Don’t blame the working class who vote for the Brexit Party. Blame the Westminster Remain Bubble!
All political parties and hues are to blame for this. When the Labour party used the loyal votes of Britain’s industrial working class to parachute in political and cultural elites, it had devastating effects on working class people’s political and cultural exclusion. So did the banking crisis and the ensuing cruel Conservative party austerity policies.
Yet these facts are seen as irrelevant and petty by those who are now desperately trying to overturn the referendum result. Westminster, the media, and the academic world – all of which are solid bourgeois spaces devoid of working class people – are in full agreement: the past 40 years of deindustrialisation and aggressive policies of social mobility that marginalise working class life, pride and identity have no credence in the debate about the EU. The Green party, which was once seen by many as quite socially progressive, is now campaigning extremely hard to ignore those working class voices that asked for change, and instead overturn a referendum. The masks are slipping, and they are ugly. Things could have been so different.
There could have been recognition of the years of devastation that parts of the country have suffered. There could have been some empathy for the people that have been purposefully left out. Instead there has been an ugliness that comes with the entitlement of always being right. There is a desperation among working class people, and they do not want to be pushed back into the world before 2016 as the unheard, the unseen, and the devalued.
Why is Farage’s Brexit Party leading the polls
Brexit was voted for but hasn’t happened. The Conservative government has failed to deliver it. The Labour opposition can’t agree on whether it wants it or out of the EU. Parliament is deadlocked.
The political vacuum has been happily filled by a familiar face who played a major role in bringing about the EU referendum in 2016, and the outcome.
Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party has been surging ahead in opinion polls in the run-up to the European Parliament elections. This is despite the fact that the party is only weeks old and has no detailed policies.
It’s thought a successful result for the new party could push Britain’s ruling Conservative government to pursue a harder Brexit. The UK is now due to leave the EU on October 31.
Farage’s objectives go beyond getting the UK out of the EU. The veteran Eurosceptic now says he also wants “to change politics for good.” But at this moment in history no one who backs the Brexit Party are in the slightest bit concerned about what comes next. The only objective is to tell the Liberal elite in parliament once again ‘we want out of the EU’
What explains the Brexit Party’s appeal?
The European vote has given Nigel Farage a perfect opportunity to tap into widespread public anger at the Brexit delay and the parliamentary paralysis. Nearly three years after the referendum, these are the elections the UK was not expected to fight.
Amid the political turmoil, public opinion has polarised still further. Just as pro-EU supporters have been emboldened in their opposition to Brexit, anti-EU and UK’s demand for self government sentiment has hardened too.
Farage has successfully established clear blue water between his new movement and the UK Independence Party he once led. Since he left, UKIP has had several leaders and has openly flirted with the far-right.
In contrast, Brexit Party enthusiasts highlight the diversity of its candidates, who include people from a variety of ethnic, social and political backgrounds.
But there is little doubt that for many people, much of its appeal is down to the charisma of its leader and his message.
Despite the anger and frustration, Brexit Party events have been rather joyous, festive occasions. Halls and stadiums have been packed. People attending have said they feel “let down” by the two main parties, “sick” of being misrepresented by “remainers”, and that the failure to implement the Brexit vote is “threatening democracy”.
Left wing leave voters are angry they feel their vote did not count
From the Labour heartlands there is a deep anger and mistrust at the London liberal elite this Westminster bubble of the Labour Party, a militant obnoxious People’s Vote does little other than patronises Labour leave voters calling them xenophobic racist whilst at the same time discounting the old forgotten traditional Labour strongholds shunning the values the values of traditional socialism claiming they no longer hold true in a modern world.
The Doublespeak of Keir Starmer, Tom Watson, Emily Thornberry and others who give out contradictory messages flirting with a People’s vote in all circumstance. This does nothing but push the Leave voting Left into the waiting arms of Farage. These people are the true cheerleaders for the Brexit Party with nobody to blame but themselves.
A senior member of the Shadow Cabinet has pointed the finger at Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer for the strong polling of the Brexit party in the north of England.
