Nigel Farage Subverts British Politics (Again)
“In a sense we now have a Leave alliance, it’s just that we’ve done it unilaterally,” Farage remarked, somewhat cheekily, having promised that his own party members would stand down in those constituencies where the Conservatives were favoured to win, based on the last national election. Farage and his Brexit Party hope that this will secure the earliest exit from the EU possible.
It’s an unusual move in a country where the parties have differentiated themselves by their approach to Brexit, and are engaged in dogged fighting over a fickle voting body.
For Farage, however, it is been typically subversive. Back when he lead UKIP, the party was sidelined by media and mainstream politics. Despite this, UKIP managed to deliver on its platform (albeit with the slimmest of margins) and began the road to Brexit. Farage left Brexit, only to return as leader of the Brexit Party, which aims to exert pressure on the main parties to deliver a quick Brexit, regardless of the short-term cost. Again, they were successful, garnering significant support in the EU parliamentary elections.
Now, Farage is on the campaign that counts, as Britain faces its fourth election in a little under five years. Can onlookers expect a hat trick?
The ‘Brexit’ mandate
The current national election will take place on December 12. On Monday (November 11), Farage announced that his Brexit Party would not stand in the constituencies the Conservatives won during the 2017 national election, so as not to split the Leave vote. That means dipping out of 317 electoral races: nearly half of all available seats in the British parliament.
The announcement is both an electoral tactic and an assertion of character for the Brexit Party. It signals a willingness to sacrifice influence for the sake of Leave, and an earnestness in delivering an end to the Brexit debacle, at a time when both the Conservatives and Labour have been criticised for their lack of commitment to Leave or Remain, respectively. It also echoes other rightwing populist movements – like Marine La Pen’s gambit in the 2017 French national election to stand as an independent.
Whereas the tactic failed for La Pen, Farage has a much better track-record – and British politics is in a greater state of upheaval. Despite UKIP never polling very high as a political party, it delivered a successful Leave vote in 2016, and with Farage at the helm of the Brexit Party, it has proven itself a disruptive force in British politics: less than a year old and without a single MP, it was, nevertheless, became one of the most significant parties in Britain, with more than 30% of the vote.
Vacillating parties (and their voters)
Farage’s confident leadership also comes during a moment of shifting party platforms – especially among the left – and a fickle electorate.
Judging by current polls, there are two clear trends. The lead for Boris Johnson and the Conservatives seems to be secure, though a little bit erratic. Some polls suggest the lead is as high as 15%, while others put it at just 7%. Even if they only manage an average of these figures, they will still have a significant majority.
Meanwhile, the Remain vote is splintering between Labour and the Liberal Democrats – a party which hasn’t seen nearly this degree of interest in nearly a decade. The slightly faltering support for Labour is especially notable because it follows a stunning electoral success for Corbyn in 2017, which upended Tory support, and many failed leadership challenges from party members who disagreed with his increasingly leftist platform. It may be that Corbyn’s uncertain approach to Brexit may be what’s costing him now.
Notably, the Brexit Party lost several percentage points in the polls. It may be this represents people switching their vote in support of a stronger mandate to Leave with the Conservatives. There are those in British media who suggest that Farage’s move to suspend campaigning in Tory constituencies is more about saving face, as the enthusiastic support that carried the party in the Parliamentary elections begins to drain away.
This upcoming election revolves around Brexit, and people seem to be are ditching party loyalty and voting based on their attitude to Brexit. This has been Farage’s obsession during his entire political career, and he has shown himself to be adept in manoeuvring in advocating for it. In the current election, he is attempting a familiar feat: to sway the minds of an insecure minority who may wish to escape the current political limbo. His record suggests he could manage it.