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Success of British reforms is latest sign of strengthening of Europe’s far right

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Keir Starmer and the Labour Party may have won the UK election, but another politician also looked delighted on Friday.

Reform UK, the new anti-immigration party of Nigel Farage, the veteran British political troublemaker and Brexit campaigner, won five seats in Parliament and could have won more. It won more than four million votes nationwide, about 14 percent, making it the third most successful party in the country.

It was the latest victory for a populist right-wing party in Europe and it immediately drew comparisons with the National Rally, which is seeking to become the largest party in the French parliament in a final round of voting on Sunday. During his campaign, Farage said immigration had “decreased” the quality of life for Britons and “it’s time to say ‘enough'”. He called for a “freeze” on non-essential immigration, blaming it for putting pressure on the health service and housing.

Britain’s first-past-the-post electoral system, which tends to disadvantage smaller parties, meant the Reform Party won far fewer seats in the 650-member House of Commons than its votes would have indicated. Still, Mr. Farage sounded triumphant on Friday.

“There is a huge gap on the centre-right in British politics and my job is to fill it,” he told ecstatic supporters after announcing he had won the parliamentary seat in the economically depressed seaside district of Clacton by a huge margin, his first successful bid after seven failed attempts.

He said his party “will now also target the Labour vote” to build on its second-place finish in the popular vote to become the dominant centre-left party in several seats in northern England.

But what the Conservatives fear most right now may be the sudden rise of reformists, who Mr. Farage has tormented for years, pushing the Conservatives to the right. Pressure from his former U.K. Independence Party led the Conservatives to call the Brexit referendum in 2016, which led to Britain’s exit from the European Union.

Before the election, Farage had suggested he could take over the Conservatives if they suffered a crushing defeat. A collapse of that magnitude was averted. But with three fellow MPs, Farage now has a bridgehead in Parliament, the resources to build his fledgling party and a platform to harass Tories — and target voters in some traditionally Labour areas.

Success is likely to bring greater scrutiny. Mr Farage suffered a wave of criticism during the campaign after Channel 4 News aired a revealing report in which an undercover investigator secretly filmed the Clacton reformist making Racist and homophobic commentsincluding using racist remarks to describe current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Farage is no stranger to controversy. He is a staunch supporter of Donald J. Trump — he initially said he would not run for parliament in order to campaign for Trump in the United States — and he believes the West provoked Russia into invading Ukraine.

His love of the spotlight and reluctance to delegate authority may have hampered his ability to build his new party into the formidable one he claimed it would be. But he has managed to get back on the political stage.

With Sunak saying on Friday he would step down as party leader, the Conservatives must decide on new leadership and direction, and whether to rebuild the party by appealing to centrist voters or those on the far right.

Some moderates see the Conservatives’ loss of dozens of seats to the centrist Liberal Democrats as a move to the centre, but others worry that Farage, a noisy but often effective voice, will push the Conservatives further to the right.

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