Reform takeover: how the Conservative Party could fall into the clutches of Nigel Farage

What’s the difference between a merger, a takeover and a “reverse takeover”? Each term has been employed to describe the audacious efforts to reconstitute the British right after the general election on the 4th of July — and understand possible liaisons between the besieging populists of Reform UK and the besieged, defeat-bound Conservative Party. 

A “merger”, for one, would imply Reform and the Conservative Party intertwining agreeably after a period of negotiations — resulting in the formation of a new political entity. There is no set means by which Reform-Conservative fusion could arise — or an independent “mergers” body that would act as arbitrator (although the new party would presumably need to register with the electoral commission). But there is precedent: after the 1987 election, the Liberal Party and Social Democratic Party (SDP) merged following a period of electoral alliance. As in this case, a Tory-Reform coalescence — conducted according to assumed mutual advantage — would likely need some wider endorsement. Nigel Farage, of course, can act unilaterally as Reform UK Party Limited’s majority shareholder; but the Conservative membership would be called upon to assent.  

A takeover, meanwhile, suggests a hostile infiltration of one party at the expense of another — with overall control ultimately surrendered to the disrupting force. Donald Trump’s capture of the US Republican Party (2016- ), masterminded by strategist Steve Bannon, proceeded largely along these lines. Today, Trump’s MAGA (Make America Great Again) ascendancy is essentially unchallenged — and unchallengeable — in Republican politics.

A “reverse takeover” is a rather more complicated process, and is best explained as it relates to Canadian politics from 1993-2003. At the 1993 election, a mere five years after a climactic victory, the Canadian Progressive Conservative Party was virtually wiped out — reduced to a meagre two seats in parliament. Displaced by the insurgent Canadian Reform Party, which rode a populist wave of discontent to 52 seats, the Progressive Conservatives limped along before finally merging with their erstwhile adversary’s successor outfit. 

The result was a new mainstream political party — which retained the institutional apparatus of the Canadian Progressive Conservative Party, but boasted Reform’s hard populist edge. Accordingly, the window of acceptable political and economic policy shifted to the right; and Stephen Harper, the Conservative prime minister from 2006 to 2015, was first elected to the parliament in 1993 as a Reform representative.

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Nigel Farage, unsurprisingly, is a fan of the Canadian right’s shock trajectory from 1993-2003. He told ITV earlier this month: “[In the 1990s] Reform did a reverse takeover of the Conservative Party, rebranded it and Stephen Harper — who was elected as a Reform MP — became the Canadian prime minister for 10 years.”

Farage’s ambition would seem plain, therefore: he plans to ruthlessly hollow out the Conservative Party, hastening its demise, before offering himself and Reform to fill the resultant vacuum. Speaking to LBC earlier this week, Farage revealed his ambition to run as prime minister at the 2029 general election — a direct emulation of Harper’s rise to the top of Canadian politics.

Reform-Tory merger: the Conservative position 

Over recent months, as the Reform threat has amassed, senior Conservatives have spoken in favour of a process of accommodation in a bid to “unite the right”. Last week for instance, Suella Braverman said that the ex-UKIP leader should be “should be welcomed” into the Conservative Party. The former home secretary told The Times: “We need to, in the future, find some way to work together because there shouldn’t be big differences between us. 

“I would welcome Nigel into the Conservative Party. There’s not much difference really between him and many of the policies that we stand for.” 

The comments echo the sentiment of former cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg who, in mid May, called on his party to make a “big, open and comprehensive offer” to Reform. This included giving a place to “Nigel Farage in a Conservative government”, alongside Reform’s then-leader Richard Tice and deputy Ben Habib. Since the start of the election campaign, Rees-Mogg has restated this position — calling for a Reform-Tory “coalition.”

Former immigration minister Robert Jenrick, meanwhile, has said he would have “no problem” with Nigel Farage joining the Conservatives. 

These designs naturally fall short of a more comprehensive Reform-Tory “reverse takeover” envisioned by Farage. Braverman et al logically recognise that Reform — the smaller, less established party — has the most to gain from a right entente: and so they propose to simply assimilate Faragism within big “C” Conservatism. But this is a calculation that could change drastically over the coming weeks and months. 

When the Conservatives served in government, perhaps Farage might have considered the offer of a peerage and a high-profile Whitehall post — à la Lord Cameron. In opposition, however, Farage would be far less likely to settle for mere readmission to Tory ranks — the party he left voluntarily over 30 years ago. From his parliamentary perch as the likely Reform MP for Clacton, Farage can make his position plain: a true Pax Reforma requires a greater sacrifice. 

After the dust settles on the 5th of July, Farage’s willingness and ability to split the right-wing vote will have been proven beyond doubt. For the rump Conservative Party, the lingering danger will be that Farage, an ever-ruthless operator, could do this over and over again — at by-elections, local elections and general elections — depriving the Tories of any chance at recovery. 

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Moreover, with a “bridgehead” formed in parliament, Reform will have established itself as a genuinely credible receptacle for disenchanted traditional Tory voters, in a manner that its single-issue forebears — UKIP and the Brexit Party — could not. That is before you consider potential multiplier ramifications: such as further defections and media endorsements — developments that will further stymie the Conservatives’ attempts to regroup. Farage’s power, even if Reform collects a mere three MPs, is set to expand. 

Accordingly, as the Conservatives begin a protracted, bitter process of introspection, Farage will know exactly what buttons to press; the arch Tory tormentor will find no shortage of vulnerabilities to exploit. And with a leadership contest on the cards, the opportunities for Reform to sow chaos will proliferate. 

