Latte populism

Nigel Farage wanders over to the wrong side of the tracks, clutching his coffee

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Poor old Richard Tice. The ousted leader of the Reform Party, kicked upstairs by Nigel Farage to be “chairman” now that it looks like they might win something, sat alone on the Monday morning train to Wales. There was a cup from Pret-a-Manger next to him, which was odd, because on the weekend he’d denounced Labour as the “café latte” party. Maybe he’d just bought a really expensive cup of tea.

Everything in modern politics is about sending a message. Not just what you say but where you say it, and who is standing behind you at the time. So it was with some curiosity that political journalists headed into the valleys for Reform’s manifesto launch. Why here?

You can’t even say Adolf Hitler should have been allowed to conquer Europe any more, because of Woke

The Tories held their launch at Silverstone, Labour at the Co-op’s impressive headquarters in Manchester. The Lib Dems were in a smart loft in East London. Reform had brought us to an upstairs room in a community centre in Merthyr Tydfil. Specifically, we were in Gurnos, a part of town that… well, let me just quote our surprisingly nervous taxi driver: “Why’s he come here? It’s fucking rough round here. Everyone’s fucking mental.”

But this was deliberate. The point was to demonstrate that while the Conservatives have failed the UK, Wales has been let down by the Labour government in Cardiff. As the local Reform candidate put it: “For 25 years we’ve had nothing but, well nothing in the Welsh Valleys.”

With that, we got to the main event. Farage, with a suntan that we must be supposed to assume he picked up working on a building site, oozed onto the stage. “Guess who’s back?” he declared. The audience, largely journalists who have been covering every moment of his return to the frontline, were well aware of the answer. But for Farage, the political has always been personal well past the point of self-obsession.

The document before us, he announced, was not a manifesto. “Because if I say to you ‘manifesto’, your immediate word association is ‘lie’.” He presumably wanted his audience to take its time getting to that conclusion.

The not-manifesto appeared to have been crowdsourced from the kind of Facebook groups that complain about how you’re not allowed to bang nails into children’s heads these days. The good news is that when Reform take power, we’ll all pay much less tax and there will also be no NHS waiting lists. The army and the police forces will be vastly expanded. The BBC license fee will be abolished (along with, one imagines, the BBC). Does any of this add up, you ask? It does, because Reform will “cut back office waste”, saving £50 billion a year!

The single best bit is probably the “Patriotic Curriculum”. The manifesto promises that “any teaching about a period or example of British or European imperialism or slavery must be paired with the teaching of a non-European occurrence of the same to ensure balance”. So if you want to discuss, say, the East India Company, you also have to point out that the Incas had some fairly iffy practices, sacrifice-wise.

Oddly, given Farage’s complaints that children aren’t taught enough about the Second World War, this plan would make it more difficult to talk about the Nazis, who were European and engaged in activities that involved both slaves and imperialism. Drafting error or deliberate? Looking at Reform’s candidates, either is possible. “The minds of our young people are being poisoned,” Farage complained up at the front. As a Reform spokesman complained this month, you can’t even say Adolf Hitler should have been allowed to conquer Europe any more, because of Woke.

Reform, Farage announced, would get rid of inheritance tax on properties under two million pounds. Perhaps realising that this sounded a touch café latte, he observed that this was “not as relevant round here as it is in south London.” But that bit was of course aimed at nervous Conservative candidates watching at home, rather than any locals in the room.

“At least we do say what we mean,” he declared, although there’s always been a sense with Farage that there’s something else he means which he’s very carefully not saying. The various Reform candidates who keep having to resign over their links to unsavoury groups and ideas may also be under this impression.

There had been a “bloating” of the civil service since 2019, Farage complained. This is a common complaint from Tories, too. Can any readers think of a major change in British policy that might have added significantly to our bureaucracy in that time? All those forms that businesses now have to fill in before they can send a package across the Channel need to be processed somewhere, you know.

Promising everything to everyone is obviously much easier when you’re a long way from power

But I’m being unfair. It is an article of faith in these circles that Brexit has gone wrong. This was not, of course, the fault of the project. The project is perfect, but its implementation has been botched. One day, we may be able to find someone in British politics who will take responsibility for the manner of our departure from the European Union, but Monday was not that day.

Other parties weren’t telling the truth about the national finances, Farage declared. “We’re skint!” He was the only politician with the courage to tell us that. And also that we could afford to spend £141 billion more each year.

Promising everything to everyone is obviously much easier when you’re a long way from power, but even so Farage had to negotiate a complicated slalom where he explained that he supported benefits being paid to deserving people — Reform voters — but was strongly opposed to them being paid to scroungers. As with many areas of deep theology, there is the question of how one knows whether one is a member of the elect. It comes down to a question of self-assurance.

Did, a journalist asked, Farage really have the people skills to lead a government or even an opposition? “We all have our personalities,” he replied. “It doesn’t mean we can’t work as a party or a team.”

Or doesn’t it? At the back of the manifesto is an amazing picture of Farage and Tice walking down the street together, both apparently captured in the moment of rolling their eyes. It could be a poster for a comedy about two men who find themselves forced to share a political party against their will. Presumably in the rejected images they were throwing punches.

Tice was at the side of the room as Farage spoke, fiddling with his phone. In a little bit, he would be invited to set out Reform’s faith-based economic plans. Farage wouldn’t stay to listen for that, heading instead into a side room to have a chat with his aides. Where you go while you’re at these events says something, too.

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