Friday 1 November 2019

Is Nigel Farage Labour's New Best Friend?

After rumours and rumours of rumours that Nigel Farage was planning a targeted campaign in this general election, he (sort of) launched the Brexit Party's campaign Friday morning with the intent to stand everywhere. This was trailed by an intervention from none other than The Donald himself, who just so happened to have a positive message for Farage's LBC show on the eve of his launch. Now, while it is true the more conservative-minded quite like Trump, his urgings for Johnson to come to an arrangement with Farage, repeated again this morning with the demand for a no deal Brexit, meant the Tory leader had no choice but to put distance between them.

What then is Farage's game? We saw time after time how the European Research Group, the self-described and self-flattering Spartans of Brexit set themselves against Theresa May's deal despite Johnson's deal being worse in every regard. Most importantly concerning the relative bargaining strength of the UK vis a vis the EU post deal but pre-trade agreement. Negotiating oneself into an even worse position is no mean feat, so well done him. Anyway, assuming there isn't more to the ERG's change of heart and theirs was a pragmatic adaptation to the new Johnson regime in order to get Brexit over the line, why hasn't Farage, as more or less their external faction, followed suit? Well, for the same reasons the ERG "capitulated" - self-interest.

The irony of the Brexit Party is their relevance demands the UK's continued membership of or close links to the European Union. Not just in the crude terms of the nice salaries its MEPs are now pocketing, but for their place in British political discourse. Imagine if we were living in the transition period now - the first and most fraught phrase of Brexit would be over, and only the hardest core of the EU-interested public would be contesting the deal on leave grounds. Not the stuff of a right wing populist pensioners' insurgency, nor capable of getting Farage on Question Time every other episode. If we keep this desire for relevance in mind, the impossible demands Farage has placed on Johnson for a de facto electoral alliance now make sense. Consider them for yourself: dumping the withdrawal agreement in favour of a no deal Brexit, and going for a Canada-style trade deal all to be sorted by the end of next year. Farage knows Johnson's not about to ditch a deal that stood a chance of getting through the Commons during this dying parliament, but for good measure he's let his satrap Richard Tice out the gates with proposals for constitutional reform. These concern the voting system, abolishing postal voting, and a number of other irrelevant and marginal fixes designed not to get the votes in, but to make the "offer" of an alliance with the Brexit Party a lot less acceptable. And for good measure Farage has promised no BXP candidacy against Tory candidates who renounce their support for Johnson's deal, which is also guaranteed to convince zero folks from doing so. Each PPC needs Central Office approval to become the actual candidate, after all.

At least 500 seats Farage is promising to contest unless Johnson caves within the fortnight, and given he won't, bar one or two nudge, nudge, wink, wink local arrangements we're going to see hundreds of Brexit Party candidates. This begs the question. Is Nigel Farage Labour's de facto best friend in this contest? Well, it is tempting to say yes. When Johnson's strategy is fixated on monopolising the leave vote, anyone contesting it from a credible position (I use that term advisedly) has to give him something of a headache, surely? You would think. However, there is a counter-intuitive warning from recent history to consider.

Remember the 2015 general election? It was set up to be the perfect storm for the Tories. The LibDems were scraping the barrel and UKIP were insurgent, having bagged two MPs from two by-elections and a storming performance in the 2014 EU elections. And? The Tories romped home with a majority government and Labour went backwards, chiefly because of the Scottish bloodbath`. At the time no one reckoned the Tories would be able to squeeze the LibDems so effectively, when in fact it was left opposition to the LibDems that grabbed the coverage ever since the tuition fees debacle. And UKIP? Its four million votes returned just the one MP, but its distribution was uneven. While it did take away more Tory voters than Labour, it tended to scoop up more ex-Labour votes where it mattered: in the key marginals. And so the legend of reactionary working class voters took wing, and led to Paul Nuttall's misdirected northern strategy. Come 2017, UKIP stood down to give Brexity Tories a free run and inadvertently helped harm their chances - Tory and Labour voters came flooding back, but the skew that helped the Tories two years earlier came back to bite them. Sucked to be them.

