Finn McRedmond: Getting Brexit done is last thing Farage wants
After decade building cult of personality, Brexit Party man will not quit stage
Nigel Farage: Whatever the direction of the UK, he will position himself as the plucky underdog fighting the tide. Photograph: Bryan Meade
Nigel Farage wants you to think he’s the perfect antidote to establishment politics. He’s anti-status quo. He doesn’t mix with the elite who dominate the halls of Westminster and care little for the plight of the ordinary man.
Images of him forgoing wine in favour of pints, always with a cigarette in hand, are all part of the act. That he was educated in Dulwich College, and cut his teeth as a City stockbroker has done little to tarnish the persona. Nor did a photo of him shaking hands with Donald Trump in Trump Tower back in 2016. Because nothing says anti-elitist like riding a solid gold lift with a New York property billionaire.
But being anti-status quo is where Farage’s entire political capital rests. He came to prominence heading up Ukip in 2006, when British Europhilia was at its height; his single political project has been taking the UK out of the European Union; and now that Brexit is on the horizon, he berates his Eurosceptic counterparts in the Conservative Party for striking a deal that is “Brexit in name only.”
Whatever the direction of the United Kingdom, Farage will position himself as the plucky underdog fighting the tide. He’s one of the best political communicators the UK has. But his leverage as a communicator rests on that carefully crafted man-on-the-street persona. He’s an outsider.
His leverage as a communicator rests on that carefully crafted man-on-the-street persona. He’s an outsider
So, when a referendum on EU membership was secured, and won by Farage’s side against all odds, his calling card was slipping out of his grasp. Now that most politicians claimed they would respect the result of the referendum in 2016, it seemed like the natural denouement of Farage’s career. The public were headed to the promised land – what use had they now of Moses?
But three years on from the referendum result, after the slow and painful descent of Theresa May’s paralysed government, Tory in-fighting, resignations, an intractably divided parliament and no serious opposition to speak of, Farage had cause to return. And this time with an entirely new outfit – the Brexit Party.
And just as he swapped the brash purple and yellow of Ukip’s logo for the calming sky-blue of the Brexit Party, he swapped the overt anti-immigration and anti-globalisation sentiment of Ukip, for the more palatable pro-democracy message of the Brexit Party. And just as the blatant dog-whistle racism of Ukip was traded for the more subtle dog-whistle racism of some Brexit Party candidates, so too did Farage ditch slogans like the infamous “Breaking Point” poster of leave.EU (accompanied by an image of non-white migrants), in favour of the altogether more upbeat “change politics for good” catchphrase of the Brexit Party.
The Brexit Party – with its inoffensive palate and anodyne message of respecting democracy – is something very different from Ukip altogether. Because there is little doubt that Farage has realised there’s not much left for him in what Ukip had to offer. His political standing is as the voice of the people, not an alt-right thug. And now the Conservatives have tried to steal his mantle as the official standard bearers of Brexit, he needed a new avenue to cling on to relevance as that outside, truth-telling voice – resorting to claiming the Tory version of Brexit is as much of a betrayal as no Brexit at all.
That his rhetoric is as populist as it ever was needn’t be spelled out – Donald Trump’s heady endorsement of him on his radio show last week is proof enough itself. Not to mention that his rallying cries against a parliament that tries to thwart the will of the people, and claims Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal is the kind “the sort of treaty you sign after losing a war” could have been lifted straight out of the playbooks of Viktor Orban and Marie Le Pen.
He threatens to split the Leave vote and squander Johnson’s hopes to get Brexit over the line
Now that he has decided to field 600 Brexit Party candidates in the general election, he threatens to split the Leave vote and squander Johnson’s hopes to get Brexit over the line. But his leverage over the Conservatives relies on the fear he instils – and his continued relevance as a frontline politician on being the voice of the betrayed and forgotten.
As Farage’s transparent act rumbles on, it is becoming abundantly clear that this isn’t a man interested in getting Brexit done at all. His price for calling an election pact with the Conservative party – that they drop Johnson’s deal and pursue no deal instead – is something he knows they can’t accept.
Farage has spent a long time creating this cult of personality – and even as leader of the Brexit Party he’s not about to throw it all down the drain by allowing the UK an easy route out of the European Union.