The MP said:
Keir’s constant emphasis on a new referendum has made us vulnerable in northern seats and allowed Farage to exploit it even though he daren’t mention a policy beyond leaving the EU. A lot of people are so angry they don’t care at the moment.
It started when he went off-script to talk about remain as an option during his Conference speech and he never misses an opportunity to mention it in some form in every appearance. There’s no question it’s hurting us and damaging voter trust – and it’s going to hand Johnson and Farage an early Christmas present.
Other Labour MPs are now demanding that Starmer says how he intends to prevent a no-deal Brexit when the most likely consequence of his insistence – against Labour policy – that any deal would have to go back to the public is likely to be Boris Johnson as PM, not only free to run down the clock to a default no-deal exit but to exploit it in a ‘fire sale’ of assets and a bonfire of human rights.
Both the main parties are feeling the heat, suffering badly in recent local elections. A survey of Conservative Party members found 60 percent were planning to vote for Brexit Party candidates at the European ballot. The Labour opposition’s ambiguous stance on Brexit has dented its appeal to voters on both sides of the divide.
Many at the rallies, but by no means all, are middle-aged or older – while the Brexit Party is forecast to do well in more affluent districts as well as working-class areas, particularly in England.
It attracts support from both the right and left. Audiences in traditional Labour strongholds have warmly applauded Ann Widdecombe, a Brexit Party convert who made her career on the right of the Conservative Party.
What is the Brexit Party’s plan?
Where in the past political parties have been pilloried for vagueness, Nigel Farage has made a virtue of his lack of a detailed programme. The Brexit Party has no manifesto, he says, because “manifesto equals lie”.
“We will talk about all those things after the 23 May,” he said recently. “Right now… we are fighting and campaigning to make sure that we can be a free, independent, self-governing, democratic nation.”
The European Union is no longer even his main theme. In a Brexit Party election broadcast, the EU isn’t even mentioned until towards the end. Instead, candidates describe how they feel “betrayed” and “humiliated” by politicians, leaving democracy “under threat”.
The people responsible for this rise of populism the ones that can take the real credit are the representatives of the main political parties that refuse to carry out their promise to leave the EU.
They have given Farage the platform. The Brexit party has energy, clarity and purpose. Nigel Farage is redefining the national political debate around democracy and the nation. The political class, he argues, never intended to allow Brexit. They have humiliated the country, shown contempt for democracy and they are now betraying the people. His message is national redemption. We must restore our national pride by a radical change in British politics.
Farage is a reactionary. His purpose is not to win a general election, nor to construct a programme of reform and legislation. It is to destroy the Conservative Party and to wreck Labour’s electoral coalition and reduce it to a party of the metropolitan liberal middle class.
“Our task and our mission is to change politics for good, to change all aspects of politics in this country,” Farage told the campaign launch. So far there are few details of what that means.
If you dismiss the idea of listening to him or watching one of his rallies; if you feel outraged at the suggestion that he is our most successful politician in over a decade; or if you simply write off the Brexit Party as incipient fascism, therein lies our problem. If Labour does not understand him, if it fails to understand why so many people passionately agree with his message, it will never understand how to stop him.
The vote to leave the EU revealed the deep inequalities cut into United kingdom by globalisation, the monopolising of wealth and power in London, and the offshoring of industrial jobs. The leave vote was a coalition of the Tory Shires and the ex-industrial working class. It united the wealthy and the poor in an historical Euroscepticism that echoed older revolts of the English commons. Its populist disdain for the liberal minded elites bound these two classes together but it was only one element of its politics.
This is now changing. Farage and the Brexit Party are redefining national political conflict along classic populist lines. Lewis Goodall, Sky’s political correspondent has argued that the failure to leave the EU has now changed the terms of national debate. The failure of the political class to honour the result of the referendum is shaping a new phase of politics. The people against the political class will be a struggle in England over who stands for the democratic nation. The ecstatic welcome the Welsh gave Farage in Newport suggests Wales too is open to his message of national redemption.