Might a wide BXP challenge hurt Labour more than the Tories, then? It's possible, but less likely. 2017 was not 2015, and 2019 is further from it still. That election was the last fought under the old neoliberal/managerial consensus, and Labour was very much part of the wonky mainstream. When you had to temper your criticisms of wealthy tax dodgers with even-handed denunciations of cash-in-hand window cleaners, your pitch was never going to cut it. Labour's policy platform, the fact of its vast party machine being an electoral factor in itself, and the toxicity of Johnson outside the South East gives people plenty of reasons to stick with Labour rather than dilly dally with Farage. High stakes favours polarisation, and 2017's conditions have, if anything, sharpened. The second issue is the stubborn Labour leavers aren't coming back, which makes pandering to them pointless and counter-productive. Nevertheless, a section of this milieu of voters who went Tory in 2017 after supporting UKIP in several elections might switch to BXP if a candidate rocks up in their patch. And as Johnson has played fast and loose with his pledge to die in a ditch than accept and Article 50 extension, he might prove very vulnerable on the trust issue.

What also matters is how Brexit is pitched. For Johnson, (and Jo Swinson, as well as Farage), Brexit might be their strongest suit but no matter how hard they try the election will be dragged onto other issues. Nevertheless, if Johnson gets bogged down into a bidding war over who's the most Brexity of them all, such a debate is corrosive of his own coalition. When most voters are fed up and want it sorted one way or the other, Corbyn holds a strong hand versus any of these.

In sum, I would tentatively suggest Farage is doing Labour a favour. Our party's problem is one of squeezing the LibDems and knocking their share down. The Brexit Party can pose the Tories the same challenge, making this election more interesting and wildly unpredictable. And one in which Labour can come out on top.

Image Credit


Speedy said...

'Our party's problem is one of squeezing the LibDems and knocking their share down.'

Why? Then won't the Tories come through the middle? Putting the country first - and avoiding a Tory govt./ Brexit would mean working with the Lib Dems.

Putting country before party might actually help party too.

Re Brexit Party - Farrage knows the gig is up and most Brexiters will go blue. And that's the point - while you are encouraging Remainers to split their vote, there is only one place for Leavers to go.

Reminds me of the Judean Popular Front. Or is that the Popular Front of Judea.

Boffy said...

Simple answer no. Farage can lose it for the Tories, but Corbyn is losing it for Labour. As the BEX and John Curtice have demonstrated from extensive research and polling, even in Leave voting constituencies, the large majority of Labour voters in 2017 voted Remain. Corbyn's pro-Brexit stance is turning those voters away in droves (around 60% of labour's 2017 voters, say they will not vote Labour in 2019, and a large proportion of them are in the 18-15 age range).

The Workington man concept is bollocks. All this identifies is that there are today, as there always have been, working-class Tories. They are the least educated, remote from the organised labour movement, most apathetic sections of workers. The BP will attract a large chunk of those voters away from the Tories, which thereby damages Johnson's chance of winning.

But, the Tories losing or failing to get a majority is not the same as Labour winning. The Liberals are more or less neck and neck with Labour if margin of error is considered. Even now, Corbyn continues to push the reactionary line that he will negotiate a fantasy "Jobs First Brexit", whereas the large majority of Labour voters, who back Remain are looking for a party that gives a clear lead that they will stop Brexit. Corbyn can't even say that in a Labour referendum he would then back Remain. And, why would he, because it is ludicrous to say that you are going to negotiate a good "Jobs First Brexit", and then ask people to reject it!

If the Liberals do come up with some deal with the Greens and Plaid, or if the campaign for tactical voting takes off, then especially if more Tory and/or Labour MP's defect to the Liberals in the next few weeks, the Liberals could take a lead over Labour, so that the FPTP voting system would see them leap forward in the number seats they could win, and Labour would fall back sharply. Then tactical voting plays massively into the hands of the Liberals, and would see a collapse in Labour's vote share as Remain voters swarm to the Liberals to stop a Tory win.

