NIGEL Farage was the engineer of the EU Referendum and will always be the Champion of Brexit. To anyone wanting to leave the EU he is and will always be a hero. A man of the people, of perseverance and fortitude, and an incredible public speaker – a communicator who inspires respect and admiration.
He founded the Brexit Party in January this year when it became apparent that Parliament would not honour the result of the referendum. In May, the party won the European elections with 29 MEPs, more than double the number of the Conservative and Labour Party combined.
Building on this momentum over the summer, the Brexit Party expanded rapidly – in fact with unprecedented speed and organisation; recruiting over 600 prospective Parliamentary candidates who, almost exclusively, were entering politics for the first time. Largely untainted by the usual political party cronyism, selection was professional, based on ability and merit. Never had so many been assembled who understood and so well represented the people – candidates with regular jobs from all walks of life.
Very quickly it geared up. The candidates went through fast-track training and built highly motivated local campaign teams. By the time the general election was called on October 31 it was ready.
Farage used the threat of standing Brexit Party candidates in every seat across the country to achieve either of his two aims; a Leave pact with the Conservatives so a small number of Brexit Party MPs could be elected and gain a foothold in Parliament, or getting Boris Johnson to agree to a clean-break Brexit.
Both of these objectives Johnson and his adviser Dominic Cummings conspired to defeat. They refused a Leave pact that was acceptable to Farage and Johnson stood by the imperfect deal he had agreed with the EU, selling it as a massive achievement. Farage was left with a decision: would he fight all 600+ seats, stand down in existing Conservative-held seats, stand down in the marginals or target and fight just 20-30 Labour Leave seats, in which the Tories would still be fielding their candidates?
The Brexit Party candidates had always agreed to stand down if a Leave pact were agreed or Johnson scrapped his deal in favour of a clean-break Brexit. Neither happened.
But on Monday November 11 Farage took a unilateral decision to stand down the 317 candidates running in Conservative-held seats, arguing this would prevent the risk of Liberal Democrat election gains, a hung parliament and the real prospect of a second referendum. A fair objective, though standing down in all the marginals might have better achieved it.
Signs that Farage had begun to lose his battle for control of the narrative on Brexit came earlier, on October 17, the day Johnson agreed a deal with the EU (sold as having achieved the unachievable, but leaving much to be desired). Nigel’s humour and sharp wit disappeared and were replaced by a seriousness, frustration and anger he couldn’t conceal. With the Brexit Party he continued to attack the deal and travelled the length and breadth of the country to expose it as BRINO.
Meanwhile Boris was successfully persuading the country that he was getting Brexit done. Leavers and Remainers fed up with the Brexit stalemate connected with his slogan and started backing him. The Leave vote was split and support for the Brexit Party and a clean-break Brexit in decline.
Under intense public pressure from the pro-Brexit media and Westminster establishment not to sacrifice the only chance of Brexit, Farage made his U-turn. Standing down the 317 candidates in Tory-held seats effectively gave his stamp of approval for Boris’s deal, although its stated purpose was to prevent the split Leave vote of which the Remain Alliance could take advantage. This won the election for the Conservatives. Farage made voting for the Brexit Party inconsequential. The electorate, including Labour Leave voters, recognised only the Conservatives could get Brexit done.
But for Brexit Party candidates Brexit was just part of the reason for entering politics. Parliament’s arrogant refusal to honour the result of the referendum had catalysed public interest in further objectives – of changing politics for good; of the urgent need for Parliamentary reform; of making MPs more accountable to the people rather than acting in accord with their own interests and opinions alone; of the need for career politicians to be replaced with representatives of the people who put their local communities first; above all for trust and honesty to be brought back to politics.
Foiled and outwitted by the newly energised Conservatives under Johnson, his ambitious dream of shaking our nation’s political foundations with a reform movement to change politics for good blown away, is it surprising if after 25 years of fighting to leave the EU Nigel Farage’s tank had run empty?
With Brexit now in the hands of Boris Johnson, the Brexit Party’s days appear to be numbered – provided the result of the referendum is finally honoured and not compromised along the way.
But there could be another twist in the tale. For while this election failed to deliver any MPs the party’s real success was the recruitment of a new breed of politician – 600 prospective candidates with real-life experience.
As we move into 2020 it will become evident how needed this still is. A phoenix can rise from the ashes and consolidate into a new party, with the right backing and leadership and candidates in place to fight every seat in the land next time round.