Both Tory and Labour are incoherent on Brexit. Their leaderships are trapped in a Gordian knot of political inertia. Each party is subjected to the political dominance of a sectional class interest. For Labour it is the progressive middle class concentrated in London and its militant People’s Vote. For the Conservatives it is a reactionary, rentier class faction and the ERG. The memberships of both parties push each toward the purity of their ideological extremes, estranging them from the wider electorate and closing off the political give and take necessary for coalition building.
The Conservatives are consumed with a vision of their own immanent destruction and who will replace Theresa May to avert it. Only the constructive ambiguity of Corbyn’s Brexit position has kept Labour from a similar fate. This strategy is now broken. Into the breach are pouring Remain supporting MPs and party members. There are demands for a second referendum and for a confirmatory vote. Some argue that Brexit’s not worth it so let’s drop it, or that leaving the EU was always a myth and so impossible to achieve. Others denounce the leave vote as isolationist or xenophobic or racist and treat it as illegitimate. Whatever the reasoning, each position serves to annul the original majority vote to leave. Their overall effect is to confirm Farage’s accusation. Labour too, puts its own interests before democracy.
There is an argument that like UKIP, the Brexit Party is a temporary aberration. Politics after some adjustment will eventually revert back to normal. But the ground is slipping beneath both major parties and it is part of longer term demographic and sociological trends. It may be a slow slide over the next decade or it might be a sudden collapse.
Neither are yet able to face this challenge and reinvent themselves. May’s campaign against burning injustices lasted a few days. Corbynism was a radical but limited force. Some insist that it is the renewal Labour needs. It made a start. But its various currents of thinking lack intellectual coherence and it has been unable to forge a new model of social democracy. Its political energy has been dissipated by weak leadership, sectarian factionalism and the brutal political facts of Brexit.
The Brexit Party is seizing the opportunity to drive a wedge between Labour and its working class heartlands. It is a relationship already close to breaking and yet Labour’s response is to double down on its leftist rhetoric and ‘insist’ that the real political division in the country is the few against the many. It is simply wishful thinking. Labour is losing a culture war it does not realise it’s fighting.
It is being recast as the party of the globalist London middle class who monopolise wealth and hold the rest of the country in contempt. Not the party of the labour interest, but the party of the bourgeois left.
Is Labour for democracy and the nation?
The answer unfortunately is equivocal. It will not talk about United Kingdom. It is suspicious of patriotism. Its loudest voices denounce people’s desire for a sense of belonging as the pursuit of ethnic exclusivity. For them the vote to leave the EU is adjacent to fascism and racism and so should be denied. It has made a disastrous business of understanding populism and its causes.
Labour is losing its traditions and becoming the Whig party. Having learned nothing in the three years since its defeat Remain politics is giving Farage a free pass to build a radical right coalition around nation and culture.
Polls suggest that many who voted to leave the EU have been increasingly lured by a “no deal” Brexit – a departure without any agreement on the withdrawal terms or future relations.
Its advocates have increasingly pushed for a clear break from the EU to trade on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms.
“The only way we can deliver the democratic will of the people is to leave on WTO terms,” Farage told the BBC. “Once we do that, the European Union will be banging our door down to have a sensible, tariff-free deal.”
The UK could leave the EU and then negotiate new arrangements afterwards, he said in a recent TV interview.
Farage’s claim that he argued for a no deal Brexit before the EU referendum is disputed.
What would ‘leaving on WTO terms’ mean?
Pro-Brexit economists and politicians argue that as most global trade is done on WTO terms, the UK could open up to the world while still maintaining access to EU markets.
The counter-argument – expressed by many other economists, business groups and politicians – is that a “no deal” Brexit would be an act of reckless folly, causing immediate disruption and damaging the economy.
They contest Farage’s claim that the EU would quickly strike a free-trade deal with the UK. The British government says the EU would treat the UK as “a third country”.
The EU is the UK’s largest trading partner. By quitting the single market and customs union, Britain would be free to implement its own trade policy.
But in the absence of a deal with the EU it would also face new barriers such as tariffs and regulations. Dozens of EU trade agreements with non-EU countries would no longer apply to the UK.
