Would make the perfect fit with a second-term Donald Trump

Fissures and fusions

Mainstream parties feign outrage over Nigel Farage’s Trumpite comments about the west provoking Russia’s invasion of Ukraine - even though he is essentially correct, writes Eddie Ford

With Reform UK still competing strongly against the Tories in the polls, one of the big stories from last week was Nigel Farage’s comments about the Ukraine war. He repeated his warnings from 2014, at the time of the Russian annexation of Crimea, that the ever-eastward expansion of Nato and the European Union, which he visibly hates, was going to cause a negative reaction from Moscow that would go against the interests of the UK.

Hence Farage said to the BBC’s Panorama that the west “provoked this war” and, while the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine over two years ago was “of course” the fault of Vladimir Putin, he has “used what we’ve done as an excuse”. He went on the next day to write an article for The Daily Telegraph entitled ‘The west’s errors in Ukraine have been catastrophic: I won’t apologise for telling the truth’, saying that “the west has played into Putin’s hands”, and described himself as “one of the few political figures who has been consistently right and honest about Russia’s Ukraine war”.1 Farage added that he never has been “an apologist or supporter of Putin” and, as “a champion of national sovereignty”, he found the Russian leader’s invasion of Ukraine “immoral, outrageous and indefensible”.

The reaction from the mainstream parties and political establishment was totally predictable - best summed up by the dishonest headline in The Guardian: ‘Senior Tories line up to denounce Nigel Farage’s defence of Putin’s war’ (June 23). Farage said nothing of the sort, of course! Rather, he said there was a reason for this war. Yes, that does not chime in with the notion that Putin is just mad or bad, as we are constantly told - or the daft idea that he is a new Hitler, who really wants to conquer all of Europe. No, there is a rationality to Putin’s war, even if it is taboo to say such a thing.

What exactly his war aims were is still not entirely clear - was it initially to roll towards Kyiv and overthrow the Zelensky government? Hold down the entire country? What about his declared goal to “demilitarise and deNazify” the country? But what you can say with reasonable confidence is that it was about preventing Ukraine from joining Nato and doing some sort of deal over the areas where there is a large ethnic Russian presence - in the south, crucially Crimea, and Donbass to the east. Maybe Vladimir Putin will be successful in achieving some or all of these aims, especially with regards to Crimea, or perhaps the war will take an unexpected twist and he ends up with more or less nothing. The potential for miscalculation on all sides is huge.


But it goes without saying that the establishment politicians had no interest in engaging with the actual issues, preferring to auto-condemn any deviation from the consensus. James Cleverly, the home secretary, said Farage’s comments were “echoing Putin’s vile justification for the brutal invasion of Ukraine” - even though that was obviously not the case - while shadow defence secretary John Healey pompously declared that Farage has “shown that he would rather lick Vladimir Putin’s boot than stand up for the people of Ukraine” - something that makes him “unfit for any political office in our country, let alone leading a serious party in parliament” (complete subservience to the Biden administration is obviously an essential qualification - well, till November anyway).

You will not be surprised to hear that Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey does not “share any values” with Nigel Farage, while Boris Johnson - of all people - called the Reform leader “morally repugnant”, spouting “nauseating ahistorical drivel and more Kremlin propaganda”. Naturally Sir Keir Starmer was keen to display his Atlanticist credentials, as we enter the closing stages of the general election campaign - informing us that Labour was “unshakeable in our commitment to Nato, because this is about defending Ukraine, but it is also about defending our hard-won democracy and freedom, and anybody standing for public office ought to understand that”.

Maybe he will change his tune, if, and it’s a big if, Donald Trump becomes president again in January 2025. Farage is, of course, a Trumpite. A deeply reactionary rebel against the liberal post-World War II social order, crucially its neo-liberal rush to globalisation, he would surely be top of Trump’s list of foreign satraps coming to pay him court in the White House.

However, perhaps the most disingenuous response came from the former defence secretary, Ben Wallace. He described Nigel Farage as a “pub bore” who did not understand the “real world” of politics, and presented “very simplistic answers” to what are “complex problems”. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! It is clearly Wallace and those like him who give us the supremely simplistic answer that Putin’s actions can be explained by the notion that he is a crazy, “totalitarian” leader, which means that questioning this narrative, as Farage does, means “voicing sympathy for a dictator who deployed nerve agents on the streets of Britain”. Very sophisticated, Ben.

