Category Archives: Nigel Farage

This election is oh so depressing

I am profoundly jealous of anybody who found an excuse not to watch yesterday’s pitiful TV debate between five of the country’s most uninspiring party leaders. I didn’t watch it expecting to be anything other than dismayed at the growing pile of political deadwood we now have in Britain.

It is made infinitely worse by how similar they all look. Tim Farron, Nicola Sturgeon, Leanne Wood and Caroline Lucas are as irritating as they are indistinguishable from one another. They all, as far as I can see, have exactly the same beliefs.

They all sneer at the prospect of Britain being a self-governing, sovereign country once more. They all despise grammar schools whilst refusing to acknowledge the kinds of selection brought about by the massive and failed comprehensive experiment in education. They all support mass, uncontrolled immigration and the egalitarian wonders of multiculturalism.

But there is something else that unites them all so glaringly: none of them are even remotely electable. I am still surprised that broadcast time was allocated to them, given that the total number of MPs in England represented was 10 and neither of the two major parties took part.

Paul Nuttall, mediocre and paling in comparison to the charisma of Nigel Farage, stuck out, but that was to be expected from a UKIP candidate. It is time for their members to accept the now painfully obvious fact that they are no longer a purposeful or serious electoral force.

As always with these totally overhyped and underwhelming affairs, we were treated to two hours of spin from the Public Relations industry, whose agencies write the scripts and formulate the annoying slogans and soundbites that the live and televised audiences are showered with.

That, added to the fact that we already know which party will be victorious on June 8th, only helps to make this whole thing so utterly depressing. I now see the logic behind holding a snap General Election more clearly. The mobilisation of the non-blue parties was forced and feels so rushed and obligatory.

I wrote a few weeks ago that this election was a second referendum in disguise. I still hold that view, but I can’t describe myself as unsure about the result. Like readers, I know what will happen. The Conservative Party will expand on its majority, by perhaps 50 seats, the country will forget about the fraud it was proven to have committed during the 2015 General Election campaign and Theresa May will lead the country into its third post-war political era, whatever it hopes to look like.

(More on Theresa May very soon.)

The Tories, of course, don’t need to participate in meaningless debates, which I actually disagree with on the grounds that they reflect presidential systems and the UK’s localised, parliamentary format. I may not even feel it necessary to vote for them, since my constituency (Bexleyheath and Crayford) is both Leave-supporting and a relatively safe Conservative seat. After toying with this election for a few weeks, I now realise that there is simply no real need for me to vote.

For Labour, the principle target now ought to be to convince as many of its traditional voters as possible not to jump ship or abstain. Their defeat in June is inevitable, but a turnaround in the coming years (as we saw back in the 1990s) is more than possible. Much will depend upon who succeeds Mr Corbyn as leader later this year, provided of course, that he agrees to step down.

This election is a realisation of three things. Firstly, the neo-liberal consensus has been irrevocably altered. Secondly, the Conservative Party are embarking upon their second era of parliamentary dominance in the last forty years. And thirdly, that Brexit is now a Tory plaything; a policy they have total control over in Westminster and almost no yearning for in Brussels.

I left the party for a reason I am now sharply reminded of. I just can’t bring myself to trust them.


The pro-immigrant case against mass immigration

Finally, a workable, coherent plan on immigration has emerged. Lord knows that Britain has been longing for one for the last two decades. I ask readers to note that it is thanks to our leaving the European Union that it will be possible to execute one at all.

Obviously not being a part of UKIP has had a liberating effect on Steven Woolfe, whose ‘Leave means Leave’ report, published earlier, calls for a five-year ban on unskilled immigration to help bring net migration down to below 50,000 per year.

At last, the country is beginning to act as if it is sovereign again. Of course, we aren’t yet, but positive signs are beginning to show. We dare to dream once more about things we spent years having absolutely no control over.

The issue of immigration was always going to be the acid test for Brexit. Mr Farage told Faisal Islam a few months ago that it would be regaining control of our territorial waters, but I think he only said this as a reminder to the government.

