the same time, he has seized on issues of security, immigration and the restoration of law and order. To win back working-class voters, Keir Stermer adopted a critical stance on immigration, influenced by Blue Labour, a patriotic left-wing think-tank within the Labour Party. The Labour Party is thus increasingly positioning itself as a centrist anti-immigration party. This strategy seems to be paying off, with the Labour Party well placed to lead the country in the next elections, although it should be noted that recent local elections have seen the emergence of communitarian and even Islamist candidates who have benefited from Labour’s refocusing. These candidates were elected on Green Party lists, as independents or within new parties, such as the Workers’ Party, which succeeded in getting its president, George Galloway, elected in a by-election by campaigning on support for Palestine in a constituency marked by immigration, and which takes on a discourse close to that of Jeremy Corbyn.

The return of Nigel Farage

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The Conservatives’ abandonment of populist rhetoric has created a political space that Nigel Farage’s Reform Party has seized upon. Originally a commodities broker and radio host, Nigel Farage is the sovereignist leader who led the victorious Brexit campaign in 2016. He then withdrew from political life after the Brexit victory considering that his mission, and therefore his political life, was over with the UK’s exit from the European Union. He did, however, return in 2019 for the European and then general elections to defend the Brexit in a context where the Conservative leadership did not seem capable of properly conducting the Brexit negotiations. When Boris Johnson became leader of the Conservative Party, defending a harder line on Brexit, he once again withdrew from political life. However, he eventually returned to lead his party, the Reform Party, due to the Conservatives’ failure. For months, he had been making statements critical of the Conservative government and expressing his desire to return to politics. Nigel Farage is very popular in the UK, particularly on the right. He is a very media-savvy personality, which enables him to maintain this somewhat star-like image in the UK: quite recently, he appeared on a reality TV show, similar to a Koh Lanta for celebrities.


For many, Nigel Farage embodies loyalty to the promises of the Brexit. His speeches criticize the Conservative government and seek to make it clear that the problems Britons may be experiencing are not linked to the Brexit but to Tory management. The Brexit allowed the British to get a grip on politics, to be masters in their own home again. After that, it’s up to the governors to lead the country in the right direction. Nigel Farage is standing for election on a patriotic, populist platform, not unlike that of the Rassemblement National in France or Identity and Democracy in Europe. The Reform Party is committed to breaking with the right/left divide. In particular, it has allied itself with the British Social Democratic Party, a small anti-immigration, anti-Woke left-wing party whose motto “Family, Community, Nation” stands in stark contrast to the classic left.


The Reform Party is seeking to replace the Conservative Party, whose defeat seems certain. The latest polls place it within a few points of its rivals. Nigel Farage’s comeback could have a real impact on British politics. He can tap into a popular electorate that had turned away from the Conservatives and returned to the Labour Party. On immigration issues, he is highly critical of the Conservatives’ migration policies. On this point, he meets the expectations of a section of the working-class and right-wing electorate. On the economy, however, things could be more complicated. Brexit supporters were hoping for a policy to defend public services and purchasing power. Nigel Farage is a libertarian whose liberal agenda is close to that of the Conservatives. However, a political space has opened up for him with the collapse of the Conservatives. Indeed, the Conservatives seem doomed to defeat, which could weaken the useful vote.

The July elections and their consequences


According to the polls, Labour is set to win these elections, not only in England, but also in Scotland, which would be a major victory for them, as Scotland has been dominated since 2015 by the independentists of the Scottish National Party. Nevertheless, Labour is likely to end up disappointing, as Keir Stermer’s promises to tackle immigration and insecurity are likely to meet with strong opposition from the Labour Party base, which remains attached to the classic left-wing discourse on the subject. A Labour failure would offer Nigel Farage a boulevard. In any case, it’s worth noting that questioning immigration seems to be becoming a common marker for most of the country’s political forces. Even in Scotland, where the Scottish National Party is traditionally center-left, things could change rapidly. The party’s rising star, Kate Forbes, stands out for her left-wing stance on economic issues, but her conservative stance on cultural issues. If Nigel Farage succeeds in his gamble, he could finally put an end to the two-party system that has dominated British politics until now and cause a shift from the left/right divide to a patriotic/globalist divide pitting his party against a centralizing Labour Party.

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