It is also rewriting the past too, as Nigel Farage had fun pointing out at the beginning of the week from the top of his campaign bus in Maidstone - brandishing a copy of the i newspaper from May 2016 with the headline, “Boris blames EU for war in Ukraine”.2 The original article, which saw the former London mayor branded as a “Putin apologist” by the Labour Party, quotes Johnson as saying that, if you want an example of EU “foreign policy making on the hoof” and its “pretensions to running a defence policy that have caused real trouble”, then look at what has happened in Ukraine - which risks “undermining Nato”. Johnson also cited events in the Balkans as other examples of EU blundering. In fact, he attacked the EU as a “force for instability and alienation” and compared it to the Italian Mafia - not a bad Nigel Farage impersonation. Not without reason, the Reform leader told his supporters that “perhaps it’s Boris Johnson that’s morally repugnant and not me”, adding: “But can you see the sheer level of hypocrisy? Can you see the nonsense of all of this?”

While in Kent, he could not resist the jibe that Johnson would go down as the “worst prime minister of modern times”, who betrayed an “80-seat majority” and those who voted for Brexit.

Given the dire state of the polls for the Tories, they have seized upon Nigel Farage’s comments in a desperate attempt to halt the rise of Reform UK, which seems to be splitting their party in two. Some scenarios see them reduced to below 100 MPs in the next parliament, which would be a catastrophic result. For example, the latest Opinium poll still has Labour with a 20-point lead over the Tories, and shows Reform only four points behind the Conservatives on 16% of the vote.

Two wings

Farage’s pronouncements on Ukraine were also seized upon by the even more desperate liberal or one-nation wing of the Conservative Party - worried that figures on the right of the party like Suella Braverman and Jacob Rees-Mogg will encourage him to join the Tories after their election defeat. They will now argue that someone who has shown “sympathy for a murderous tyrant” should not be allowed into the party, as he is too far away from what should be the position of a normal mainstream politician. But they could be batting on a losing wicket. One former cabinet minister said he fears “a fissure” after the election, with the leadership candidates feeling compelled to argue for Farage’s admittance in order to appease the party membership - scuppering any chance of trying to keep the party in the centre ground.

Adding to the toxic mix has been the row over the reallocation of resources at Conservative campaign headquarters to defend ‘safer seats’ - apparently now considered marginal, according to the latest polling - which has led to concerns about effectively giving up on the so-called ‘red wall’ captured by Boris Johnson in 2019. Another issue is money - not something the Tories normally have to be too worried about - but some Tory candidates have complained about not having enough resources. Hinting at the problems, a fundraising event last week at London’s exclusive Hurlingham Club took place without Rishi Sunak, who instead sent a video message - he was obviously too busy trying to handle the betting scandal. This meant that the star turn of the evening went to none other than business secretary Kemi Badenoch - seen as a frontrunner for the leadership, if not “the future” of the party (at least according to the Telegraph).

Merger hopes

A future that looks increasingly grim, if you are a Tory liberal. A poll by BMG Research finds that Tory and Reform voters are nearly twice as likely to back a merger between the two parties than not.3 Thus 45% of Tory voters and 48% of Reform voters want the two parties to join together - a possibility heavily touted by Farage over the past weeks - while only around a quarter of each group oppose such a fusion. Unsurprisingly, the two sides may struggle to agree on a leader, with Nigel Farage proving the most popular of a range of potential candidates among 2019 Tory voters - with 63% support, as opposed to the mere 17% for Rishi Sunak. However, the prime minister is loyally backed by 95% of current Tory voters, with just 43% of those likely to vote for the party if it were led by Farage.

In yet more bad news for the Tories, according to an Ipsos survey for the Financial Times (June 23), the Tories have lost up to a third of voters who planned to back the party just four months ago. However, the BBC’s poll tracker showed little change in the overall support for each of the main parties - with the Tories on 20% and Labour way ahead with 41%. While the Conservatives lost voters to Labour and Reform, they also gained backers among those who had previously said they were undecided - a group that has commonly turned out for the Tories in recent elections.

It is not all unvarnished good news for Starmer, as Labour has also experienced high levels of turnover, losing a quarter of the people who previously said they were planning to vote for the party. The party lost 4% of its voters to the Lib Dems (most likely to be tactical switchers trying to oust Tory candidates), but Labour gained 16% of those who had previously been planning to vote Lib Dem - the Ipsos survey demonstrating that beneath the surface stability there is a lot of churn.

But the overall direction of travel is quite clear: a handsome Labour victory - possibly an historic one - that could trigger a Tory civil war and a large lurch to the right under the gravitational pull of Nigel Farage and Reform UK.

  1. telegraph.co.uk/news/2024/06/22/wests-errors-in-ukraine-been-catastrophic-i-wont-apologise.↩︎

  2. news.sky.com/story/nigel-farage-hits-back-at-hypocrisy-of-boris-johnson-over-ukraine-comments-13158013.↩︎

  3. inews.co.uk/news/politics/half-tory-reform-voters-merger-few-opposed-3125211.↩︎