Immigration was the largest single issue within the subset of arguments for leave, and for good reason. Our politicians sat idly by whilst working class communities were left bitterly divided thanks to unprecedented levels of (particularly unskilled) immigration.

The poor were more seriously affected, as with all failed policies, and men and women all over the country began to feel isolated in the towns and neighbourhoods that they once knew and loved.

This isn’t, crucially, a condemnation of the migrants who arrived. Rather, it is a critique of the notion that a historically unique sample of different peoples and cultures can peacefully and successfully be imposed upon a society and encouraged not to integrate.

But, what we don’t consider often enough are the effects on those who migrate. I believe that there is a powerful but buried pro-immigrant case for limiting immigration. It ought to be discussed more seriously.

In 2013, a British social attitudes survey revealed that 77% of the British public favoured a reduction in the level of immigration. The percentage of people who preferred the numbers to be cut had increased substantially from the late 90s, when the Blair government embarked upon its ridiculous policy of opening up the doors to most of Eastern Europe.

So the first significant impact on the country since this radical project was introduced has been to promote strong anti-migrant sentiment. Cities and demographics changed rapidly and mass immigration sparked, as it always does where tried, a burgeoning resentment.

By radically reducing the number that come (starting rationally with those less skilled), we can stem the tide of sentiment that can have a profound impact upon the quality of life of those who come here. We can also give our one million unemployed young people an even break in the jobs market.

It can’t be understated: strong borders do more to suppress racism and promote social cohesion than any government initiative, charity or think tank ever could.

By definition, strong borders allow only the highest quality immigrants to enter a society. They give settling immigrants a more positive reputation, and incentivise the existing, national population to be more tolerant and welcoming.

I mention quality of life above deliberately. It is perhaps the most crucial aspect to this whole debate. I only wish Leftist liberals could understand that it is not he who wants the highest number to come, but he who wants the best life possible for immigrants that can truly claim moral authority in this argument.

Especially (though not limited to) for those, like me, who live in the South East of England, the pressures on public services have never been more intense. For my generation, housing has floated almost comically far from affordability.

Only those born into wealth or lucky enough to have bagged a fantastic job will be unfamiliar with the struggles of getting on to the housing ladder.

Unfortunately, politicians were slow to realise that markets are about demand and supply, and that a substantial increase in the number of people entering the country equates to a substantial decrease in the chances of being able to afford the property you want.

And so this affects incoming migrants, too. Immigrants can’t escape housing bubbles, and a reduction in the numbers coming (paired with sustained building efforts) will enable more to better afford the properties that meet their housing needs.

But, there are other problems. Britain’s immigrants are not likely to appreciate the intense congestion on our roads and at our railway stations as they go about their working lives.

Getting a seat on a train, once an act of thoughtless simplicity, now resembles a circuit of Total Wipeout, as passengers weave in and out of one another hoping to stand by the seat of the next departing commuter.

These little things are easily taken for granted, but they help to form a bigger picture. Mass immigration, when prescribed for a population without its consent, dampens the quality of life of everybody but the landowners who cash in on the promise of cheap labour.

When immigrants arrive in a country, they want to feel welcomed and be presented with the opportunity to integrate and establish themselves within a community. At such a speedy rate, this is almost impossible. And society will suffer the consequences.

So I welcome tomorrow’s report calling for stern controls on immigration. Contrary to the claims of the Left, we haven’t always been a country of immigrants. For very many years there lived in Britain a settled, cohesive populace.

It is true that racial and religious demographics have been significantly altered by mass migration, but don’t fall for the idea that this has always been the case, and that because it has always been the case it must remain so.

There are sensible arguments against large-scale immigration, but the Right has often been guilty of framing the debate in terms of the population and the migrants. I think this is a false dichotomy.

Let us, from now on, criticise the policy from the point of view of those arriving in the UK. That way, we might even get the Left to listen.

