Patronised. Belittled. But now the real threat to Farage’s legacy is... HIMSELF
NIGEL FARAGE has just a few hours to save Brexit — and torpedo Jeremy Corbyn — by pulling his candidates from crucial Tory target seats. He would thereby avoid splitting the Leave vote in those constituencies.
Will he do so? He repeated yesterday that he won’t withdraw from the contest. Instead, his party will ‘target resources where best we can’. This implies a more limited campaign — but one that could still damage the Conservatives.
Many observers see a proud man who refuses to climb down, especially only days after agreeing not to fight the 317 seats the Tories won in the 2017 general Election.
Since that concession was widely seen as a humiliation, the general feeling seems to be that Mr Farage daren’t risk the baiting and mockery that would follow the Brexit Party’s complete withdrawal from the race.
I disagree. He has until four o’clock this afternoon to decide how many seats to fight on December 12. If he were to throw in the towel, the Brexit Party leader might face criticism in the short term. But in the longer term, which is all that really matters to prominent politicians jealous of their reputations, an apparent surrender would ultimately be accounted a statesmanlike and farsighted act.
What has Nigel Farage lived for? To get Britain out of the EU. He has devoted his life to that cause — and suffered the hostility of much of the media, and the condescension of established parties, in that often lonely endeavour.
At times almost single-handedly, he flew the flag for leaving the EU when it was peripheral to most people’s concerns and regarded by the Tory and Labour leaderships as extremist.
What slights he has endured! David Cameron once famously described his former party, Ukip, as ‘a bunch of... fruitcakes and loonies and closet racists’. That was partly an assessment — a very unfair one, I’d say — of Mr Farage’s personal characteristics.
Only a couple of months ago, an unidentified source in No 10, who might have been the abrasive Dominic Cummings, said that the leader of the Brexit Party was not a ‘fit and proper person’ to enter government.
While frequently the subject of patronising brickbats, Mr Farage has struggled on — standing for Westminster seven times in vain, and being elected to the European Parliament on four occasions. He was nearly killed in a plane crash while campaigning.
My guess, although I don’t know him, is that underneath that brash and cheery veneer there exists a sensitive, solitary man who is easily stung when written off by people who think themselves more civilised, better educated and more respectable than he is.
Say what you like about him, he has been courageous and indefatigable. He has fought the good fight — not for money, nor for ease of life, but for a principle in which he deeply believes.
In fact, it is probably safe to say that if Mr Farage had not existed, Brexit wouldn’t have happened — at any rate, not when it did. Remainers and Leavers alike can agree that this is his monument.
So why threaten it? Why, after all he has done, allow pride or vanity to interfere with the fulfilment of his life’s journey? Why risk destroying his legacy and all that he has achieved?
Oh, I can see how irksome it must be to watch a Johnny come-lately like Boris Johnson, only a relatively recent convert to the cause, ruling the roost and negotiating his own version of Brexit (though one that seems pretty wholehearted).
And I can imagine how maddening it must be to be dismissed by a supercilious creature such as Dominic Cummings, with his first-class Oxford degree and passion for studying the works of Athenian soldier and historian Thucydides. But these are small things.
Mr Farage has never sought the good opinion of the fashionable world, and no one would seriously describe Mr Johnson as the architect of Brexit. So I ask again: why?
Mr Farage might reply that he has already done his bit by agreeing not to fight constituencies won by the Tories in 2017. But most psephologists think this will award them no more than a handful of seats.
It is the marginals — particularly in the Midlands, the North of England and Wales — that really do count.
There are nearly 30 constituencies in which a tiny swing from Labour to Tory of 3 per cent or less would give victory to Boris Johnson. But even a small vote for the Brexit Party could deprive him.
Mr Farage has repeatedly argued that in such seats his party would be likely to take more votes from Labour than the Tories.
Almost no independent experts agree.
It’s true the Brexit Party has been declining in most polls, to the point where outright victory in any seat now seems unlikely. However, given such narrow margins, a comparatively small number of votes could be decisive in tipping the outcome towards Labour.
I am mystified. Can Mr Farage really have such pride in the Brexit Party (which is less than a year old) that he is prepared to risk depriving Mr Johnson of a majority, and possibly ushering in a LabourSNP-Lib Dem alliance that would dismantle Brexit?
Perhaps he doesn’t have such a horror of a Corbyn-led government as I do.
Conceivably he is not so frightened of a high-tax, highspend, anti-American, semiMarxist and generally lunatic administration. But he must see that challenging the Tories in Labour marginals could deprive Mr Johnson of the majority he needs to ‘get
Brexit done’. On Tuesday, Mr Farage wrote in the Daily Telegraph: ‘I have no great love for the Tories, but I can see that by giving Johnson half a chance we will prevent a second referendum. To me, that is the single most important thing for Britain.’
If he is prepared to give Boris ‘half a chance’ by withdrawing from 317 seats, why isn’t he prepared to give him a better chance by standing down from all, or nearly all, of them? After the PM’s video on Sunday indicating that he wanted a free trade agreement with the EU, and a short transition period ending in December 2020, Mr Farage admitted: ‘That actually sounds a bit more like the Brexit that we voted for.’
Why not back it, then? There is palpable confusion at the heart of the Brexit Party. Mr Farage even appeared to suggest yesterday that he might consider voting Tory, before later tweeting that he wouldn’t do so.
His announcement that he will target constituencies among ‘142 seats in the country that the Conservatives have never won and never will’ is likely to give the Tories only limited comfort. They could still be damaged in crucial Labour marginals.
The moment of truth has arrived. If Mr Farage refuses to compromise, everything he has striven for will be at risk. Even if the Tories survive the onslaught he is seemingly determined to inflict, history may well not treat him kindly.