Little considered in British politics, the Canadian rightwinger Manning is the proto-Farage, the Betamax to his VHS, version 1.0, and the parallels are stark. A longtime party member, Manning grew frustrated with the Progressive Conservative party of Canada (PCP) and led a breakaway rump in 1987 to establish the socially conservative Reform party of Canada. It was strongly affiliated with the Christian right, and eventually rose to prominence as a populist party, strongly advocating retrenchment of the state, anti-LGBT values and fiscal conservatism.
'Manning is the proto-Farage, the Betamax to his VHS, version 1.0, and the parallels are stark.'
Manning’s new party acted as a drag on the PCP, pulling it further to the right. Reform capitalised on the PCP’s 1993 collapse, becoming the main opposition party between 1997 and 2000. To secure the fortunes of the right, the two parties eventually merged in 2003, creating the Conservative party of Canada we know today. Manning was always more at home with the traditional Tories, and now, with assimilation complete, he was finally able to take his place as the leader of mainstream Canadian conservatism, having moved it a good few notches to the right.
When Stephen Harper, one of Manning’s Reform acolytes, was swept to power three years later as Conservative leader, Canada withdrew from the Kyoto protocol, helping to cement climate scepticism in one of the world’s largest, and most forested, countries. His party was then embroiled in a voter-suppression scandal, involving automated calls reportedly misleading voters on where they could vote.
If this sounds awfully familiar, it’s because in 1992, Farage quit the UK Conservative party to form his own populist party – espousing many ideas similar to Manning’s, but with a heavy focus on Euroscepticism. Two decades later, David Cameron promised a referendum, went on to lose it, and his party began to mould itself in Farage’s image; the rest is history. The Conservatives have now already implemented voter suppression with the introduction of voter ID to tackle nonexistent electoral fraud, and they plan to make climate action a key battleground for the next election.
'If Farage believes that Rishi Sunak’s party now finally resembles a sufficiently reactionary, nationalistic and populist home, he will undoubtedly fold back in.'
The echoes with Farage’s own Ukip, Brexit and (maybe not coincidentally named) Reform UK parties couldn’t be louder and, with the UK Tories potentially on the verge of their own collapse, the echoes of history are notable too. If Farage believes that Rishi Sunak’s party now finally resembles a sufficiently reactionary, nationalistic and populist home, he will undoubtedly fold back in. Even Tom Tugendhat would welcome him.
And with it, Farage could bring a rump of support that could breathe life back into Sunak’s asthmatic electoral prospects – not necessarily enough to deliver another Conservative government, but potentially enough to deny Keir Starmer an overall majority.
Year after year, Best for Britain’s modelling of the polls consistently shows that when the right forms a regressive alliance – where Ukip, the Brexit party or Reform UK stand aside to give the Tories a free run – and the progressive parties don’t respond in kind, the left is in trouble. Richard Tice is leader of Reform UK but many would say in name only: Farage remains the sole “person of significant control” on Reform UK Limited’s records at Companies House, not Tice.
'Both Manning and Farage demonstrate how our current “winner takes all” system can be used by the far right to spook moderate conservatives into normalising fringe views'
Both Manning and Farage demonstrate how our current “winner takes all” system can be used by the far right to spook moderate conservatives into normalising fringe views – just take a look at the Tory conference this week for details. If Labour wins the next election, it should take a look at the last 70 years of UK politics, 46 of which have had Conservative governments elected on a minority of votes, and weigh up if a system of proportional representation (PR) may not serve both them and the country better. This could ensure everyone’s vote counts equally and extreme views could not win total control by hijacking mainstream parties.
Populism is the poison; PR and other deep democratic reforms are the antidote. For now, tactical voting will be essential to ensure that, in the short term at least, Farage’s new friends are not given another five years.