 


A moment of reflection on the eve of Article 50 day

Excuse me if I afford myself a moment of quiet celebration, for tomorrow is the day that Britain triggers Article 50 and embarks upon a process of withdrawal from the European Union. It was important to pen a few words this evening as I am unavailable to do so tomorrow.

In truth, I can’t quite believe it is here. I was sure there would be yet more twists and turns before we cemented our desire to leave, be it ping-pong between our Houses or a snap General Election.

As I write, I am flooded by campaigning memories of 2016 that will be forever etched into my mind. It began just over a year ago, in early spring, with a trip down to Bournemouth with their regional Vote Leave team to take part in a day’s leafleting and street stalls.

I decided to travel (from Kent) partly because I don’t leave London enough and partly because my National Express coachcard was becoming increasingly useless. Bournemouth is lovely, thriving town, too.

The day was fun. Since the referendum wasn’t in full swing, many were either unsure or appeared disinterested in how things would go, and this did not surprise me.

What I did find a little shocking, though, was the vast numbers of people expressing solidarity with our campaign. At that time, and like many others, I believed that Remain would win the referendum. I was about as sure of Leave victory as I was of the Tories gaining a majority at the 2015 General Election.

I am glad I chose to campaign with Vote Leave. Back then, my political acumen was weaker than it is today, but if I knew one thing it was that Nigel Farage and ‘GO’ would not be able to scoop up enough mainstream, middle class or swing support for an EU exit.

As I look back, I realise that I should have made more of activism. It was more enjoyable than I gave it credit for at the time, and I now miss it profoundly.

Standing at stalls in town centres, having elderly ladies coming up to me, thanking me for my support and spending hours expressing their desire for Britain to leave the European Union to me were conversations I now cherish.

I often got the impression that pensioners were particularly grateful for the youth who backed Brexit. They remember a time in which they lived in a country that controlled its own affairs; a country that did not wait for external approval before implementing policy; a country that could stand independently in the world without isolation.

But crucially, they were also lied to in the 1970s by Edward Heath, who insisted that despite immersing ourselves within the European Economic Community, there would be no loss of parliamentary sovereignty.

And sovereignty, above anything else, is the fundamental requirement for the sorts of people who favour Britain leaving the EU. It is understandable that so many feel so disillusioned and disenfranchised, given that over the past four decades, governance has increasingly drifted from the confines of Westminster to those of Brussels.

There is something inherently liberating about taking back control (to coin a legendary phrase) of important powers from the European parliament. Doing so increases democratic accountability, empowers local communities and the added responsibility burdened onto our politicians’ shoulders will tell us an awful lot more about the kinds of people who lead us.

So, tomorrow starts the alleged two-year period. I can almost guarantee that the endeavour of leaving will not take two years to complete. I have a sneaking suspicion that it will creep on some time after that. After all, the hurdles jumped between polling day and the triggering of Article 50 truly highlights the complexity of the task ahead.

I will breathe a short sigh of relief tomorrow at 12.30, when the UK officially commences the withdrawal process. I’ll be in Maidstone spending a few days with my older sister. I’m sure I’ll open a bottle of something in order to appropriately enjoy the occasion.

After the trials and tribulations of the last few months, the legal challenges and the calls for a second referendum (they mean third, but they don’t acknowledge the first as the result went their way, despite it also not being legally binding), Leave voters will soon sleep easy.

That is, of course, not to say that the period of negotiations ahead will be easy. I am still confident that the UK will snatch a satisfactory deal for itself, but from tomorrow onwards the pressure really kicks in.

I have no idea what to expect from negotiations, particularly as hundreds of civil service jobs are yet to be filled, but I do rather expect something like regaining control over our territorial waters to be an acid test for the kind of deal we reach.

I would also urge caution to those who claim that ‘no deal is better than our current deal’. I don’t think this is true. No deal would probably shatter the confidence of businesses and heighten the worries of EU nationals unsure of whether they will be able to stay in Britain or not.

But at least we are moving in the right direction. I will spend tomorrow thinking not just about Article 50, but about the tireless street campaigners and some of my brilliant former colleagues, many of whom are the real heroes of the referendum and will never know the credit that they deserve.

