Sunday, 10 February 2019

Introducing The Brexit Party

What's that coming over the hill, is it a monster? No, it's Nigel Farage's newest vanity vehicle, The Brexit Party. Launched on Friday and causing a media flap for all of five minutes, Farage has warned it fully intends to contest the European elections in the event of Article 50 being extended. "I sincerely hope that this prospect is recognised by both the Conservative Party and the Labour Party as a threat", he says. The new party is registered with the Electoral Commission, and has attracted support from Stephen Woolfe (remember him?) and former UKIP leader in Wales, Nathan Gill. And Farage is claiming 15,000 people have signed up in the first 24 hours.

"Signed up" here is an interesting phrase, because the new party possesses the most most rudimentary of websites. As you can't even join, anyone "signing up" is presumably added to a mailing list. And, in truth, it looks a bit half-arsed and disjointed. I guess Arron Banks wasn't able to dip into his magic pockets to produce the moolah for a professional-looking job on this occasion. And if you read around TBP's origins the unserious, hedging-our-bets impression is reinforced. Catherine Blaiklock, one of Farage's lackeys, has put in the hard yards of doing the paper work and getting the registration sorted out. But she says she won't run it without him on board, but if he's there then she'll happily do all the "donkey work". Also, note Farage's equivocation. TBP will only contest if Brexit is delayed, and those are the circumstances under which he'll lead it. I can understand his reticence. His gig at LBC pulls in the dough with a minimum of effort exerted, so why tour the draughty community centres and share beers with pub bore gammon unless one absolutely has to?

Let us suppose TBP with its alleged million quids' worth of donations are able to get its act together, and Farage does properly come on board, how can we expect the party to fare? The first thing to consider is its main competition, UKIP. Under the leadership of Gerard Batten the party's best known figures have jumped ship, suffering even a defection to the SDP, a political feat no leader has accomplished since the 1980s. And it's not difficult to see why. The door is now open to the very dregs of political life, including ranting YouTube incels and fascists. This has the potential to permanently cripple UKIP as a political force because, funnily enough, recent electoral history has shown that lots of people don't like unambiguously racist parties. That said, not many people pay attention to the minutiae of politics and therefore know Farage has cut ties with the purple people bleaters. I mean, there are plenty of people in Stoke who still think Labour run the council when it hasn't for four years. Unless Farage absolutely canes his switch of allegiances in the broadcast media and can get the right wing press to provide him free publicity then UKIP might limp on.

But here is the wider issue. The circumstances that gave rise to UKIP do not pertain any more. That party's slide into irrelevance began well before it took its far right turn, and this was for two reasons. Theresa May's strategy was interested in soaking up the kippers' support by positioning the Tories as the Brexit party. Despite the hash she's making of it, this is where the Tory party is and helps explain why their support hasn't collapsed. And, as a smaller party with shallow roots, as media attention focused on Corbynism, Brexit, and divisions in the two main parties, the lack of publicity has proven as effective as covering its face with a pillow. The party's not there encroaching on people's awareness, and so it's (deservedly) slipped beneath notice.

This has consequences for Farage and TBP too. A new populist party on the fringes is, yawn, old hat where our excitable media are concerned. It looked fresh and exciting five or six years ago, but right wing demagoguery is ten-a-penny these days. And that's just on the Tory back benches. What incentive is there to offer them coverage? Farage does have a following and, among other things, personifies Brexit to friend and foe. As such he could mobilise the old faithful. In the age of social media, this retinue of the crackered and knackered might theoretically overcome the block on publicity as per Labour at the last general election, but when the defining feature of this cohort of voters is lack of engagement with online then a repeat of Jeremy Corbyn's stellar performance is not terribly likely. It is also worth bearing in mind that while UKIP did very well out of media appearances, the other leg of their political canter was boosted by activism. Kippers did stalls, they went door-to-door leafleting, haphazardly canvassed and stood in council and parliamentary by-elections, and local elections. This bloodied the troops and got them used to political work. Farage's new outfit is seemingly poised to do none of this, hoping that a wave of (non-existent) media interest will carry them to success.

Nevertheless, there are opportunities for them. The first are events. If Article 50 is delayed, or Brexit is perceived as insufficiently Brexity among the 10 per cent or so of voters obsessing over it, then Farage could find a media opening and strike a chord with these people. If somehow we end up staying in the EU this becomes a dead cert. The second is the advantage of the name. 'The Brexit Party' requires nothing in the way of explanation - just compare this with the litany of stupid names coming forward for the putative but present/absent new centre party. However, success can breed the circumstances for defeat. With a huge new left and an angry remain activist base that Farage never had to face before, should TBP start getting traction the impetus for counter-movement mobilisation grows. This is more than just waving lollypops in Farage's face outside of a public meeting, it means motivating voters. And as UKIP have done well in past European elections thanks to depressed turnouts, they might not find they have the field all their own way.

If Farage was hoping for a bit of plain sailing, of reliving the glory days of 2013 to 2016 where he was feted and the political world opened up to him like a delicate flower, he's going to get disabused of the nostalgics very quickly. Half-arsed and half-baked and with very little in The Brexit Party's favour, it's difficult to fancy their chances.

3 comments:

Dialectician1 said...

'pub bore gammon'? Irony alert, please? I know what you're getting at but these caricatures are not helpful.

Pleb James said...

Dialectician - in context, it is nothing more than humorous, which is helpful in keeping the piece an enjoyable read.

Boffy said...

He's no doubt hoping to recruit all those Labour MP's backing Brexit, who voted for or abstained on the Brady Amendment, and who voted against or abstained on the Cooper Amendment, after they are deselected by their CLP's, along with their co-thinkers such as Frank Field and John Woodcock who jumped before they were pushed.