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By Ben Guerin
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Reform's TikTok Rise Takes The Party By Surprise

4 min read

Growing on TikTok was not an original part of Reform UK's strategy, but party figures believe they are now reaching an audience of socially-conservative young people who Rishi Sunak's Conservatives are overlooking.

“We are catching a zeitgeist," said one Reform insider.

"We are revolting against the whole political consensus. But we are freewheeling."

PoliticsHome had asked what the thinking was behind the party's presence on TikTok, which appears to have become one of Reform's most effective tools heading into the 4 July General Election. The account had 183,900 followers at the time of writing —  nearly as many as Labour’s 200,000. 

When the right-wing party set up its account in November 2022, just a few weeks after Rishi Sunak took over from Liz Truss as prime minister, it did not expect much success among TikTok’s younger users. Reform – previously the Brexit Party – has a voter base largely made up of the over-60s. In fact, creating an account, according to Reform staff, was not initially part of a coherent national strategy.

They said the decision to set it up was largely based on research which showed that “disillusioned” young people were not consuming news through traditional channels. Reform felt they needed to use TikTok to simply "let people know" Reform existed. "We were a very new party. Nigel [Farage] wasn't massively behind us at that point… so our identity was a big problem, and it's helped," they said.

To the party’s own surprise, Reform has seen a steady rise in engagement on the platform, as well as across other social media pages, which it claims has happened entirely organically. “If this was a seminar I wouldn’t be able to explain it to you,” said an insider.

A large number of Reform voters also appear to be using comment sections of other parties' TikTok accounts to express support for the Farage-led party. This has raised some questions over whether fake bot accounts are being used to spread the Reform message, which their employees strongly deny. "I wouldn't even know how to do any of that stuff," said one.

Reform comments
Comments below a Labour TikTok video (L) and comments below a Conservative TikTok video (R)

It now seems that Reform's relative popularity on TikTok is coinciding with an uptick in popularity nationwide. The latest YouGov intention poll carried out on 12-13 June put the Tories at 7 per cent among 18-24 year olds, while 15 per cent of this age group said they would vote for Reform – more than double Sunak's struggling party.

Overall, Farage's decision to take over as Reform leader earlier in the campaign has triggered a rise in support in the polls. The same YouGov survey put Reform one percentage point ahead of the Conservatives, and other pollsters have found the gap between the two parties to have narrowed significantly. The trend spells electoral disaster for the Tories.

Labour, overwhelmingly the most popular party for young people, is achieving relatively high levels of engagement by posting meme-style TikToks to appeal to under-25s. One such video posted last week, which received 15,000 likes, said: “Sad facts about sharks: they can’t vote Labour on Thursday 4 July.”

One person involved in setting up and posting on Reform’s TikTok account said they tended to do much better with “serious” policy content. So far in this campaign, the party's most popular videos have featured leader Farage speaking to the camera and explaining Reform’s policy pledges to “freeze immigration” and “stop the boats”.

“For other parties, memes work very well. For us, we found that the serious content when we're talking about policy really, really does well,” said a person involved in the party strategy. 

“Often the best content is 30 seconds where we say: 'This is the problem, then this is our solution’."

@reformparty_uk

If you want mass immigration, vote for the Conservatives. If you want mass immigration, vote Labour.  Vote Reform UK to freeze immigration.

♬ original sound - Reform UK

The Tories, however, have struggled to make inroads on the video platform, with only 62,000 followers so far. They chose to launch their account towards the start of the election campaign, with a video of Sunak announcing their pledge to introduce National Service for 18-year-olds. Polls have found that most younger voters do not support the idea. 

“I cannot think of a worse time to launch your TikTok account, personally,” a Reform source said. “They [the Tories] are doing everything they can to ignore young people."

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