Could new right-wing challenger parties disrupt British politics?

Dominic Cummings and Matt Goodwin are both launching new parties that claim to listen to the people, not the Westminster bubble. But can they actually win any seats?

May 13, 2024
Could Dominic Cummings’s Startup Party win votes? Image: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo
Could Dominic Cummings’s Startup Party win votes? Image: PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

People are tired of Westminster. The two-party dominance, fostered by the restrictive first-past-the-post system, stifles genuine choice and innovation. Labour and the Tories grapple for Number 10, coalescing around the same centrist groupthink. 

So voter apathy rises. Turnout in the UK has dropped since the 1990s, recovering only slightly at the last two elections. Experts blame a lack of faith in politicians’ motives and their abilities, citing the expenses scandal of 2009-10, Brexit and Partygate.

Pollsters agree that voters are crying out for something new. People crave a political landscape that listens to grassroots voices, and politicians who place public interest above partisan gamesmanship. This sentiment has given rise to the emergence of new political contenders.

Last week, Dominic Cummings gave his first newspaper interview since leaving Number 10, where he introduced his prospective “Startup Party”. Cummings had previously said that he wants a party focused on reducing immigration, closing tax loopholes for “the 1 per cent”, investing in public services and reforming the civil service. The party would, he told the newspaper, be “ruthlessly focused on the voters not on Westminster and the old media”.

Similarly, right-wing academic Matt Goodwin has hinted about launching his own party, tapping into the growing discontent around mainstream politics. Goodwin, who is socially conservative, said: “People are utterly sick of the big parties and desperately looking for an alternative. I want to allow the people, themselves, to provide that alternative.”

It is undoubtedly true that disenchanted voters are prepared to vote for disruptors on both the right and the left. The Green party hailed record-breaking successes at the local elections, boosting its councillor total to 812. Meanwhile the low-immigration, low-taxation Reform UK party received 11 per cent of the vote in wards where it stood candidates.

But while disruptors may nibble away at the two main parties’ votes, their prospects of winning seats at a general election are minimal. Should the Greens achieve their best-case scenario and win a handful of seats, Labour is still on track for a sweeping majority. In the Blackpool South byelection, Reform narrowly missed out on second place to the Tories, despite vociferous campaigning. The party is not making the necessary gains to win an entire constituency and is underperforming when compared to similar tests by Ukip in previous parliaments. 

Could new parties from Cummings and Goodwin change the landscape? From what we know so far, they are likely to be fairly similar to Reform on social issues such as immigration and crime. Cummings’s thin proposals, particularly on tax and public sector investment, are, however, distinctly more economically progressive than those of Reform.

This could—in theory—gather more support. Despite numerous Conservative administrations talking up tax cuts, Brits tend to be more on the statist side. Rishi Sunak’s recent national insurance cuts did little to reverse his party’s approval ratings, and members of the public consistently say they don’t want to see public spending slashed in the name of tax cuts. Reform’s distinctly low taxation approach has left the party struggling to pick off the Labour voters it needs for substantial gains. If a challenger party took a friendlier approach to state spending and reforming the tax system, there could be a clearer path to Labour seats. 

The success of these parties is not just about policies, but people too. Many in the Conservative party tout the potential return of Nigel Farage to frontline politics as a Reform UK candidate as a disaster for the Tories. As a high-profile campaigner with grassroots support, Farage could raise the party’s profile considerably amongst target voters. 

For Cummings and Goodwin, the picture is quite different. Cummings is well-known but divisive. He is synonymous with the chaos and scandal of the Covid years, including Partygate and his trip to Barnard Castle—events that eroded trust with voters. Though some may appreciate his “move fast and break things” outlook, there are also many who will find it off-putting. 

Goodwin, on the other hand, lacks the household recognition of Cummings. While this could afford him the chance to craft a compelling personal brand, it would take years of profile-building and a leap of faith from donors. 

Nothing in politics is impossible. With the right combination of factors—a galvanising leader, radical, ideas that appeal to both the right and the left—there could be space for a challenger party to tap into the growing sentiment of disillusionment. 

But as yet, neither Cummings nor Goodwin have fleshed out their ideas. If and when they do, they must find financial backing and will be forced to spend years building their party’s profile. Until either can offer more than just sentiment, their interventions remain little more than noise.