Writing on the wall
With the Brexit Party collapsing about his ears, Nigel Farage is thinking about launching the Reform Party. Eddie Ford is amused.
Whatever else you can say about the general election, one thing that cannot be doubted is that the Brexit Party had a disastrous campaign.
Of course, it is easy to identify when the wheels started to come off - which was very quickly indeed, when Nigel Farage announced on November 11 - to stunned silence - that the BP would not be standing candidates against any of the 317 sitting Tory MPs. Game over before it had even begun. Very unconvincingly, if not with a smack of desperation, Farage tried to justify his dramatic policy change by pointing to a video on Twitter of Boris Johnson, in which he promised not to ask for or accept an extension of the transition period for Britain leaving the European Union beyond the end of 2020 - just as he had previously promised to “die in a ditch” rather than extend article 50 beyond October 31. The prime minister also said on the video that he wanted to negotiate a “super Canada-plus” trade deal with no political or regulatory alignment with the EU, which seems like a pipedream.
Although it was not the kind of ‘clean’ Brexit that Nigel Farage had been championing for the months and years before the election campaign, he said he could now back Johnson’s EU deal - even though 95% of it is exactly the same as Theresa May’s previous version. That, of course, Farage had denounced as “cretinous” and “the worst deal in history”. And under Johnson’s deal Northern Ireland will effectively remain within the framework of the EU for the indefinite future (therefore requiring two-way customs checks, and so on, whatever he might say). No wonder the Democratic Unionist Party turned against the Tory government.
Exactly as predicted, and as Farage must have expected, the Tories did not reciprocate in the spirit of generosity and compromise - none of their candidates stood down, nor was there a formal alliance with the BP. It was never going to happen. This made Nigel Farage look weak and rather foolish, and any possible momentum that the BP might have gathered was instantly blown away. Feeling betrayed, some angry candidates demanded their money back, after having paid £100 to the organisation to stand in the election - we were conned.
There was only one obvious conclusion to draw from Farage’s new stance. Either you want another hung parliament, carrying on the Brexit farce - which is clearly not Farage’s aim - or logically you vote Tory in order to ‘get Brexit done’, or at least offer the possibility of some sort of resolution. For that, the Tories need the biggest parliamentary majority possible. A hung parliament could possibly lead to the cancellation of Brexit by one means or another.
That was certainly the conclusion of some BP parliamentary candidates, who unilaterally stood down to give the Tories a better chance. They included Rupert Lowe in the Labour heartland seat of Dudley North - exactly the kind of seat that the party was supposed to capture. Paul Brothwood also stood aside in the marginal Dudley South, announcing that he was backing the Tories. As for Stephen Peddie, the party’s candidate for Tonbridge and Malling in Kent, he openly attacked Farage on Twitter - accusing him of pursuing a “fantastical and dangerous strategy” that saw the BP “evolving from a national asset to a national threat”. At the same time, one of the BP’s main donors - property developer Jeffrey Hobby, who donated £10,000 to the party ahead of the European elections in May - switched to the Tories, saying the prime minister was doing a “fantastic job”. The BP was redundant.
Then there were the sensational stories about senior BP figures being offered peerages and positions if they stood down - including claims from Ann Widdecombe, the MEP for South West England, that she was offered a place in a “future Brexit negotiating team” by the Conservatives. The latter have strenuously denied ever making such an offer, effectively calling Widdecombe a liar. She might be a half-mad political reactionary, but why would she lie about such a thing?
Perhaps the ultimate humiliation came when three BP MEPs resigned the whip. Annunziata Rees-Mogg (sister of Commons leader, Jacob Rees-Mogg), Lance Forman and Lucy Harris urged voters to vote Tory if they want to see Brexit completed. Rees-Mogg - the MEP for East Midlands and a former Conservative candidate - told journalists that she finds it “tragic” that the BP is “now the very party risking Brexit”. If you “support democracy, support our sovereignty, and support Brexit”, she urged, then “support the Conservatives and get us out of the EU”, as “we need a strong ‘leave’-supporting government to deliver the Brexit 17.4 million voted for”. Lance Forman was blunter, and more logical still, saying that, whilst he welcomed Farage’s decision to stand down in seats won by the Tories at the last election, it did not go far enough - the BP should have stepped aside in every Tory target seat. Farage’s was a “misguided” strategy, he stated, that “jeopardises the chance to become an independent country at the very moment victory is in sight”. After all, if Johnson’s deal is “good enough” not to fight the Tories in their existing seats, “why on earth are we competing with them elsewhere?” A good question - why split the ‘leave’ vote at all?
In retaliation, Nigel Farage told the BBC’s Andrew Neil that the three defectors did not understand what was happening in the Labour seats which the BP was contesting. Apparently in Labour marginals, while Labour was down 18 points, there was no shift in the Tory vote. In fact in some constituencies, where voters were “unlikely” to go blue, it was the Conservatives who were guilty of splitting the ‘leave’ vote!
But even businessman and major BP donor Arron Banks - as co-founder of the Leave.EU campaign, a fellow “bad boy of Brexit” alongside Nigel Farage - ended up calling upon people to vote for the Tories. Naturally, there are still true believers in the BP like Claire Fox, MEP for North West England and a former luminary of the Revolutionary Communist Party. She has given speeches about how no-one truly speaks for democracy apart from the BP, even if she does admit that, “to be honest, Nigel and I are unlikely to agree on a range of issues” - especially as “I’ve spent my life fighting for leftwing causes”. Well by her new friends she shall be known. Thirty years ago Fox and co might have been counted on the left. But that was a lifetime ago. Now they are a particularly weird variant of the libertarian right. Not remotely leftwing at all.
Seeing the writing on the wall for the Brexit Party, Nigel Farage is talking about setting up the Reform Party - having already registered the name. This means that he expects the Tories to ‘get Brexit done’ in some way in the relatively near future, which means the name of his party will have far less traction - so change it. Whether the RP will be a successful vehicle for him remains to be seen, though it looks extremely doubtful. But, in reality, Nigel Farage is a Tory, albeit currently in exile. His real home is in the Tory Party.
Anyhow, the new party will be formally launched after Britain finally leaves the EU - whenever that is, if it ever happens. In particular, the Reform Party will campaign to get rid of the House of Lords and introduce a proportional voting system - Farage told Sky News on December 8 that he wants “to change politics for good”. He also cast doubt on Johnson’s Brexit deal, but he thought there was “still time for it to be amended”.
Of course, communists support scrapping the Lords and the ‘first past the post’ voting system. But we fight to go much further - abolish the monarchy and all second chambers (elected or non-elected), and fight for a federal republic. Scrap the standing army and all weapons of mass destruction, whether nuclear or non-nuclear, establish a popular militia, disestablish the Church of England, nationalise the land, etc, etc.
As for the Brexit Party (not to mention any successor grouping), the writing is on the wall.