Corbyn is losing it for labour Lansman's Momentum Company is a busted flush, and Farage may not take enough Tory votes to stop Johnson getting a majority. Its up to labour to win it, not the Tories to lose it. Labour needs to scrap its pro-Brexit stance and commit to Revoke, and taking Britain back in if the Tories take us out. Its time for a bold, militant, and principled socialist internationalist stance.

David Timoney said...

Just on a technical point, and re Boffy's suggestion that "the Liberals could take a lead over Labour, so that the FPTP voting system would see them leap forward in the number seats they could win, and Labour would fall back sharply", FPTP is an amplifier of votes, but the number of seats is ultimately determined by geographical concentration.

Labour and the Conservatives both have strong concentrations, which means they will still win more seats than the Lib Dems even if all three get similar vote-shares, or even if the Lib Dems have a 5 point lead over Labour. 2015 was traumatic for the Lib Dems because they pretty much lost their own (smaller) concentrations, most notably in SW England. They have become a dispersed party with weak regional appeal. This will prevent them picking up a lot of seats.

Boffy said...


In part I agree, which is why I think that Labour's reactionary an electorally disastrous pro-Brexit strategy, repeated again by Long-Bailey on Sophie Ridge this morning is more than likely simply going to gift Labour marginals like Stoke to the Tories. The Liberals will pick up a load of Labour Remain votes, because those Labour voters could not possibly vote for reactionary nationalist Labour candidates like Snell and Smeeth, but will not be enough either for the Liberal candidate to win.

However, I do not completely agree. If your argument were correct, then Labour after 1906 could not possibly have supplanted the Liberals so quickly, and comprehensively. For the reason set out above, in a seat like Stoke North or Central, if you are part of that 60-70% of the Labour vote that backs Remain, and you know that because of the split vote, the Tories are likely to win, why would you not, at least for this election lend your vote to the Liberals? Indeed, if you are part of the remaining 30-40% of the Labour vote, and you do not want to see a Tory win, because, although you support their Brexit position you cannot abide the though of a Tory victory on other grounds, why again would you not vote tactically, in this election, for the Liberals, as a lesser evil. Indeed, there is now a lot of polling in marginal constituencies showing that this is precisely how voters are thinking, so that essentially the Liberals win a load of seats, on second preference votes, where both Tories and Labour voters vote tactically to keep out the alternative.

If it looks like the Liberals have that kind of traction nationally, then it will certainly play out in these marginal seats, but with that kind of momentum it can play out even in supposedly safe seats. For example, who would have thought that Labour could win Kensington and Chelsea or Canterbury? They did only because a lot of young Liberal and Green voters, and Remainer Tories lent their vote to Labour. Exactly the same phenomenon now works in the Liberals favour especially as it looks as though they have stitched a deal with Greens and Plaid in around 60 seats. The Internet also changes things, because we now have tactical voting web sites that make it easy to see which Remain candidate has the best chance of winning in your particular constituency, and so for the 75-80% of Labour's 2017 voters, who now strongly back Remain, even in safe Labour seats, there will be many who vote for the Remain candidates, unless the local Labour candidate is themselves a militant Remainer.

That is why its vital that Labour's 90% Remain supporting rank and file, must by-pass the leadership and adopt a Socialist Campaign for Labour and Europe, standing clearly on the basis of Revoke, Remain and Rebuild.

George Carty said...

Labour is now a Remain party in all but name, as it is now promising another referendum pitting Remain against its renegotiated Brexit deal. Remain would almost certainly win that referendum as the Faragists will boycott a referendum without a No Deal option (because No Deal Brexit is what they wanted all along, due of their delusion that it would lead to the destruction of the European Union itself. Why do a deal with an organization which you intend to destroy?)

