IF there’s one thing most of us can agree on about this short yet interminable election campaign, it’s that the best performer by a mile has been Nigel Farage. Such energy! Such verve! Such a brilliant, cut-to-the-chase and tell-it-like-it-is speaker.
There’s just one small problem, as I’ve grumbled before: Nigel isn’t standing. Also, his Brexit Party – especially after the most recent shenanigans in which four of its star players resigned – is probably going to do squat in the reduced number of seats it’s contesting. Which makes this election a bit like going to a restaurant where there’s only one item you fancy on the generally disappointing menu and being told: ‘Chef says it’s off’.
It used to be said of Farage in his UKIP days that he was leading the Conservative Party in exile, as opposed to the grisly, treacherous, sell-out Vichy Conservatives in Westminster. The same, up to a point, could be said of the Brexit Party, which in its all-too-brief heyday brimmed with the kind of talents who, in a parallel and much more desirable universe, are now serving on the Conservative Party front bench.
I’m thinking of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s sounder sibling Annunziata; Thatcherite smoked salmon entrepreneur Lance Forman; punchy big kid Michael Heaver; charming and thoughtful former lads’ mag editor Martin Daubney, and wild card Claire Fox. Some reactionary fools might imagine that a former member of the Revolutionary Communist Party who still considers herself a Leftie could never make a good Conservative. But give me Claire any day rather than half the bloodless squishes still infesting the parliamentary Conservative Party, not least because CCHQ – and the selection process – remain in the hands of ‘Heir to Blair’ Cameroons. Claire believes in stuff like liberty and free speech; being a champion of the working class, she’d never agree to a stupid policy such as Net Zero by 2050, not least because it will cause rich rent-seekers to get richer while the poor get poorer. Claire Fox would serve the same function in the Conservatives as Kate Hoey in Labour: their maverick moral conscience.
But am I daydreaming again? I fear so. Just like in my algebra classes when I’d suddenly feel my strict headmaster Mr Torrance tapping me hard on the head with his fountain pen (wouldn’t be allowed now, would it?) bringing me back to reality with a painful lurch.
The painful reality in this case, of course, is that the one thing we’re not being offered in this election is the one thing that the majority of us most want: real meaningful Brexit. I don’t mean the abstruse, wonkish question as to whether Boris’s withdrawal agreement constitutes the real deal, but something much bigger.
Brexit, I’ve always thought, was only peripherally about Britain’s relationship with the European Union. Much more – and why so many people who don’t normally vote turned out – it was an expression of viscerally held and long-frustrated socio-political values which often transcended the old Left/Right divide.
Remainers tended – and tend – to be more cautious, wedded to the status quo, dependent for their living on a larger state, politically correct, impressed by ‘experts’ and credentialism, respectful of the BBC, smitten with the unimprovable wondrousness of the NHS, delighted by their superiority at having been to ‘uni’, credulous about climate change, terrified of anything that might smack of ‘Islamophobia’, enthusiastic about identity politics and eager to signal their virtue at every opportunity.
Brexiteers tended – and tend – to be more ready to take risks, suspicious of arbitrary authority, sceptical of state bureaucracy, keen to be their own boss and keep their hard-earned wages from the grasping government, proud to be British (or even English), unconvinced that three years doing Gender Studies makes you a better or more useful person, distrustful of the mainstream media (especially the BBC), bothered by immigration and the erosion of cultural values, jealous of their right to make a joke and call a spade a spade, worried about Islamism, quite sure that the whole environmentalist thing is just another liberal elite scam, appalled by political correctness gone mad and not great fans of blokes with baps using their daughters’ changing rooms.
That’s why this is the Hobson’s Choice election: great if you’re a Remainer, because Remain is essentially what all the parties, including the Conservatives, are offering; massively depressing if you’re a Brexiteer, because where, if anywhere, is the beef?
To be honest, I’m not even sure that the Brexit Party quite cut it. In their eagerness not to take any of the hatred directed at UKIP, they refused to talk about Islam (which may have worked, briefly, on a cynical tactical level; but which also made them look a bit dishonest and cowardly at a time when a more robust stance could have earned them a lot of votes, as witness the wave of public enthusiasm when Muslim terrorist Usman Khan was despatched by the police with two head shots). Their flirting with state aid and other forms of government meddling smacks of no-better-than-any-of-the-other-parties opportunism: a bid to hoover up Labour votes in the North. And their inability to take a clear, unapologetically sceptical line on the expensive green nonsense from all the other parties is frankly inexcusable.
This, in short, is the election where – yet again – the parties of the Right have pulled their punches. ‘Here’s some very thin gruel,’ they said to those of us of a Thatcherite/libertarian/classical liberal disposition. They can hardly blame us if we’re responding to their offer with so little enthusiasm.
Somewhere in that parallel universe I mentioned earlier, an unleashed Boris is channelling his inner Donald Trump, Michael Gove has re-read my book Watermelons and has given up on his ludicrous green virtue-signalling, Priti Patel is about to sack Dame Cressida Dick, Sajid Javid is announcing swingeing tax cuts, Liz Truss is banging the drum for free markets, Steve Baker is talking about sound money, Jacob Rees-Mogg is everywhere, Matt Hancock has been gagged, while, just as The Donald had hoped (wise man, The Donald!) there’s now an alliance between the Conservatives and the Brexit Party, with Farage finally getting off the fence on the NHS and promising voters that his priority is to create a healthcare system that works for patients as opposed to the sclerotic, socialistic, producer-interest money pit it is today.
Not in this one, though, unfortunately.