Sunday, May 5, 2013

Will UKIP do to The Tories what Reform did to The Tories?

UKIP Leader, Nigel Farage
In the 1993 Canadian General Election, the governing Progressive Conservative Party under Kim Campbell retained only 2 seats out of the 156 they held, and way down from their 169 seats in the previous election of 1988.  This represented one of the largest drops in seats for a governing party in any democratic country, anywhere in the world, in history.  In that election, the NDP was also decimated.

The main beneficiaries of this massive drop were of course the Liberals, who won a large majority and also the Reform Party under Preston Manning and the Bloc Québécois under Lucien Bouchard who took a large majority of the seats in Quebec.  Keep in mind that the Reform party took only 2% of the national vote in the previous election and only competed in seats in the west.  In 1993, Reform took 52 seats and the Bloc took 54 which was enough for them to form the official opposition.

What's most interesting here is that this emergence of the Reform party and the near destruction of the Progressive Conservative party eventually resulted in the two parties merging in 2003, under terms which many Progressive Conservatives felt was a Reform take-over.

Reform's policies were fiscally and socially conservative.  Their campaign slogan was "The West Wants In" and they ran a populist campaign attacking the Progressive Conservatives for their perceived focus on Central and Eastern Canada (especially their perceived pandering to Quebec and The Maritime Provinces).  They were in favour of a smaller government, reintroduction of capital punishment, end of subsidies for large corporations, increased military spending, anti-official bilingualism, anti-gay marriage and increased fire-arm liberties.

This scenario has more than a little in common with the current struggle over in the UK between the Conservative Party under David Cameron and the UK Independence Party under Nigel Farage.  Farage has been running a populist rebellion in traditionally conservative areas mainly in England.  They want to pull out of the Euro zone, run a smaller, more "libertarian" government and are in favour of lower immigration, lower taxes and are socially conservative.

Like Preston Manning in his then trademark blue-jeans, Farage often speaks to supporters in pubs, drinking a beer and sometimes holding a cigarette.

The affect of UKIP on the British Conservative Party is already apparent.  David Cameron announced recently that they will pass legislation to force a referendum on EU membership:  A key plank of UKIP.  

Manning Campaigning in 1993
To my eyes, it looks very much as though UKIP could very well do to Cameron's Conservatives what Reform did to Campbell's Progressive Conservatives.  If that were to occur, the main beneficiary would likely be Ed Miliband's Labour Party, just as Jean Chretien's Liberals benefited from vote splitting between the PC party and Reform.  This would be a fundamental shake-up of British politics which would have wide-scale implications for Europe and elsewhere.

For decades now, Canadian commentators have intermittently predicted that Canada's Liberals could go the way of Britain's Liberals who were replaced as the main party of the centre-left and left by Labour.  But now, it appears that the U.K will have to look to us for a vision of how their future might appear.

If you didn't like the Tories under Thatcher, you might really hate what comes next.


David Burnie said...

Interesting read. Not sure if UKIP will be quite as successful as Reform, but there certainly are parallels.

Craig S. Williamson said...


They did well in the council elections. Support for UKIP is growing, and the Libdems seem to be the party suffering most for it. I think a lot of it is going to come down to how well Cameron keeps things together.