Monday 11 March 2024

The Demise of Lee Anderson

You can't say Lee Anderson looked terribly thrilled as he announced his defection to Reform at a press conference on Monday morning. "All I want is my country back", he whinnied like a broken legged horse. But instead of taking a shot gun to him, his new backers are hoping another foray into grievance politics will boost the "party" into the big time. After all there are rumours that nine other Tory MPs are in defection talks. Of course there are.

Of Anderson, we can confidently say we're on the final page of the chapbook of his career. His performance at the press conference was begrudging and uncomfortable. There was zero enthusiasm, no personality, nor a frisson of charisma. The surliness in friendly interviews that have won him a handful of fans among the far right looked like barely syllabic chuntering in front of the TV cameras. Richard Tice gave every impression he was out taking his pet prole for walkies. The one thing that did provoke actual words was the question asking him whether he would call a by-election. After all, previous floor crossers to Nigel Farage's vehicle - namely Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless - had the decency and the political courage to call one each when they took up UKIP membership. And Anderson himself has signed an unsuccessful EDM making by-elections compulsory in the event of defections. This time however, he wanted to save time and expense because there's "going to be an election in May." True, soaraway tax give aways in the budget were made to butter up the electorate for a contest soon, but Rishi Sunak would have to call it this Friday if he wants the traditional second-week-in-May slot. Alas, there is a more prosaic explanation for our hero's reticence: Anderson is scared of losing his seat.

In the event of a by-election, Reform would do well to look to Rochdale. They might hope for a Galloway-style result, but in all likelihood Anderson's would share the fate of Simon Danczuk's. For one, the political dynamic is heading away from the radical right. It is a tide that is ebbing, not rolling in. Then there is no Anderson groundswell in Ashfield. He got in because he was the Conservative Party candidate on the back of the 2019 election's Brexit referendum rerun. He might severely erode the Tory vote, but like in so many other Tory seats, a win for Labour is the likeliest outcome, with a strong challenge from the local independents. Anderson knows this as well, and no amount of pretending that red wall seats voted Tory in 2019 because they're bigots will alter this arithmetic. Likewise come the general election, the seat will be between Labour and the independents. Anderson might save his deposit, but he'll have to get used to subsisting on his GB News presenter's salary. Until they have no use for him any more and he spends the next few years earning peanuts from the pantomime circuit of Britain First rallies.

Over the last couple of years, we've had occasion to discuss the rise of Anderson. His move from the right wing of Ashfield Labour Party to the right wing of the Tories was one of the smoothest defections in politics. And that's because the unsubtle racism of Anderson's person is an unwelcome reminder that Labourism's broad church has room for the small-minded and the backward in its congregation, the inescapable complement to an awful history it's rather proud of.

By ditching the Tories for Reform, Anderson has sealed his own demise and it won't be long before he becomes nothing more than an unpleasant memory. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for those who would come after him. They are there, encouraged and promoted within the bowels of the Labour Party, and when well remunerated if episodic opportunities arise in time, there will be one, two, many Lee Andersons more than happy to walk a mile in his scabby shoes.


Phil said...

the political dynamic is heading away from the radical right. It is a tide that is ebbing, not rolling in.

Have you looked at any opinion polls lately? Reform UK are polling solidly in low double figures, 1% or more clear of the Lib Dems. The fact that they're achieving this exclusively by cannibalising the - already low - Tory vote is secondary. They're in the process of establishing themselves as Britain's third party, a permanent influence on - if not a replacement for - whatever's left of the Tory Party after the next election. The Starmerites are complacent about this, as it's propping up Labour's lead over the Tories (which would otherwise be in single figures), but we shouldn't be.

Rodney said...

While in no way a surprise it's still important to note that most coverage (this outlet a happy exception) of 30p Lee's defection to Reform has overlooked his Islamophobia and focused on the problems this poses for the Tories. A reminder that the hierarchy of racism is always in operation in this country.

Re: Phil's comment, it does seem overly optimistic to assume the far right are going to fade away in the UK when they're doing so well everywhere else. Especially when over the last decade it has been made very clear a move to the left will not be tolerated in British party politics. The only "legitimate" opposition to Starmer's regime will be from the right.

That doesn't mean their rise is inevitable or that "illegitimate" left wing movements won't succeed but the far right have too many advantages and too much elite support to dismiss out of hand.

David said...

Was in Kirkby today, my home town God help me.
No sign of Lee today.
I was hoping to shake his hand and tell him what a great thing he had done - for Labour.

Anonymous said...


Firstly, as our esteemed host says Reform still aren't matching their poll ratings in actual elections. But also - claiming that Labour's lead would be "single figures" but for them is incredibly superficial and reductionist. Those polls also consistently say that fewer than half of their voters would go Tory if the Reform option wasn't there. Yes they are a potential threat if (when?) Starmer disappoints in government, but let's have some proper analysis shall we.

Phil said...

We're talking about an apparent shift of 10% of voters - several million people - from the Tories to the right-of-Tory option, in the space of eighteen months, in a period with no election on the horizon (the total Tory+Reform voting intention has remained level, and the Labour VI has gone down slightly). I don't know exactly what it would take to call all those people back to the Tory Party - and I guess it's possible that the party under Sunak will balls it up - but it seems very much like the way to bet.

Anonymous said...


They have gone from Tories to Reform because they are fed up with the Tory government. I fully accept they often aren't fed up for the same reasons Tory switchers to Labour/LibDem/Green are, but this apparent presumption that the Tories just have to click their fingers and they will all come flooding back - well, it just seems silly to me. We are surely well past that point now - and as I said, actual examination of polling beyond the headline figures confirms this.

David Lindsay said...

From Labour, through the Conservatives, to Reform UK, all in six years and all in his fifties, there is no suggestion that Lee Anderson’s views have ever changed. Centrism and right-wing populism are con tricks to sell exactly the same economic and foreign policies to different audiences by pretending to wage a culture war.

And what, exactly, is Anderson’s audience? Is he famous on the Red Wall? Have you ever heard him mentioned down the pub? In any case, the boundary changes have deliberately changed the Conservatives’ main competitors back to the Liberal Democrats in the liberal, Thatcherite, Remainer heartlands of the South. At Ashfield last time, second place, with a remarkable 13,498 votes and 27.6 per cent, went to Jason Zadrozny, who still leads the Independents who hold 32 of the 35 seats on the District Council. The swing to him matched the swing against Labour almost exactly, while the Conservative percentage went down. The Brexit Party came fourth with 2,501 votes, 5.1 per cent, less than half of Anderson’s margin of victory. Its candidate, Martin Daubney, is now Anderson’s colleague at GB News, where losses grew by 38 per cent in the 2023 financial year, to £42.4 million. Populism without popularity. 10 years ago, on joining UKIP, Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless presented themselves at by-elections, which they won. Tellingly, Anderson has no such intention.