Making plans for Nigel
Culture wars may give Nigel Farage another chance to ambush the Conservatives
What would you do if you were Nigel Farage? You have spent twenty years on the frontline of public life, making the political weather on the issue you are most passionate about. But you never got to sit in the House of Commons and do not appear to be imminently off to the Lords. A post-Brexit career as a commentator and influencer in the United States has not taken off to the extent you hoped it would – most recently a panel appearance in a disappointingly attended Trump rally in Tulsa – and if Joe Biden wins in November, then even that avenue will close. A role in the British media also seems to have withered – your talk show on LBC has been terminated with “immediate effect.” Of course, if only you had backed the losing side in the 2016 referendum, you might have picked up some lucrative corporate directorships. But as a “bad boy of Brexit”, forget it.
Aged 56, Nigel Farage is neither old enough nor wealthy enough to retire. The satisfaction of seeing the United Kingdom as a fully sovereign nation will not sustain him indefinitely. Indeed, the best opportunity for a route back into the political limelight would be if Boris Johnson concedes a humiliating “Chequers Mark 2” style deal with the EU. In which eventuality, Farage can ride a streetcar named “Betrayal.”
It is an eventuality for which Farage is preparing. But all in good time. For whatever the Brexit Party leader’s suspicions about a Brexit sell-out, condeming Boris Johnson for a surrender he hasn’t yet made will have little popular traction. The sin has to happen first for the chastisement to sting.
But even if there is no surrender to Michel Barnier, straws in the wind hint that Farage is contemplating taking the dust-covers off the Brexit Party. He may rebrand it the Reform Party as the vehicle to take on the “woke’ Establishment and its culture war. In recent weeks, Farage has been especially outspoken on wokery in all its forms in addition to his lonely vigil to draw attention to continuing illegal immigration across the English Channel.
Nigel Farage is neither old enough nor wealthy enough to retire.
Such an insurgent party could have a clear sales pitch, as follows. The Left is waging a Maoist Cultural Revolution intent on sweeping away all that you love and hold dear (or at least think familiar and harmless). The Conservatives say they are against these new Maoists. But what is their record in repelling the attack? Have they won a skirmish, let alone a battle? Are the “modernisers” in the Conservative ranks even staunch to the cause, because at the first hint of a rebuke on Twitter, they tend to prostrate themselves in abasement. Boris Johnson evokes Churchill, but does he emulate him? Indeed, in what sense is the prime minister a social conservative? Indeed, weren’t we supposedly reassured that he was actually as liberal politically as he was libertine personally? In any case, has the old boy still got a grip?
Few would doubt that, put this way, Farage would be talking the language of many of those (mostly Tory voters in 2019) spooked by recent events and who are looking for a more robust line from the government. Conceding a BRINO (Brexit in Name Only) capitulation to Brussels could tip them over the edge if they could be convinced that the Establishment had stitched them up in the end after all. A “Reform” party able to appeal in this way to traditional sentiments could make trouble for the Tories.
Such a party already exists. Under Farage it helped frighten David Cameron into making an In/Out referendum commitment, came first in the 2014 European elections, and got more votes than Nick Clegg’s LibDems in the 2015 general election. But without Farage as its leader, UKIP quickly lost its way. Gerard Batten endeavoured to move the party beyond Brexit into being a home for those with wider concerns about the drift of modern Britain (principally immigration, particularly “Islamisation”). It didn’t work. Tommy Robinson became an adviser; fair-minded people quit.
On Monday, UKIP announced its sixth leader in four years. Doubtless the new man at the helm, Freddy Vachha, meant he had a historical interest in the subject, but his stating “Nazi Germany” among his “hobbies” has certainly secured him media coverage in a way that nothing else he had to say could have done. Just one day into his helmsmanship and his immediate objective is to survive in the role another three weeks in order not to be the party’s shortest-serving leader.
Farage, however, is box office in a way that Freddy Vachha is village hall. Theresa May was not favoured with luck during her tenure in Downing Street, but imagine how she would have coped if she had had to face the Black Lives Matter protests and Farage’s en marche Brexit Party decrying what would have been her certifiably vegan response? The Conservatives’ plight would have been even miserable.
Farage is box office in a way that Freddy Vachha is village hall
Whatever his propensity to let people down, Boris Johnson at least cuts a more robust figure than his predecessor. Farage might have greater difficulty convincing swing voters that a Cabinet containing Priti Patel as Home Secretary and Dominic Raab as Foreign Secretary is as lightly tooled to fight a culture war as was May’s choice of such street fighting desperados as Philip Hammond, Amber Rudd and Justine Greening.
A greater problem is that UKIP and in 2019 the Brexit Party were able to frighten Cameron’s and May’s Conservative Party out of its liberal-drift by showing how much they could hurt the Tories in elections. The local, and particularly European parliamentary elections gave Farage the match day action he needed to hit the back of the net and prove he was a threat.
A victim of his own success, Farage no longer has the gift of European elections with which to run rings around the Tories. There are no local elections due (Coronavirus permitting) until May next year and the Scottish parliamentary election at that same time offers nothing for him (although the Welsh parliamentary contest would be a little more promising). A new party needs to perform well in elections or it has no claim on public or media attention. When the SDP launched in 1981 it had the benefit of a succession of by-elections at which protest voters could give the Gang of Four the impression they were popular. But the age profile of current MPs suggests there will not be many by-elections between now and a general election that is still far away.
If Farage has another chapter to write, he needs the Conservatives to kowtow to Ursula von der Layen whilst simultaneously taking the knee before the cultural Maoists on campus, public-funded body and market square. Millions unemployed because of a needlessly prolonged Lockdown and Scotland on the verge of civil disobedience if another independence referendum is not offered would also help.
Those Remain voters who tried to comfort themselves with the thought that Brexit would at least mean the silencing of Nigel Farage ought to pray that the Conservative Government starts standing up for conservative values. Otherwise, the irrepressible man in the chalk-stripe suit will be back, with a new catch-phrase, “I told you so.”
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