Nigel Farage, the most impactful UK politician in a generation, who has failed seven times to be elected

To reduce Nigel Farage’s influence to his legislative heft in the House of Commons seriously underestimates his impact

Reform UK leader Nigel Farage: he dragged Ukip ideas on immigration and Euro-scepticism into the mainstream. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

The headline story – general to Europe – from this weekend’s elections has been the rise of the right. Marine Le Pen had such a good showing that she has all but bounced Emmanuel Macron into an early election. The Alternative fur Deutschland – so right-wing that even Le Pen finds it unpalatable – has grown and consolidated support across Germany. Even in Ireland, where the establishment centre emerged as the clear winners, the right still made modest progress.

Of course the headline story never really captures the nuances. First, the right did not fare well across all of Europe but rather the gains were localised to the likes of France, Germany and Italy. Second, a point that has been laboured but is worth reminding ourselves of, the right in Europe is a fragmented place – divided on Ukraine and China, for example.

There are similar contours in Ireland: anti-immigrant candidates at local and European level might well have made strides but they are also a discordant entity, lacking – say – a singular charismatic figure to unite them and convert their votes into actual political power.

So those anxious about the rise of the right might take this as a cause for relief. The centre has certainly earned some breathing room. But whenever there is unease to channel there will always be an opportunist in the wings waiting to channel it. It might just take one personality to unite the disparate groups, hobble together a coalition, and become a serious threat to the status quo.


This is an ancient theme. When Julius Caesar emerged as a political force in ancient Rome he did so with the sheer heft of charisma, by circumventing the traditional structures of government, bypassing accepted channels of power and speaking directly to the people.

He cared little for the polite mores of the optimates class. Instead, he saw a mass of unhappy plebeian Romans with competing motivations and desires, and he united them against the elite, smashing up the principles of Rome and establishing a new order. As Caesar dismantled the Republic he made elbow room for an emperor to take over.

It is a rather dramatic analogy. But as warnings-from-history go it is probably one worth heeding. Not because we should be anxious about a new imperial autocrat taking over Europe. But because the tale of Caesar is first and foremost one of hubris. The establishment believed its foundations were so solid that it could not possibly be undermined by the overtures of one charismatic man. Caesar quickly disabused it of this notion, at great cost.

The centre might have held in Ireland but such apparent stability should never be taken for granted. Disquiet over immigration may be exaggerated, the majority of the country might be happy with the stability afforded by the middle ground. But so long as there is any level of disquiet to grab on to, someone will likely try.

In the United Kingdom, meanwhile, a Labour landslide even bigger than Tony Blair’s 1997 Cool Britannia victory is predicted. But the most compelling story remains the return of Nigel Farage to frontline politics as he has stepped in to lead Reform and to run as a member of parliament in his adopted home of Clacton-upon-Sea. Farage is a model populist: a brilliant communicator, disinterested in status quo shibboleths, with a near super-human ability to spin light discontent into grand narratives about malign establishment bureaucrats. He also offers another cautionary tale: political influence comes in many guises, and is certainly not limited to success at the ballot box.

The right in Europe might still not wield great parliamentary influence. Farage himself has tried and failed to become an MP seven times (he might just make it on his eighth attempt). But to reduce Farage’s influence to his legislative heft in the House of Commons would be to misunderstand his impact.

In fact Farage has claim to be the most impactful British politician of the 21st century. He dragged Ukip ideas on immigration and Euro-scepticism into the mainstream. “Dare to dream that the dawn is breaking on an independent United Kingdom,” he declared on June 24th, 2016, as the result of the Brexit referendum was coming through. For better or worse that so-called independent United Kingdom owes a lot to Farage.

We should be cautious, then, of arguments that the right in Europe has no real power – so fragmented and fractious it is ever fated to be eclipsed by the European People’s Party. Power is a slippery and complicated idea. If all the right in Europe does is to force the centre to adopt and accommodate its ideas – on Islam, on immigration – into the mainstream then its project has been a success.

Farage never needed a large party in parliament to shift the Overton window and alter the trajectory of Britain forever. And Caesar never needed establishment heft behind him to totally dismantle the status quo. The greatest threat to the centre might just be the personality and charm of one person.