This week I caught up with the Brexit Party on the EU elections campaign trail and was hugely impressed by the Blitzkrieg operation I saw.
Any new party that can field candidates as strong as Ann Widdecombe (formerly a senior minister in John Major’s Conservative government) and Roger Lane-Nott (a retired rear-admiral who commanded the submarine HMS Splendid during the Falklands War) clearly deserves to be taken seriously.
Widdecombe and Lane-Nott had come to a meet-the-candidates event held at Highcliffe Castle in Dorset on the south coast of England. They went down a storm with prospective voters. The event was so popular that there wasn’t space to fit everyone in — until Widdecombe personally intervened to help squeeze in all the well-wishers who’d been denied entrance.
Scenes like this have been replicated across the country — both in working-class, traditionally Labour-voting areas in the North and in middle-class, traditionally Conservative voting areas in the South.
The wild enthusiasm at these rallies only underlines what the polls are telling us: that the Brexit Party is going to clean up at next week’s European elections.
It’s also a validation of Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage’s campaigning strategy. Farage has made a virtue of having no manifesto. All his party cares about in the short term, he says repeatedly, is delivering Brexit.
This is clever politics for two reasons.
- Simple messages, repeated often, are the best way to get through to an electorate. (see also Make America Great Again).
- By alienating almost no-one on the left or the right — so long as you voted Brexit, basically, this party will appeal to you — it reaches out to the broadest possible base.
The other day I argued that sooner or later, the Brexit Party is going to have to tell us what it stands for besides Brexit. But that moment hasn’t yet come, nor need it do so until after the European elections which are essentially a protest vote whose sole real purpose is to send a shot across the bows of the Westminster Establishment — deliver Brexit or you are toast.
For those of us who voted to Leave the European Union, the success of the Brexit Party is marvellously good news — regardless of whether or not you think it has any future beyond the European elections.
Why? Because the shock it is going to deliver to the mainstream political establishment at next Thursday’s EU elections is going to be so stonkingly huge it will either galvanise the tottering Conservative government into action or consign it to the dustbin of history.
Either way, the message to the political class will be clear: mess with Brexit at your peril.
Where, though, does this leave Farage’s old party UKIP?
I know that many readers of this column are loyal UKIP members and that quite a few — including my Dad — have dedicated many hours to campaigning for it. Should they now suddenly ditch their old partner for the younger model?
This was the question very much on my mind a few days before the Brexit Party event, when I met up with UKIP’s leader Gerard Batten on the campaign trail in Northampton. Unfortunately, the sound quality on the videos I took was so poor it was unusable, but if you’re interested you can hear our interview here.
“Who are you going to vote for?” he asked.
“I honestly don’t know,” I said — which is true, I’m torn.
My head says Brexit Party because that’s undoubtedly where the momentum is – and the Brexit Party is the one that is going to deliver the biggest shock.
My heart says UKIP because of my Dad, because of my past associations with the party, because they’ve got a pretty solid manifesto — most of which I agree with apart from its stupid statist drivel on stuff like the railways (which they want to part-nationalise) and electric cars — and because I respect Gerard Batten’s integrity.
Also, I feel a certain atavistic tribal loyalty to the Conservatives, which I’d personally much rather see rebuilt on Thatcherite lines than — as many of you want, I know — destroyed and destroyed utterly.
Then of course there’s the Greens. I love whales, vegan food and plaiting the hair in my armpits and I have a weird psychic bond with Caroline Lucas whom I feel may have been one of my maidservants in a previous life, until unfortunately I had to have her burned on suspicions of witchcraft, which still makes me feel slightly guilty because it’s possible she was innocent. Also, something has to be done to control Britain’s bird and bat population and, just imagine, if it weren’t for all the wind turbines the Greens insist we put up on every other hill we might be overrun with these irksome avian pests…
…Oh all right, the last paragraph was a lie.
But back to UKIP v Brexit Party.
The best perspective I’ve had on this, funnily enough, comes from a black American former leftist from Baltimore who calls himself Carbon Mike. His analysis of the state of play is so percipient I’m going to share some of it with you:
I just listened to the interview you did with Gerard Batten (well done), and I like him at least as much as you do. But I’ve also been following Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party, and I have to say: they seem like the best chance you all have of forcing your government to deliver Brexit.
Batten, in my opinion, is Cincinnatus just in from the fields. He’s the quintessential plain-spoken, patriotic, take-me-as-you-see-me politician, and no decent person can help but respect and admire him for this. He’s also a good organizer.
Nigel Farage, on the other hand, is Machiavelli at chess. Getting Ann Widdecombe, Claire Fox, and Annunziata Rees-Mogg (!) into his political party was a PR masterstroke, and it’s emblematic of how Farage is approaching this fight. The old allegiances may be shifting and dissolving, but they aren’t entirely gone, and a smart operator will use this to his advantage.
Oddly enough, I think you have a much better chance at a Brexit worth the name now that both the Brexit Party and UKIP are in play, and here’s why. The smears and lies from what Martin Durkin calls “the new class” are not going to stop any time soon (if ever). One Leave-oriented party on the board means one target for them to attack. But two of them — especially when one of them has high-profile people with baggage — means that one can draw the enemy’s fire and soak up the negative publicity, and the other can say, “we’re the respectable Brexiteers”.
Farage, as far as I can tell, hasn’t said anything really controversial — and he can barely get an Andrew Marr to leave off practicing offense archaeology and talk about the upcoming elections.
[UKIP candidate] Carl Benjamin, on the other hand, made a gibe with the word “rape” in it. It was well done, and at the expense of someone I can’t stand, but every second he has to spend batting away stupid questions about it is a second he’s not talking about liberty, sovereignty, and getting the hell out of the EU.
This doesn’t make him wrong. It may, however, make him — and, by extension, the party of which he is a member — the wrong instrument to achieve the political objective.
I think Nigel Farage is acutely aware of this, and I think that when he says things to distance himself from UKIP, he does so on tactical, rather than ideological, grounds.
It’s not pretty. A man like Batten deserves better. I actually admire Tommy Robinson, who is a real man in an age where real men are thin on the ground. I think Carl is quite sound on free speech, and I’m guessing Dankula would be great fun to hang out with, as you all say, down the local.
But you’re playing against as ruthless an international(ist) cartel as ever opened a Swiss bank account. Being earnest alone will not cut it. I think the best-case scenario is what you have now, where the colorful and earnest men stand up, the adversary shoots his bolt — and the sappers dig.
Did Carbon Mike just nail it or what?
In terms of integrity and principle, no question, Batten is your man. He could have spurned all associations with Tommy Robinson (who is not standing as a UKIP candidate, it must be stressed, but as an independent), he could have ditched Carl Benjamin — aka Sargon of Akkad — because of his “rape joke” spat with that annoying, gobby, overrated MP Jess Phillips. But he didn’t because he believes in free speech and because he knows that Robinson and Benjamin (and another of his candidates, Count Dankula — aka Markus Meechan) are essentially decent people fighting a good fight that needs to be fought against the radical left (and its unholy alliance with Islamofascism).
In terms of political genius, though, Farage is the master. Like Carbon Mike, I doubt that deep down Farage disagrees with any of the above on Islam or freedom of speech or anything that matters. But you only have to look at how Farage’s Brexit Party is performing in the polls to realise that his calculation — however cynical and political it may have been — is paying off massive dividends.
My prediction (not that it exactly requires the skills of Nostradamus) is that Farage and the Brexit Party are going to win massively – and deservedly so.
This leaves you safe to vote wherever you conscience or random spur of the moment decision or tactical nous leads you.