In 1986 in Calgary, a provincial political figure named Preston Manning convened a meeting of a handful of key confidants to discuss the political options for the province of Alberta, and more general for Western Canada. Rich in oil from the Athabasca tar sands, the West was experiencing a burgeoning feeling of discontent with the east, and specifically with Ottawa, Canada’s political capital, and with the Progressive Conservative government.

Here in Europe, we regard separatist movements in Canada being centred around Quebec, but in fact Western Canada was, during that time, assessing its own options for self-rule. Mr Manning, a leading figure in the provincial Social Credit party, created the Reform Party of Canada, and brought in as his key lieutenant a young economist named Stephen Harper (who later became a multi-term Prime Minister of Canada).

Reform was a party of the populist right, incorporating both disaffected supporters of the centre-right Progressive Conservatives and the centre-left Liberals, tired of what they saw as an Eastern agenda being forced on the West by wine bar elites who didn’t understand them.

Electoral success was not instant; Messrs Manning and Harper both lost their seats in the 1987 election. But, in 1993, the Progressive Conservative government was obliterated, losing 154 of its 156 seats, while Reform won 52 seats, installing Mr Manning as the Leader of the Opposition to the new Liberal government.

Ten years later, the Progressive Conservative Party was dissolved.

Does this sound familiar? It should. It should, because Nigel Farage is trying to make it happen in the UK, right now.

In a country where polling suggests Sir Keir Starmer and his reformed Labour Party is set to secure an historically large majority, this may seem irrelevant, but it is not. Opposition is important, and democracies are at their best when there is a moderate, strong government of either the centre-left or centre-right, opposed by a moderate, strong opposition from the other side.

When either the government or opposition removes itself from the centre and towards the extremes, the effects are perverse and dangerous. We do not need to search hard for examples - we have Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour here, and Donald Trump’s Republicans across the Atlantic.

So, as much as Sir Keir’s government-in-waiting matters a great deal, so does the identity, policy and tone of the opposition.

Mr Farage is many things, but daft is not amongst them. Whether he is a master strategist or a master opportunist is a point of conjecture, but his impact is not. Most obviously, without Mr Farage there would have been no pledge in the 2015 Conservative manifesto to hold a referendum on EU membership, and without Mr Farage there would not have been a Leave vote in 2016, when that referendum was held.


Relax, Sir Keir, nobody cares about socialism now

It’s the six weeks AFTER the election that really matters

Reader, you may think that Mr Farage’s powers have peaked, but he does not agree with you. Quite the opposite; he is openly looking at the rise of Reform Canada and has explicitly modelled Reform UK in accordance. It is only fair to say that Mr Harper and the other leading lights of Reform in Canada would be incandescent about the comparison to Mr Farage, and the future Harper governments would prove to be moderate and successful.

Nonetheless, the parallels are there. For Ottawa, substitute centralist, elitist London. For Western Canada, substitute the North and the Midlands and Yorkshire and Anglia - frankly, almost everywhere outside the M25. For the economic opportunities of the oil sands, substitute the economic disenfranchisement precipitated by the financial crash and supercharged by the Covid pandemic.

And layer on top of all that record net in-migration, in which many of us see economic and social value, but others see freeloaders taking "our" places, using "our" money, at schools and in GP surgeries.

To do anything about any of this, Mr Farage has to be elected. We live in a Parliamentary democracy, and to reshape Britain’s right wing in the way he wants, Mr Farage needs a place on Westminster’s green benches.

He has now decided that the best way to achieve that is to stand as the leader of Reform UK in the constituency of Clacton. James Johnson, former pollster for 10 Downing Street, believes that he will take this Essex coast seat, which was won by the Conservatives in 2019 with an astonishing 72 per cent of the vote.

If Mr Johnson is correct about Mr Farage’s chances, and if the Conservatives suffer an historic defeat and return only 150 seats or fewer, and if the party does indeed look to a more populist solution to its problems, then there is nothing more interesting in British politics than what happens next.

Does Mr Farage continue with Reform UK and attempt to bring enough Conservatives to him to become larger than the Tories, and perhaps even the official opposition? This is, in effect, what Messrs Manning and Harper did in the short term.

Stephen HarperCould Nigel Farage follow in Stephen Harper's foosteps? (Image: PA)

Does Mr Farage end the Reform experiment and create a "new Conservative" party in his mould? This is what Mr Harper did, eventually, in Canada.

Or does Mr Farage take a more direct route by leaving Reform UK immediately, joining the Conservative Party and contesting the battle for its leadership later this year? This may, in truth, be his best bet - the Conservative Party is a very old, very successful election-winning machine, and it will be hard to kill.

This may have a happy ending. It did in Canada, although Nigel Farage is no Stephen Harper. It may encourage the creation of a better, traditionally liberal party on the centre right which embraces the free-market economic side of the current Conservative Party but rejects its populist elements. It may create the space for localised centre-right parties in Scotland, Wales, and even Northern Ireland, which would be good for those jurisdictions and their parliaments.

The future is hard to predict, but the best way to predict the future is to create it. Think what you will about Nigel Farage. But do not underestimate him.