Boffy has misunderstood Labour's predicament, as can be observed if we look at the recent Survation poll results for Workington:

CON: 45% (+3)
LAB: 34% (-17)
BXP: 13% (NEW)
LD: 5% (-2)
GRN: 2% (NEW)
OTH: 2% (+1)

Workington's Remainers are clearly staying loyal to Labour, as the explicitly Remain parties (LD and GRN) remains stuck on a mere 7% of the vote. Instead, Labour is haemorrhaging Leave voters to the Tories and the Brexit company (with the latter the chief net beneficiary as they also take votes away from the Tories).

Perhaps Boffy has been misled by nationwide polls (which show a net gain for the Lib Dems at Labour's expense) and not considered how the Tory voter base is changing. The Lib Dems are gaining primarily by taking middle-class Remain voters from the Tories (which makes sense, as they are now too economically right-wing to attract many working-class Remain voters) while the Tories in turn gain Leave voters at Labour's expense.

David, the 2015 General Election essentially split the Lib Dem voter coalition of 2010 into four parts:

* Principled liberals (who stayed with the Lib Dems)
* Students and academics (who defected to Labour or the Greens)
* Southwestern parochial populists (who defected to the Tories or UKIP)
* Soft Scottish nationalists (who defected to the SNP)

This means that they are unlikely to regain many of their old strongholds, though they may do well in affluent Remain-voting areas: mostly in London or in the M40/M3/A34 triangle.

Boffy said...


"Labour is now a Remain party in all but name, as it is now promising another referendum pitting Remain against its renegotiated Brexit deal."

Clearly not true, as I set out in my post here.

The Faragist voters will not boycott a referendum, because 66% of them back Johnson's deal. The Faragists always said they agreed with being in the EEC, and opposed the EU. Johnson's deal is more Brexity than that, whilst Labour's deal amounts to EEC membership but with the fantasy of having a seat at the EU table. Brexiters would vote for it, if it was negotiated - which it won't be, especially if a Corbyn government was calling for a Yes vote. And why would a Corbyn government not call for a Yes vote on its own deal???

The Workington Man concept is baloney. It simply shows that there are and always have been lots of working-class Tories, and supporters of even further right parties, as well as those that traditionally don't vote. The 2016 referendum, was a perfect example of the mobilisation of these apathetic, peripheral elements. It was the example of the success of BNP/UKIP in low polls (local elections/EP) writ large. Its why Farage won't stand himself, because he knows the BP will not win a single seat. It will take lots of votes, not from Labour but the Tories, possibly denying a win for Johnson, and thereby keeping Brexit alive so that Farage (not to mention the trolls of Spiked) lucratively employed for years to come appearing every day on TV to pontificate.

Labour Remainers for now will stick with Labour where the Liberals have no chance of winning, as in Workington, especially where the local Labour candidate sticks to a Remain position. That is the only hope for Labour. But, the experience in Newport, and in the 2019 local elections and EP elections shows this is not a matter of national polls hiding local differences.

Boffy said...


"The Lib Dems are gaining primarily by taking middle-class Remain voters from the Tories (which makes sense, as they are now too economically right-wing to attract many working-class Remain voters) while the Tories in turn gain Leave voters at Labour's expense."

Not true. It wasn't true in Newport or the 2019 elections. The term Middle Class is here ill-defined, and actually means not blue collar working-class, which is rather meaningless at a time when less than 20% of the working-class is engaged in blue-collar work. Its the same mistake that the Tories and bourgeois sociologists make in analysing the working-class and voting behaviour. Its also the same mistake that the economic nationalists like Corbyn et al make.

