ANDREW NEIL: Reform's crackpot 'contract' has all the rigour of maths done on the back of a Farage fag packet after a two-bottle lunch

Nigel Farage insisted on calling his Reform party's election manifesto a 'contract' when he unveiled it in Wales yesterday as the other political parties, he claimed, had made the word 'manifesto' synonymous with 'lies'.

If chutzpah was all that was required to win elections Farage would be coasting to victory on July 4 for his 'contract' — a word henceforth forever devalued in the political lexicon — is as bankable as a £4 note.

Britain was 'skint', Farage declared, then proceeded to splurge tens of billions on whatever caught his fancy, like a drunken uncle who'd just won the National Lottery.

No income tax until you earn more than £20,000 a year? Of course. No higher rate income tax until you're making more than £70,000? Why not? No VAT until your business turnover is £120,000? Sounds only fair.

Britain was 'skint', Farage declared, then proceeded to splurge tens of billions on whatever caught his fancy, like a drunken uncle who'd just won the National Lottery, Andrew Neil writes

Britain was 'skint', Farage declared, then proceeded to splurge tens of billions on whatever caught his fancy, like a drunken uncle who'd just won the National Lottery, Andrew Neil writes

Slash corporation tax on company profits? You know it makes sense. Abolish stamp duty on homes worth under £750,000? A deal. No inheritance tax on estates worth less than £2 million? Naturally.

But why stop at cutting taxes? Let's also splash the cash, even if we don't have it. Nobody will notice. Financial incontinence knows no bounds in Farage World, which makes Fantasy Island look real. Reform's proposed spending spree recalibrates Jeremy Corbyn's profligate 2019 manifesto as positively parsimonious.

So let's have an extra 40,000 frontline police and increase the headcount of the British Army by 30,000, while upping defence spending to 3 per cent of GDP. No problem.

We'll cut NHS waiting lists to zero — yes zero — within two years (which is as likely as easyJet promising to take you to the Moon). And, while we're at it, let's exempt frontline NHS workers from basic rate income tax for three years, just because we can.

Did I mention that, under a Reform regime, just about everybody else could become self-employed and pay a lot less tax and National Insurance? Well, they can in Farage World.

By now, dear reader, you will have rumbled that this is not a serious manifesto for government but a spluttering effusion of Right-wing virtue-signalling from people who know they will end up nowhere near power post-election.

The tax cuts and spending plans have all the rigour of rough workings done on the back of a Farage fag packet after a two-bottle lunch at Boisdale of Belgravia (a popular eatery for 'men of the people'). The costings barely required the back of a postage stamp.

Of course, Tory-inclined voters will like the sound of some of the tax cuts and the look of some of the spending increases. That's why they're in the Reform manifesto. They are designed to entice folks to the Farage flag.

But proper conservatives have long known there is no such thing as a free lunch. If you want to cut taxes or increase spending you have to find ways of paying for it — and not just witter on, as Labour does, about it all being magically covered by increased economic growth.

The Farage folly involves tax cuts and spending increases of £140 billion, all mystically paid for by £140 billion of savings, some of which are plain ludicrous, like the tens of billions to be conjured up from our old friends, waste and inefficiency.

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This from a party that can't even vet its own candidates properly, never mind run major departments of state. I'm sure a lot also hangs on cracking down on tax avoidance and evasion. It always does when politicians are flailing around trying to make their sums add up.

We learned the hard way during the ClusterTruss interregnum in the autumn of 2022 what happens when politicians propose unfunded tax cuts or extra spending on a grand scale.

The bond markets — where governments go to borrow —go on strike. Interest rates soar. So do mortgages. Sterling plummets and growth stalls. All the necessary ingredients for yet another cost-of-living crisis.

Some of Reform's policies are just daft. It says illegal migrants crossing the Channel in small boats would be returned to France. Wouldn't that be marvellous? But precisely how is it to be done?

Are Border Force craft or Royal Navy ships to be packed with migrants, told to enter French territorial waters illegally and dump them back on French shores?

When Europe is threatened by a revanchist Russia is Reform really proposing that the continent's two most important military powers should be at each other's throats?

Reform also proposes net zero immigration. Careless readers might conclude that means no migrants. But it doesn't. It means that if half a million people leave this country in one year (which often happens), half a million others can be allowed in. So not exactly the end of migration as we've known it.

All major parties agree migration is too high. But it's hard to think of a more stupid approach, economically, to the issue than to determine the numbers coming in by the numbers going out.

Tories still tempted to vote Reform by what's on offer should realise they will see none of it implemented. But they will be ensuring the Labour supermajority they profess to fear.

The fewer Tory MPs, the more unfettered power Keir Starmer will enjoy. The prospect of a couple of Reform MPs (at most), powerless to make a difference, will be scant consolation to those who voted for them.

Nigel Farage speaks with journalists on the campaign trail in Wales

Nigel Farage speaks with journalists on the campaign trail in Wales

Farage, of course, is a canny operator, more shrewd than many of those thinking of voting for him. He knows his crackpot contract will never see the light of day in government.

He is just showing some leg to entice disillusioned Tories, giving them a flavour of what the right of centre could stand for post-election after years of milk-and-water conservatism.

At the manifesto launch, he was honest enough to admit his 'real ambitions' were focused on the 2029 General Election (he assumes a full five-year Labour term).

Farage belatedly entered the 2024 election fray because he saw nothing Rishi Sunak was doing closed Labour's 20-point lead in the polls.

He believes the Tories are heading for a catastrophic defeat on July 4, made all the more catastrophic by his return to the helm of Reform — and that, reduced to a rump post-election, the Tories will be wide open to either a hostile takeover or a forced merger with Reform.

It would be a mistake to rule out such a fundamental realignment of the right. It is happening elsewhere, from America to France to Italy to Holland. But it won't happen in Britain without a bloody fight.

Yesterday, I spoke to two Tories: Michael Gove, who is standing down at this election, and Philip Davies, who is standing for re-election. Gove was wholly hostile to the idea of Farage or Reform playing any role in the post-election reconstruction of the Tories, Davies was more open to the idea.

For some Tories Farage is toxic, for others a potential saviour. Resolving these differences could rip the Right apart for a decade or more.

Reform's threat is not just that it will hand Starmer his supermajority on a plate. The even bigger risk is that it sparks a civil war on the Right, with the Tories knocking lumps out of each other in opposition, while Labour sails gaily on to a second term.

The danger then is that the Tories, with or without Farage, would be lucky to see power again before 2034, never mind 2029.

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