Are Reform UK ducking a big test by failing to properly contest local elections? - Analysis by Jack Walters

Are Reform UK ducking a big test by failing to properly contest local elections? - Analysis by Jack Walters

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Jack Walters

By Jack Walters

Published: 12/04/2024

- 20:00

The populist party will contest just 323 out of the 2,655 wards on May 2

Reform UK is edging closer and closer to leaving its mark on British politics

The populist party, born out of the embers of the rather successful Brexit Party and spiritually the descendant of Ukip, is polling around 14 per cent of the vote.

Richard Tice is currently marginally ahead of Ukip’s 2015 General Election performance, with the potential return of Nigel Farage providing ammunition for Reform UK to outflank and overtake Rishi Sunak’s Tories.

However, when it comes to recent electoral performances, Reform UK is failing to break Britain’s longstanding two-party system.

Richard Tice's decision not to stand candidates across England and Wales has received criticism

Richard Tice's decision not to stand candidates across England and Wales has received criticism


A huge test should have been pencilled in on May 2, with a parliamentary by-election, a series of local election contests and numerous mayoral bouts springing up across England and Wales.

Despite the opportunity to land a nationwide blow, similar to those managed by Ukip at a local and European level, Reform UK has announced it is fielding just 323 candidates across 2,655.

The figure represents just 12 per cent of wards and falls well below the 1,646 candidates being put up by the Green Party.

Ukip previously elected 202 Councillors in 2015, just one year after returning 166 to the local level.

And Tory sources have now claimed Reform UK’s decision shows the populist party is “playing” games ahead of the general election.

But for all the politicking on the right of British politics, Reform UK is facing a huge difficult challenge; it doesn’t have the capacity.

It is pretty hard for any start-up political party to enlist thousands of budding activists to trek around the country, door-knocking in the rain and handing out leaflets.

Polling station

Polls open across England on May 2


It is also a challenge to convince supporters to put their heads above the parapet and stand in any public ballot.

A senior Reform UK source confirmed to GB News that the populist party is limited in its ability to contest the upcoming local elections.

“We will do what we can but it certainly isn’t our focus,” they said.

Reform UK will instead field a “glut” as the local elections remain a “secondary interest” to the populist party.

A spokesperson for the populist party added: “We are fielding hundreds of candidates across the country alongside a number of Mayoral candidates.”

“Reform UK’s priority is the upcoming General Election. As a new and emerging political force in the UK, we are prioritising our resources to break through the first past the post system.”

Concerns about Reform UK’s ability to coordinate a ground campaign were expressed earlier this year, with ex-Ukip MEP Tik Aker telling GB News the populist party does not have an “established local Government base”.

Richard TiceRichard TicePA

He added: “You need a massive ground game but this comes back to the councillors.”

Just 10 councillors currently take the Reform UK whip, with many coming as a result of defections.

The situation inevitably means Tice’s party will be unable to truly demonstrate its ability to challenge the Tories.

However, there is scope for psephologists to break down ward-by-ward results comparing Reform UK’s performance to Ukip’s.

Reform UK’s performance will suffer from an inability to garner significant amounts of airtime which it probably would have obtained by contesting the local elections at large.

The decision will also hinder the populist party’s capability to build momentum ahead of the general election.

The Blackpool South by-election, which is also being held on May 2 after ex-Tory MP Scott Benton was found to have been willing to pocket thousands from gambling companies, should see Mark Butcher rake in votes.

Ukip received 17.3 per cent of votes in 2015, with the seaside town decisively supporting withdrawal from the European Union.

Rishi SunakRishi Sunak is the current Prime Minister PA

However, outside of the Westminster by-election, mayoral contests are unlikely to prove too fruitful.

Even parliamentary by-elections have been a mixed bag for Reform UK.

Following a surge in nationwide support, the populist party transformed its fortunes for deposit losers to supplanting the Liberal Democrats as the third largest party in both Wellingborough and Kingswood.

Despite lauding the results as Reform UK posing an irrefutably destructive threat to the Tories, votes tallied suggested Tice is falling short of Farage’s standing in 2015.

Reform UK received 13 per cent in Wellingborough and 10.4 per cent in Kingswood, seats where Ukip picked up 19.6 per cent of ballots and 14.8 per cent of votes in 2015.

By-elections tend to prove fruitful ground for insurgent third parties, with Ukip well exceeding 2015 results in Clacton, Rochester & Strood, Newark and Heywood & Middleton.

However, JL Partners' co-founder James Johnson previously erred on the side of caution when it came to by-election results.

Speaking ahead of the double-whammy defeats for Sunak, Johnson told GB News: “A lot of voters that will be likely to vote Reform are the kind of people who don’t vote in by-elections but do vote in general elections.

“I’m not sure we should write them off too quickly but of all the by-elections we’ve had recently this is the one where you’d expect them to do a bit better.”

Tice is adamant Reform UK will stand candidates across all 632 seats in England, Wales and Scotland, shunning Farage’s decision not to challenge Conservative incumbents in 2019.

However, a series of blunders have seen a number of prospective parliamentary candidates chopped.

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