More importantly, you fail to recognise that this election like that of 2017 is all about Brexit. Voters today predominantly define themselves as leavers or Remainers, only a small minority by comparison define themselves as Labour or Tory. In 2017, a Brexit election favoured Labour as it appeared the only credible option of stopping a hard Tory Brexit, and potential to stop Brexit altogether. Today that isn't true. Labour in the last 2 years has itself become increasingly identified as a Brexit supporting Party, and the local elections, EP elections, Newport, Brecon and Radnor et al, show the potential for tactical voting to get Remain supporting candidates elected.

More importantly, if say you are a Remainer in Stoke, why would you vote for a reactionary nationalist Labour MP like Snell or Smeeth, who have supported Johnson and the Tories. You may just as well have been giving your vote to the Tories wearing a blue rosette rather than Tories wearing a red one. Your vote for the Liberals in such conditions might not be enough for them to win - though it could, as the wins for SDP candidates in safe Labour seats in 1982 showed - but at least you would have salved your conscience that you had not voted for a reactionary nationalist!

Boffy said...


I'd also recommend that you look at the performances in Workington over a number of elections, as set out here. In particular to look at the movement in the UKIP vote over several elections and corresponding movement in the Tory vote.

I would also point out that acording to that Survation Poll, putting the Liberals on 5%, that is actually double the actual percentage of the vote they obtain in the 2017 election. Put in the 2% going to the Greens who did not stand in 2017, and may not do again this time, that would be a score of 7%, or nearly three times the percentage of the poll the Liberals scored in 2017. Still very marginal, but imagine doubling or trebling the proportion of the vote in seats where you already start even from a 10% point score. Things soon look very different.

David Timoney said...


Labour supplanted the Liberals over the period 1922-24. This was a consequence of the extension of the franchise in 1918 and was amplified by the concentration of Labour's vote in urban and industrial areas.

Boffy said...


That argument doesn't stack up. Male workers got the vote in 1867. They voted mostly Liberal, and there were Lib-Lab MP's mostly drawn from the unions some of which preferred to keep that situation rather than set up a separate Labour Party. The Fabians also supported that position.

The fact remains that in a short period of time, heavily Liberal dominated seats became Labour seats, showing that a new electoral force, once it has the dynamic behind it can quickly supplant old ones given FPTP. The success of the SFDP in 1982 showed the same thing, and that was not down to any extension of the franchise.

Today, we have perhaps a lot of younger people who have been motivated to vote because of their horror at the prospect of brexit, and overwhelmingly they back Remain. They also overwhelmingly backed Labour in 2017, but its amongst this group that surveys show the biggest alienation with Corbyn has occurred. So something similar to 1922-24 is possible if this cohort and those around it, move decisively to pro-Remain parties, particularly the Liberals.

DFTM said...

Boffy said,

“Voters today predominantly define themselves as leavers or Remainers, only a small minority by comparison define themselves as Labour or Tory.”

That should be telling us something about the class composition, a good study for sociologists. If voters simply identify themselves as Brexit or Remain then there can’t be much else going on in their lives can there. Everything must be hunky-dory in their world.

You would think people would maybe identify themselves as planet destroyers or planet protectors or maybe in the super exploited South, wage slaves and imperialist lackeys but in the UK it is Brexiter or Remainer.

If this is true that says more about the analysis of class than any crackpot pseudo Marxist, bourgeois sociologist or economic nationalist. As I said Britain is a capitalist death cult.

The thing is Social nationalists like Boffy, who celebrate the uber economic nationalism that is imperialism (apparently it is civilising and drags people out of poverty, often against their will!), fail to accept that the servile attitudes of the working class can in a large part be understood in relation to imperialism (Marx was recognising all this over 150 years ago. Boffy, being an uber economic nationalist, conveniently ignores it).

It is precisely this uber economic nationalism that binds the ‘working class’ dog to its master. I personally doubt that in any objective way you can put the % of working class people above 25%. Looked at from the world system, which in this globalised world we surely should, then 25% is not too low a number. From world system point of view the overwhelming majority of Brits are easily middle class. It is ironic that Boffy’s conception of class is stuck in the pre globalised era, he is stuck in a nationalist mentality.