Analysts and British economic sectors reliant on close, smooth arrangements with Europe have warned that being forced to adapt to new rules overnight brings dangers. Among those sounding the alarm bells are manufacturing industries – including the car, food, chemicals and pharmaceuticals – as well as the health service, tourism, and financial services. There have also been warnings over farming and fishing – despite strong support for Brexit from within these two sectors.
Ann Widdecombe – a Brexit Party candidate for southwest England – dismissed fears that Devon farmers may be put out of business as “project fear mark two”.
Nigel Farage has argued that the UK could slash tariffs on imports, helping poorer people by making food and clothes cheaper. Such claims have also been disputed by commentators and economists.
The Brexit Party leader also rejects fears that a no-deal Brexit would lead to extra delays at borders, saying tariffs could be logged online and on mobile phones. “Business finds a way through every different situation,” The Guardian quoted him as saying.
A UK-EU free trade deal would render the Irish border “a non-issue”, Farage has claimed, because there would be no excise duties to collect and any future differences in specification could be easily dealt with.
He also believes a hard border should not be necessary because Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic already manage without one, despite different currencies and tax rates.
What about areas other than trade?
If the UK left the EU with no deal on the terms, existing legal arrangements would abruptly cease to apply. It would affect many aspects of everyday life – from travel between the UK and the EU, to security, crime and terrorism.
The government’s most senior civil servant has warned that a no deal Brexit would lead to a recession and price rises, and harm Britain’s security apparatus and legal system.
Nigel Farage argues that a no deal Brexit would allow the UK to “make its own laws, have its own courts and control its own borders”.
He has repeatedly argued for EU nationals who moved to the UK before Brexit to be able to stay – but he has criticised the British government’s plans for citizens’ rights in the event of no deal.
EU countries and the UK have both moved to secure the rights of citizens on both sides of the English Channel in such a scenario, but campaigners have warned they will be watered down.
Is ‘Faragism’ becoming like ‘Trumpism’?
“America’s always a few years ahead of us,” Nigel Farage said recently.
He has long praised Donald Trump, while the US president has suggested that his British admirer should be the UK’s ambassador to the US.
The Brexit Party leader has not expressed the same level of hostility to mainstream media – although one commentator saw similarities with Trump in Farage’s recent interview with the BBC, which he described as “the enemy”.
The Brexit Party does not openly advocate Trump-like tactics. Election candidate Alexandra Phillips has called for a positive response to “remainers’ slurs and smears” by highlighting the “many moral arguments for Brexit”.
After the 2016 EU referendum, Nigel Farage left frontline politics. Now back with a mission to complete an unfinished job, he has vowed to harden his stance.
“I did say if I ever had to come back into the political spectrum, there’d be no more Mr Nice Guy,” he said at his new party’s campaign launch. “And I mean it. I’m angry about what’s happened.”
There are two ways Parliament can stop Farage and the Brexit Party. The first is to honour the result of the 2016 referendum and leave the EU. The second is to take the wind out of his sails by voting for a deal. It will not do the former and it has failed to decide on the latter. It has succeeded in turning its conflict with the majority leave vote into a conflict of liberalism against democracy. When May’s deal failed, Parliament asserted a political authority it proved incapable of exercising. It has contributed to undermining people’s trust in its sovereignty. It is a dangerous condition and one that Farage is exploiting.
The solution to our political crisis no longer resides within constitutional procedure. We are witnessing a return to the political. It is angry, argumentative and divisive. Consensus will have to be worked for. The common good will have to be constructed through the negotiation of estranged interests. It will require political skill and leadership which are in scant supply.
Evidence since 2010 has shown that an electoral majority in UK can be built on a paradoxical politics that is radical on the economy, and conservative on the nation, security, defence, and social and cultural issues.
The party that can tell a compelling story about the democratic nation and which can articulate a politics of earning and belonging will be able to build a winning coalition. Farage lacks the instinct for this kind of paradoxical politics and bridge building. His goal is revolutionary destruction not the democratic politics of the common good. But then neither Labour nor the Conservatives currently possess this instinct.
Whichever can gain it first will safeguard our democracy and inherit the future.
Opening credit Dr Lisa Mckenzie is a Lecturer in Sociological Practice at Middlesex University. Link