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Artillery Row

The problem with Nigel Farage

The maverick Reform leader might be entertaining, but he is also unreliable

Are you ready? Here we go. Douglas Carswell, Neil Hamilton, Suzanne Evans, Craig Mackinlay, David Campbell-Bannerman.

You want more? How about Robert Kilroy-Silk, Roger Knapman, Richard North, Rodney Atkinson and Marta Andreason?

Can’t get enough? Then bring on Robin Page, Buster Mottram, Godfrey Bloom, Michael Holmes and Alan Sked.

Last dance? Let’s hear it for Nikki Sinclaire, Michael Holmes, Barry — oh, what the heck. Enough! You get the picture.

But just in case you don’t, all these have, over time, been variously left behind / shafted / dicked over by Nigel Farage. Together, they tell the likely tale of the future of the right in Britain — perhaps for the next five years; maybe for the next ten. And make the best case against the man poised to win a Commons seat at the eighth attempt.

It may be that he doesn’t, and that enough former Conservative voters and present Reform ones return to the blue fold to deliver, say, 250 Tory MPs to the next Parliament.  Or that this general election story is convulsed by some further, fiendish twist to the plot.

But, as matters stand, Farage is set to enter the Commons after the next general election — along with a new Tory Parliamentary Party of about 175 MPs.  No, make that 150, if all these polls are anything to go by. No, actually — if they don’t move and are right on the day — make that 100.  Make it 75. What happens then?

Brutalised Tory MPs and incandescent activists elect a new leader — Kemi Badenoch, perhaps.  The first question she has to answer is: will you work with Farage in this new Parliament and team up with Reform?

The second is: will you allow Boris Johnson onto the candidates’ list? The third, assuming the voters of South West Norfolk oblige, is: will you appoint Liz Truss to your Shadow Cabinet?  After which Badenoch, with her legendary patience for media enquiries, isn’t so much scraped off the ceiling as self-blasted into orbit, from which she circles the earth, like the Prospero satellite from the 1970s.

Now the left-wing case against Farage is, as you would expect, part of a much bigger game — exemplified by Hope Not Hate’s campaign to delegitimise Conservative MPs with which it disagrees. Farage is not a Nazi. Nor, next step down, a fascist. Nor even “far right”. Rather, he is mustard-corded, Barbour-clad hard right: a Powellite when he was younger. But Michael Crick’s energetic biography of Farage yields scant evidence of adult racism.

No, the real case against Farage is two-fold — the first part of interest mainly to those who follow politics; the second of relevance to just about everyone else, not least those inclined to vote for him.

The first is to be found in that long list of those junked / dropped down a mineshaft / eviscerated by the owner of Reform (and, yes, as director of the party, Farage effectively controls it: a democracy, Reform isn’t).

Now, this isn’t to say that he was at fault in the break-up of all, or even most, of these political relationships. For example, Buster Mottram floated a deal between UKIP and the British National Party, which Farage rightly resisted.

But scour Farage’s progress for a list of those who have gone onwards and upwards with him, and you will come up remarkably short. Campbell-Bannerman is back with the Conservatives.  Evans took legal action against UKIP and has since founded a charity. Carswell is in Mississippi.  Somehow, Farage flourishes like a green bay tree, while those around him wither and fade. He’s an unlucky charm. Farage-friendly Tory MPs take note.

The second part of the case is more profound, yet has zero impact. At least during this election campaign and for quite a long time to come.

“Send me to Parliament to be a bloody nuisance,” Farage told the crowds in Clacton earlier this week. And so he undoubtedly will be. For so he has been for his entire life — angering teachers at Dulwich College, falling out with his employers at R.J. Rouse & Co, trolling Tony Blair in Strasbourg, filching Carswell from the Conservatives, upending both main parties in European elections with UKIP, then doing the same with the Brexit Party, now elbowing Richard Tice out of the way as Reform leader — and, perhaps, above all, refusing to die, magnificently surviving a car accident, testicular cancer and a plane crash.

And all this without getting into the feuds, purges, affairs, lawsuits, coups, rows and splits that have distinguished his career.

If you want your elected representative to be a bloody nuisance, Reform’s new leader is your man. But not if you want anything done.

Farage may have led a political party — two, actually, twice — but he has never held executive office. He has never been Minister for anything. And so he has never been accountable for anything.

Farage has never had responsibility, say, for creating the conditions for faster growth at the same time as lowering immigration; for the Post Office; for cutting taxes for working people while shortening healthcare queues for older ones (and everyone else); for the infected blood scandal; for boosting home ownership; for sorting social care — oh, for everything as well as anything, pretty much.

No wonder the man who came third in I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here is so popular — in some quarters, anyway. But there is a difference that matters between being a star of the right-wing entertainment complex and the Minister who must go about the dull but vital business of government.

He’s in the business of channelling grievance, sense of loss, anger

It may be that no politician has solutions to the issues above. But if there are, there’s no reason to believe that Farage is one of them. After all, he’s not in the business of providing solutions. He’s in the business of channelling grievance, sense of loss, anger. That’s why he can cheer Brexit and then damn its aftermath. He’s an icon of protest.

At some point, Farage’s practicability gap may matter. But not now. The long and short of this election campaign to date is that all those Conservative policy announcements, and Rishi Sunak’s well-turned appearance in this week’s election debate, have failed to move the polling dial. No, wait. If anything, it’s moved in the other direction.

Those polls to date suggest that the voters are set on giving the Tories a kicking of unprecedented savagery — and hang the size of Labour’s consequent majority. And Farage is a steel-capped boot. You don’t ask your boot to deliver smaller class sizes or more nuclear power stations.

“Tis madness to resist or blame / the force of angry Heaven’s flame.” Or ask it to distinguish between Islamist extremists and most Muslims. Or get to the bottom of what it really thinks about Vladimir Putin and collective security.

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