From the moment I started criticising the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis people have been urging me to start an anti-lockdown party. The idea would be to run candidates in the local elections in May, particularly in those areas that have been under almost permanent lock and key for the past six months, such as Leicester. They might not win, but they could bleed enough support from the Conservative candidates to make the government think twice about its ‘forever lockdown’ policy.
But I’ve resisted. For one thing, I don’t have the time. Running the Free Speech Union and posting daily updates to my Lockdown Sceptics blog, as well as trying to earn a living as a journalist, means I’m already working 14 hours a day. Caroline would divorce me if I took on anything else. Then there’s the Electoral Commission. I’ve seen the way it has gone after friends who campaigned for Leave in the EU referendum. Above all, there’s the sheer nastiness of politics. Starting a new party is like sticking a big target on your back inviting the most vicious, malignant people in the country to take a shot at you. That’s not much fun, particularly if you’ve got four kids at school.
So I take my hat off to Laurence Fox, who’s doing exactly what I’m too cowardly to do. The 42-year-old actor is starting a party called Reclaim that will stand up for liberty, particularly freedom of speech, and is unashamedly patriotic. It’s been described as the Ukip of the culture wars, but that’s not quite right, as Laurence voted for Remain and won’t be campaigning for less immigration. He’s less of a G&T-in-the-saloon-bar type, more an Aperol-Spritz-in-the-beach-bar man. If Nigel Farage is Terry Thomas, Laurence is David Niven.
There’s also something appealingly normal about him. He hasn’t been harbouring political ambitions for years, waiting for the right moment to strike. Rather, he’s been propelled into the front line by the government’s unwillingness to do anything about the takeover of the civil service, the police, the BBC, universities, schools, museums and galleries by the woke left. He reminds me of the Peter Finch character in Network, who leans out of his office window and screams: ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more.’
Laurence is in the process of registering Reclaim with the Electoral Commission and intends to contest some seats next May. Many people have pointed out that Britain’s first- past-the-post electoral system means new parties rarely get anywhere, but that is to ignore the inroads that proportional representation has made. Elections to England’s regional chambers, including the London Assembly, are based on a form of PR, as are elections to the devolved parliaments.
More importantly, Reclaim doesn’t have to win anywhere in order to make a difference. Ukip only managed to win a single parliamentary seat, yet it achieved its main political objective. All Laurence needs to do is persuade the Conservative party that if it doesn’t become more robust on culture war issues it will lose votes to him in Red Wall seats. Not enough for Reclaim to win, but enough for Labour to come up through the middle.
And Laurence’s initiative has already had a backbone-stiffening effect on No. 10, with its comms team frantically briefing out that Boris was planning to appoint Charles Moore to run the BBC and Paul Dacre to run Ofcom at the same time that the story broke about the new party. With his backbenchers growing restive, Boris is particularly vulnerable to the charge that he hasn’t done enough to protect Britain’s statues and monuments from marauding gangs of Black Lives Matter protestors or to defend Britain’s history from those who portray it as an unending litany of exploitation and oppression. If the new party starts creeping up in the polls, Boris will have to do something to shoot Reclaim’s Fox.
Of course, there are other things the Conservatives could do to spike Laurence’s guns. I had lunch with him on Monday and asked him whether he was prepared for the black ops teams Central Office has no doubt already dispatched to take him out. Fending off the wokerati on Twitter is one thing, but the Tory party’s character assassins are likely to be more deadly. He said he was ready to take on all-comers: ‘They can punch me in the face as often as they like, I’ll just get right back up again.’ I could almost hear the theme from The Dam Busters drifting across the table.
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