Nigel Farage Is Coming for Your (Young) Man

Anti-politics meets hustle culture.

by Clare Hymer & Craig Gent

17 June 2024

Nigel Farage against a blue background that says 'Britain Needs Reform'
Reform UK leader Nigel Farage launches the party manifesto in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, 17 June 2024. Photo: Reuters/Phil Noble

Few people could accuse Nigel Farage of short-termism. While the liberal press contents itself with reminding anyone who will listen that the former City banker has stood and lost in seven elections, no other politician can claim to have proved such a harbinger for the direction of British politics. Indeed, on the Tories’ current trajectory, Farage is set to become the pre-eminent rightwing thought leader in Britain for a decade to come.

It should shock no one, then, that with his return to the forefront of British politics ahead of the upcoming election, Farage is already looking far beyond it. The newly reinstated head of Reform UK knows that if he’s to continue to shepherd the radical right from the fringes into the mainstream, he needs to charm voters outside of his usual base. Specifically, he needs to win over young people.

You might not expect 18 to 24-year-olds to vote Reform. Political orthodoxy has it that young people are more likely to be pro-immigration than older voters, and are united in their support for leftwing policies. But according to YouGov, although Labour is still the most popular party among this age group, the cohort is also more likely to support Reform than those aged 25 to 29.

In recent years, Farage has been busy building his profile on the platforms young people use most. On TikTok, he has almost three times as many followers as Labour and the Tories put together – a boon when the platform is the news source favoured by 18 to 24-year-olds and on which tomorrow’s voters spend an average of an hour a day.

In particular, Farage is making a play for young men. He has long been mobbed by card-carrying fanboys at Tory party conferences – and has revelled in the attention. Now, he’s making overtures towards a slightly different demographic: young men in marginalised post-industrial and rural towns.

Take Farage’s recent media rounds. Aside from his appearances on the big channels and his own GB News show, recent months have seen Farage featuring on a particular niche of right-leaning self-help video podcasts aimed at entrepreneurial young men looking to make it in the world of business and finance. 

With interviews on shows such as Disruptors with Rob Moore and the Strike It Big podcast, Farage is doing two things. First, he’s tapping into the online ‘manosphere’ of Andrew Tate and Jordan Peterson, which rails against so-called ‘wokeism’ and social liberalism by appealing to a particular kind of young man who, according to Farage, is “being told they can’t be male in any way at all”. Second, he is positioning himself as a mentor for young men who feel they are intuitively anti-state, individualistic, and “just want to get on”. This ethos was echoed by Farage at the launch of Reform’s manifesto on Monday, in which he claimed the party was for “doers and achievers”.

Meeting young Reform-minded men in Clacton-on-Sea and Barnsley – both target towns for the party – in recent weeks added colour to this picture.

Speaking to Novara Media in Clacton, Edward, a window cleaner, said he had seen Farage on TikTok and was a fan of his jokes. He described the former stockbroker as a “man of the people”, and thought his pitch was appealing “especially to people my age”.

Edward said life had got noticeably more difficult over the course of his lifetime. “To live in Clacton now, it’s just hard. You’re not gonna be able to get a house nearby or anything like that. That’s what I’m worried about: finally moving out, getting my own place, but I don’t think that’s gonna happen. Not here, anyway.

“Everything costs more money, from things like coming to the pier, basic food shopping, anything like that. I can tell you from personal experience it’s definitely got harder, 100%.”

Rather than stemming from the so-called ‘culture wars’, Edward’s support for Farage is more deeply rooted in his experience as a young adult in a stagnant economy, where expectations for life are dwindling.

It was a sentiment echoed by Will, a recent graduate in Barnsley. He said he will probably vote for Reform because he believes Britain needs “a proper third party”, and repeated a debunked line spread on social media by ex-Reform leader Richard Tice about more migrants having arrived in the UK in two years than between 1066 and 2010. But it was clear his intuitions around immigration, although captured by Reform, were not initially motivated by prejudice. “I’m not saying [it’s] necessarily a bad thing that we’re housing them,” he said. “I just don’t think hotels in working-class towns is the right place to do that.

“I think maybe they need to be processed faster and [we need to be] seeing why they’re here, how they got here … because it’s an issue and they’re not going to stop coming, so they need help.”

He thought this would help young people get more job offers. “It’s too hard for young people to get a decent paying job, and then get on to the housing market and stuff.” 

According to Dan Evans, a sociologist and the author of A Nation of Shopkeepers, Farage’s strategy is a continuation of Margaret Thatcher’s idea of ‘popular capitalism’, which is now being retooled for a generation who haven’t seen the social mobility many of their parents saw under previous Conservative governments, and especially for those who have not been geographically mobile.

“In those places, there is a material basis in terms of Farage’s offer,” he explains. “You only have to go to coastal towns and deindustrialised communities to see there’s very little there, they’ve been left to rot. [These places] are just ripe for this anti-politics discourse to cut through.”

He says it is not surprising that many young men in such towns are reaching for self-help or self-betterment podcasts and finding various iterations of ‘hustle culture’.

“[Farage] will go about appealing to them by presenting himself as an everyman, by presenting himself as someone who is opposed to ‘wokeism’ or social liberalism,” Evans explains. “I also think if he has some form of material offer, particularly focusing on cutting migration, then he’s going to appeal to this sort of residual idea of popular capitalism that was pioneered by Thatcherism and that you see on these sorts of podcasts.

“There’s something about post-industrial masculinity in there, there’s definitely something about anti-politics there, and then seeing something like Farage as just ‘telling it how it is’.”

Keir Milburn, author of Generation Left, is sceptical about overstating Reform’s appeal. He says the primary attitudinal shift among young people is a turn to the left, but that there is a real shortcoming in the available political expressions that are able to meet people’s material concerns.

“The big picture is [when] attitudinal changes [are] linked to material interests, and they need some sort of political expression. They can get political expression from the right, but it’s a really minor thing,” he explains. “So, obviously everybody is voting for Labour this election, though among young people there have been swings towards the Greens. But there’s no political expression to any left[wing] thing, basically. It can’t be expressed.

“That also has an effect on … how people think about the world. You can’t see anybody expressing a left expression of both your attitudes and your material problems. That’s a really big thing.”

Milburn highlights the observation that amongst young people, women’s attitudes are significantly to the left of men’s – something he puts down to changing gender norms, which are converging with everyday experiences of economic decline. “In my opinion … it’s got to have something to do with a general crisis of masculinity, i.e. the breakdown of a traditional male role of the breadwinner – with very little compensation, [because] that ties into a collapse in wages.”

It is unlikely that anyone in Reform expects to be the dominant party among Gen-Z anytime soon. But Farage knows better than anyone that political success doesn’t require coming first in the polls. It was in 2014 that Ukip laid out its 2020 strategy, in which it sought to make inroads into Labour’s vote and maximise the utility of coming second. That strategy was scuppered partly by Ukip’s own internal travails, but primarily because Farage achieved the party’s long-term raison d’être four years sooner.

So we should take seriously his attempts to transcend his predominantly older, home-owning core voter base by making in-roads into male youth. The economic picture under Labour is unlikely to offer an end to austerity, and the Greens – while pitching left – will struggle to command the airtime afforded to Reform. Which means Farage’s long game – as cynical as it may be – is to fill a political space in which, as ten years ago, the dominant political consensus is that ‘there is no alternative’ to flatlining wages, crumbling public services and politicians who are out-of-touch.

Clare Hymer is a commissioning editor at Novara Media.

Craig Gent is Novara Media’s north of England editor and the author of Cyberboss (2024, Verso Books).

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