I cannot claim to be able to see inside the mind of Nigel Farage. Joking aside – well, a bit – he does now seem to be both retiring from politics and simultaneously not retiring from politics, a conjuring trick he has managed to pull off quite successfully in the past.
He resigned as leader of his old vehicle, Ukip, twice, and then reinvented it as the Brexit Party and became leader of that. He then ceased to be leader of the Brexit Party when it was rebranded as Reform UK (which no doubt will be shortened in common parlance and the election graphics to the gratifying, and accurate, “RefUK”).
Now he’s quit as leader of Reform UK, but claims he’ll still be campaigning on social media. He’s had more comebacks than Frank Sinatra, so make your own mind up as to whether you’ve seen the last of the frog-faced fiend.
Farage or not, RefUK looks doomed. Its new leader is a fella by the name of Richard Tice, or Ticey to his friends. In Arron Banks’s Brexit memoir, The Bad Boys of Brexit, Tice makes a few cameo appearances, usually amused at the booze-fuelled antics of his comrades, and not really such a bad boy at all.
He is a property investor, and is probably richer and certainly better looking than Farage, and sounds more moderate and reasonable. As far as one can tell, he lacks charisma and is nowhere near as politically street-smart as Farage.
Farage was a brilliant, if ruthless, communicator. A nondescript ex-banker, he reinvented himself as a man of the people, pint of bitter in one hand, a Rothmans in the other. The camel hair coat and the velvet collar, the Tattersall shirts, the gilets and the colourful cords, the calculated indignity of his attacks on Eurocrats and luvvies – it was all part of an image contrived by a rich charlatan, the ultimate insider, who did very nicely out of his two decades being well paid by the European parliament.
Just because you might loathe his politics, though, doesn’t mean you can’t look at him objectively. Without rerunning the whole Brexit thing again, Farage’s place in the process can be succinctly put: without Boris Johnson the 2016 EU referendum would not have been won by the Leavers; but without Nigel Farage the referendum would never have been held.
It was morbid fear of what Farage and Ukip might do to the Tory party that drove David Cameron into making his pledge, in the Bloomberg speech of January 2013. Farage spent decades pursuing his dream, or chimera, but it was the Tories who made it possible.
Farage was never elected to parliament, let alone became prime minister, but like, say, Enoch Powell, Aneurin Bevan and Joseph Chamberlain back in history, he has more influence than many who did make it to No 10, like it or not.
Without Brexit, now it’s done, Farage is a rebel without a cause, and confused about it. He says he wants to campaign on the influence of “communist China” on our national life, especially in public schools. Well, the voters won’t be talking about that down at the King’s Head, when it eventually reopens. Besides, when he was campaigning for Brexit he was always on about Global Britain hooking up with the most dynamic industrial giants of tomorrow, like, erm, China. And I do not recall any great emphasis on Britain following a human rights-led foreign and trading policy.
In his latest YouTube video, Farage claims he wants to clean up the oceans and plant more trees, which is fair enough, but if you want all that you may as well vote for Caroline Lucas. The environment was never central to the Farage brand. Am I wrong or did I imagine he was a bit of a climate change denier in the past?
Obviously he’s still het up about the guys in dinghies turning up, but the public seems less interested in that now. One of the odder side effects of Brexit was that the case for immigration was being made more strongly, and won. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times Farage sticks a video of another “outrage” on YouTube, the country has more pressing problems to deal with. The wider culture wars are being fought by the Tories anyway. Without Brexit and Donald Trump, Farage is redundant.
Not that Reform UK and Tice are going to do any better. Like Farage, who they will miss badly, post-Brexit all they have is a ragbag of populist policies almost randomly assembled. Reform UK’s policies have no intellectual cohesion. A cut in student fees, abolishing the UK-EU Northern Ireland protocol, reforming the NHS towards an insurance system and swiftly ending the Covid lockdowns are beads without a string, and not sufficient to sustain a national political party for very long. Besides, the lockdowns should be pretty much eased by the time the big round of elections take place on 3 May.
Somehow, the hard right of British politics has conspired to create a party without a leader, Reform UK, and a leader without a party, Nigel Farage.
Maybe Farage is just too toxic these days to attract the youth vote, or moderates, and they have to fall back on someone more bland like Tice. So, farewell, Nigel Farage, and thanks for all the fish.