In fact, the very issue of a Reform-Conservative alliance will feature prominently in a post-election leadership contest. With individuals like Priti Patel, Braverman and Jenrick (assuming they keep their seats) competing for space on the right, competition could emerge over who can make the most comprehensive offer to Farage. As was widely noted at Conservative Party conference last year, the ex-UKIP leader is admired by a significant section of the Tory membership. A wannabe Conservative premier, in a bid to boost their ratings among the party rank and file, would be well-advised to associate with Farage. 

With Braverman, Patel and Jenrick in one corner — and Conservative moderates in the other, splits over how to approach Reform will form along ideological lines. After all, there is no shortage of Tory caucuses set up to reckon with this exact eventuality: groups, like Liz Truss’ Popular Conservatives, the New Conservatives and the Common Sense Group, which may proffer their own solutions to the Reform question. Truss, for instance, has already called for Farage to be admitted to the Tories. (Significantly, senior figures in the latter two factions, Danny Kruger and Sir John Hayes, are essentially guaranteed to keep their seats).

But arguably more compelling forces when it comes to Conservative attempts to answer the Reform question will be pragmatism — and fear. 

A key impetus behind any Reform-Conservative pact will be a collective recognition of the misery and futility that comes from a divided right-wing movement; and the illogic of two right-of-centre parties battling for second place under a First Past the Post (FPTP) system. (Will some Conservatives be forced to choose between Farage and FPTP?). 

For a number of Conservatives — those who hanker for a return to ministerial office — a Faustian/Faragian pact may simply be deemed preferable to a decades-long sojourn in the wilderness. An offer to Reform could be styled as a “containment” strategy, to prevent the Reform rot spreading and further corroding the Conservative voter base. In the end, a Reform “reverse takeover” could be ushered into existence under the guise of moderating Farage and mitigating the hard right’s wider influence.

In the days, weeks and months after the 4th of July — a combination of desperation and resigned acceptance will prove the most significant forces in shaping Conservative politics. In this way, just as Boris Johnson was elected Tory leader in 2019 at an apparent nadir in the party’s fortunes — in spite of MPs’ manifold misgivings, so too could an agreement with Reform be forged. (Tory opponents of a Faragist insurgency may soon find solace in the political podcast they co-host with an ex-Labour spinner). 

Indeed, there will be many rational objections to a Reform-Tory pact — but Conservative politics from the 5th July forth, in the wake of an electoral cataclysm, may not be an especially rational forum.

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This begs a further question: what will a meaningful resistance to a Reform-Conservative pact look like after the election? Who, for instance, would lead the fightback: David Cameron from the Lords or perhaps Tom Tugendhat in the commons? Business and trade secretary Kemi Badenoch is on record as opposing Farage’s readmission to the Conservatives — but will this position hold in a leadership race, which she is likely to contest, or if the party fails to fast recover? Ultimately, individuals who initially come out stridently against a Reform-Tory pact may find their position evolves as a result of internal pressure and the force of events. 

Alongside the opponents, of course, there will be those who dream not merely of survival flowing from a Reform deal — but eventual supremacy. A united right could prove a genuine electoral threat to Keir Starmer’s Labour Party, which looks set to compete with insurgent and oppositional forces on the British left at the 2029 general election. Ambitious Tories may well learn to view a Reform-Conservative pact as the most efficient, least bloody path back to power. 

Frustrating a Faragist siege

There are further considerations here, naturally, that could rouse opposition to a Reform-Tory merger. It won’t, after all, be Farage who reforges his politics in the aftermath of a merger — that would be incumbent on the Conservatives, as in the Canadian example. Will the Conservative Party voluntarily narrow its ideological appeal after the 4th of July — and reconcile with the ramifications for its electoral standing? 

Moreover, any attempt to neutralise/harness (depending on the pragmatic/ideological position) Nigel Farage, must too contend with his political baggage. According to JL Partners research, Farage’s net favourability sits at -20 points: sure, a Reform-Tory merger would “unite the right” in a system that rewards collaboration, but Faragism is not the electoral elixir the Conservative Party so desperately needs. 

However, perhaps the biggest obstacle — for both MPs and the Conservative membership — will be emotional. Would this new Reformed Conservative Party be the party of Thatcher, Churchill or Disraeli? Or would this new outfit simply be the party of Farage? A Reform-Tory fusion, forged in the fires of electoral adversity, does not make for an especially compelling story to tell supporters and voters — or indeed oneself. (As such, would a continuity Conservative Party, staking a rival claim to the Tories’ venerable lineage, form in the wake of a merger?)

But the ultimate risk for the Conservative Party in restyling itself as a Faragist force would be that it adopts the ex-UKIP leader’s foremost quality: his outsider status. Farage has always been at his most comfortable protesting and agitating. Governing isn’t really his thing. Is this a fate Conservative MPs — elected representatives of the UK’s “natural party of government” — are willing to countenance after the 4th of July?

Ultimately, a series of difficult dilemmas lay ahead for the rump Tory Party post-election; its foremost challenge — when it comes to Reform in particular — will be to confront them rationally and by differentiating between the self, party and national interests. 

But therein lies this article’s fundamental question: can a party in such dire straits do so?

As such, a Faragian “reverse takeover” of the Tories is not inevitable or even, at this stage, likely. But you cannot rule out a startled and desperate Conservative Party — instincts reconfigured by defeat and institutional memory lost in the electoral rupture — bringing it into being. 

Josh Self is Editor of, follow him on X/Twitter here. is the UK’s leading digital-only political website. Subscribe to our daily newsletter for all the latest election news and analysis.