Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Nigel Farage and the Future of Democracy

Well, he's beaming again, and he's talking on the Jeremy Vine radio programme as I write - I might switch to Classic FM. On the surface, Nigel Farage has a lot to be happy about. The Brexit Party didn't exist three months ago, and yet has scored an impressive success in the Euro elections, winning 29 seats with over five million votes. Mr Farage has even said that his party could win the next General Election and has pledged to stand 650 candidates. He told the BBC Today programme:
 “The next date is 31 October. That will become as big a day in people’s minds as 29 March. If we don’t leave on [31 October], then we can expect to see the Brexit party’s success last night continue into the next general election.”
Well, maybe. It might prove to be nothing more than a massive flash in a very large pan. Protest votes are nothing new, and voters might well revert to traditional party loyalties instead of plumping for an inexperienced, if sizeable pressure group, which is what the Brexit Party is really. They are a single-issue movement, more an expression of populist anger, rather than a legitimate political entity. If we could interview a cross-section of Brexit Party members, we could well find a wide divergence of views on other important issues, such as education, immigration, etc. Even some Brexit Party voters regard Nigel Farage as an opportunist, which does not bode well for his chances of becoming the PM or an MP,
One positive result of the election must surely be to galvanise the two main parties to pay more attention to the aspirations and concerns of their voters. Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour leadership must come down positively either for or against a second referendum; the Tories need to find a leader who can unify party members and inspire voters.
Another positive result is the surge of support for Remain parties; the Liberal Democrats and Greens made considerable progress. In the case of the LibDems, their revival was an astonishing surge in support, winning 15 seats and becoming the second largest party. I doubt, though, that this will lead in an increase in LibDem MPs at the next General Election, as many Remain supporters voted tactically for them - I certainly did.
While the Brexit Party may be glowing with success at the moment, I foresee problems for them, similar to the reasons for the decline of UKIP. As we know, UKIP have moved even closer to the racist Right so much that Nigel Farage left and Tommy Robinson tried to join. Robinson stood for election as MEP in the North-West and lost his deposit. Even though he is banned from membership of UKIP, he acts as an adviser to the UKIP leader, Gerrard Batten. A failed marriage, if ever there was one.
The problem for the Brexit Party is this: it is a populist party that plays upon prejudice, fear and misinformation. I am not saying that the Brexit Party are fascists, but, like them, populist parties such as the Brexit Party need a grievance (real or imagined) to sustain them. Should Brexit be achieved according to their satisfaction, they have no reason for existence. They will need another focus for attack and events in Birmingham point to what it might be. The Evening Standard (ES) reported:
 "A newly-re-elected Labour MEP of British-Asian Sikh heritage was heckled by people telling her to "go home" during her acceptance speech in the West Midlands. West Midlands Labour posted a video to Twitter showing angry people said to be supporters of the Brexit Party, yelling towards the stage at the Birmingham count where Neena Gill was making her speech. Labour called the incident "an ugly truth".
There we might be able to see what could be the next big issue for the Brexit Party - Immigration. Resentment towards EU nationals has been a major part of the "leave" campaign, and I have no doubt that resentment could be channelled towards other minority groups in our society. This is not to say that Nigel Farage promotes racism; even Ken Livingstone has defended him on that charge. However, like Enoch Powell (who also denied being a racist), he has the knack of making racists believe that he supports them. Ask any aging racist what Enoch Powell actually said, and the usual reply is that he wanted to send the blacks back. Powell never said that, but that is how he was understood - and he exploited that. Mr Farage might find it useful to do the same thing, in order to sustain the Brexit Party. I shall shed no tears if he fails and the Brexit Party disintegrates. Mr Farage might - assuming he doesn't found yet another political party.

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