England will re-enter lockdown at midnight on Thursday after Boris Johnson U-turned in the face of mounting cases of the novel coronavirus, his “middle way” ending as it was always going to: with a panicked transition to one of the two available destinations (a full lockdown or an uncontrolled outbreak).
Conservative MPs are restive for all manner of reasons. Some are annoyed at the inept political management – Downing Street attacked Keir Starmer for proposing a circuit-break lockdown, let the Welsh Conservatives lambast Mark Drakeford for his firebreak lockdown, before ending up with something that looks an awful lot like a circuit break: only later, with a higher peak in the number of cases baked in and with the potential for the lockdown to go on much longer than its advertised 2 December end date.
Others are worried about the costs of a lockdown – a second lockdown means a further extension in the economic support measures, which means a further increase in borrowing – while others oppose the harsh limitations on our freedoms that a mandatory lockdown involves.
And some are simply concerned about the electoral fallout. All three groups will be alarmed at the news that Nigel Farage is rebranding the Brexit Party as Reform UK, an anti-lockdown party.
The reality is that the electoral ground that Farage is working with is rather stonier than the Euroscepticism and hard-Brexitism he offered as leader of Ukip or the Brexit Party. The relative success of New Zealand’s ACT party shows that for third parties, there is some joy to be had in winning the votes of the anti-lockdown minority.
But thanks to Farage’s earlier success, we no longer have a UK-wide proportional election in the shape of the European elections, without which he would never have enjoyed the successes that he so badly needed in order to force the Tory party to change position.
Farage parties have never managed to do particularly well at local elections without the boost of European elections on the same day and they have never won a parliamentary seat without the benefit of defection.
Farageist parties have always done well at winning seats in Wales in particular – but Abolish, the anti-devolution party that has attracted the defections of some old Ukip hands, is already exploiting that ground.
So Farage may find, as so many artists have, that the third entry in the franchise does less well than the ones that came before.
But he will receive two important benefits: the first is that he will, surely, receive more than his fair share of coverage from the broadcasters at a time when we will all be spending more time indoors watching telly than we would otherwise hope.
The second is that Farage doesn’t need to succeed electorally to succeed politically. He just needs to spook enough Conservative MPs into thinking they will, and to provide a useful rhetorical device for other Tory MPs to advocate for the things they want to happen anyway.