Well, Donald Trump was half right – Boris Johnson is unstoppable, but maybe not so much for Nigel Farage. Trump’s appearance on LBC Radio was quite the coup – but also a desperate plea for help (from Nigel to Donald, obvs). It shows just how lonely Farage must be right now.
A couple of months ago, it was another world. No-deal Brexit was still on the table, probably, and Brexit seemed locked in the same gruesome limbo it had been in since 2016. Someone had a bright idea for an opinion poll. The usual questions were asked about who you’d vote for, with the usual result at the time – a modest Tory lead of 3 percentage points. The Brexit Party, which swept all before it in the European elections in the summer, was on about 14 per cent – troublesome for both the bigger parties. They were threatening to deprive the Tories of victory. Farage said they could be “Boris’ biggest friend” – but also his worst enemy. A hung parliament was on the cards.
The novel touch was to ask people how they think they would vote if Brexit had not been delivered by the time of this hypothetical general election, which would take place at some point after 31 October, with, presumably, another Article 50 extension in force. Then things went very differently: Boris Johnson’s lead over Jeremy Corbyn evaporated, and Labour went ahead with 28 per cent. Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party increased its appeal to closer to 17 per cent. Game on, for all the parties. A hung parliament looked even more likely. In the words of the Comres pollsters: “These figures suggest an electoral backlash may be in store for Boris Johnson, in what seemingly is becoming the likely scenario of Britain’s exit from the EU being delayed beyond 31 October and an election to be held shortly after. Voters would drift from the Tories to the Brexit Party, gifting Labour a chance at becoming the largest party with support from the Liberal Democrats.”
Oh well, it hasn’t quite worked out that way, has it? Farage’s personal vehicle is down to single figures, and looks more than ever to be a one-man band. Some of his rich backers want him to call it a day and just let Johnson get on with winning.
This is obviously because Johnson has managed to get a “deal” of sorts, whereas the assumption then was that there’d be more chaos. Agreed, all Johnson has won is a ropey Withdrawal Agreement – but it will do. For the average knackered punter it looks very much as though this stage of Brexit has indeed been sorted. With a majority in parliament, Johnson will be able to push this off. The fact it’s a couple of weeks late seems to be trivial.
Had there still been no such deal, and just stasis, then the fulminations of Nigel Farage about a “clean break Brexit” might well have impressed some of the more militant Leave voters. But there is, and Farage’s fulminations are not working. The Brexit party’s poll ratings are looking fairly sickly, slumping into single figures. The Tories, with a commanding 15-point lead over Labour hardly need Farage to rescue them. If Brexit will soon be over, so will the Brexit party and so will Farage.
Soon, indeed, the Brexit party may be out of business and Farage may be out of a job. He will be expelled from the European Parliament, fail to win a Westminster seat, and all he’ll have left is his LBC chat show.
Since Theresa May quit, this scenario appeared inevitable. Once Johnson became Tory leader, the Conservatives enjoyed an immediate boost in the polls – at the expense of the Brexit party. Usually so voluble, Farage has had little to say lately, except trying to outflank Johnson with ever more extreme demands for a no-deal Brexit. Yet a no-deal Brexit is not a particularly popular idea with the public, who seem happy to take the Johnson deal, and not have to go through another no-deal drama again. The message about the chaos and disruption and damage no deal would entail seems to have resonated at last, and the Johnson deal – in reality a hard Brexit – looks perfectly acceptable to a bored electorate. The zealots will go down in a ditch with Farage, for sure, but there are not enough of them to swing the result. There aren’t enough of them to get Farage into parliament.
It is often said that there is no love lost between the PM’s adviser Dominic Cummings and Farage, the bad blood going back to the time when Cummings wanted Farage to have nothing to do with the Vote Leave campaign, and Farage set up his own “bad boys of Brexit” outfit, Leave.EU.
Cummings’ instinct was that Farage’s brand of politics would toxify the Leave brand, and that Farage and his band of fruitcakes were far more trouble than they were worth, and would lose them the referendum with their borderline racist clowning around. They turned off moderate Tories – and still do.
Events have proved Cummings right, and he has the same view now it would seem – getting closer to Farage simply messes up Brand Boris, which is proving quite successful right now.
Plus, Cummings can deploy some perfectly obvious and credible attack lines to see Farage off. Such as, the Brexit Party is not going to form the next government – true enough. Brexit is already being delivered; thanks very much Nigel. Voting Brexit Party means you’ll get Corbyn. The Brexit Party would simply reopen the whole sorry Brexit mess and put the nation through yet more anguish. The Brexit Party is more extreme, demonstrably, than the Tories, thus the Tories can appear moderate, pursuing a consensual Brexit “compromise” (though nothing of the sort, it is an image that is superficially attractive). And having Nigel Farage agitating and making trouble in the Commons, setting himself up as some sort of alternative leader to Johnson, trying to take over the ERG, banging on about no-deal Brexit and electoral pacts with the Tories – the Tories and the country do not want this noisy nuisance distracting everyone 24/7.
It might be a bit bold to say it, and he has had more comebacks than Lazarus, but Farage is finished. There – that’s one good thing Johnson has managed to do.
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