 

 

 

 


UKIP will not pose a threat in 2020, but this may be bad for British politics

I now think that UKIP will play no considerable role at the 2020 General Election (provided, of course, that there isn’t one sooner). My conclusion is partly informed by uninspiring quarrels between its senior figures and partly by the result of last year’s referendum, which now seems so far away I can scarcely believe how time has flown.

Notice that I use the word ‘uninspiring’. Of course, squabbles in political parties – despite the fact that they can open up debate – aren’t usually very helpful, but with UKIP, matters are made worse. The party was primarily a one-issue political force, acting as a battering ram and driving home an agenda that had been forgotten or deliberately ignored for far too long.

At present, UKIP lacks purpose and direction. Its primary goal has almost (barring a few late hiccups) been achieved and it must now attach itself to other issues worth pursuing. Indeed, Michael Heaver, Nigel Farage’s former spin doctor, thinks that proportional representation and House of Lords reform are two such issues that the party can use to maintain its foothold in British politics.

This is a false trail. These areas of policy are fringe issues not capable of rallying a significant portion of the electorate. UKIP’s divisions are therefore uninspiring because neither side is offering any credible path towards long-term relevance in the current political climate. Arron Banks, who funded UKIP at the last General Election, claims that Paul Nuttall is week, but the problem is in fact much deeper.

The party has reached its sell-by date, and as the party only ever truly planned for a referendum, it is unsurprising to me that it finds itself a little hollowed out and purposeless afterwards. This is itself causing internal doubt and frustration. Being the leader, Mr Nuttall will find himself in the crosshairs, but truth be told, even Nigel Farage would struggle to keep UKIP on the map.

I do not write this gleefully by any means. I have always been fair to UKIP and stood up for the party when under unjust attack. This is because I believe that its impact on British politics has been largely productive. Its success transcends electoral representative democracy and, perhaps ironically, was aided largely by its very inconvenience to the establishment parties and their pocketed media tycoons.

UKIP’s most profound influence on British politics was to apply serious pressure on the Conservative Party to be conservative; to stop supporting Britain’s ongoing membership of the European Union, to stop imposing on the country unprecedented levels of mass immigration, to strengthen and illuminate the national culture and character. These simple premises had long ago been abandoned by a party that knew that all it had to do was mirror Blairite values and – as the Labour Party was hollowed and left demoralised in the ensuing post-Blair years – it would guarantee electability for years to come.

The Conservative Party knew that it had become New Labour. How could anybody have missed the many glaring parallels between its leader, Mr Cameron, and his now infamous predecessor? The trouble was, so too did many of its members. Its most disgruntled supporters switched their allegiances and opted instead to seek refuge in a growing party that believed and said the things conservatives had been saying vainly for so long. It is no wonder that UKIP became a force in such a short period of time.

Nigel Farage shrewdly spotted a few years ago that if he could only (but correctly) associate mass immigration with EU membership, and raise awareness to a possible referendum, his and his party’s political legacy would be secure. Though what he still does not recognise, to his discredit, is how ineffective the Leave campaign would have been had UKIP been spearheading it during the country’s referendum period. Alas, it no longer matters. Our side won it, all that remains is for departure to be negotiated and executed.

But what of the future of UKIP? I would love for my prediction to fall flat. They have been a useful kick in the backside for the Tories down south and northern Labour who, shamefully, have resisted public opinion (even that of its own voter base) and insisted on fighting – rather than listening to, UKIP. In the run up to the triggering of Article 50, backsliding on Brexit was widely suspected. But come the inevitable collapse of UKIP, a party almost too combustible for its own good, more serious backsliding may be seen.

The Tories, knowing full well that much of conservatism is damage limitation, may not see a battle worth fighting, and we could well see them revert to their old, disingenuous ways, freed of the UKIP-led electoral pressure that so many took for granted.


Brexit: the House of Lords has not let anybody down tonight

And still we are yet to trigger Article 50. This time thanks to what is actually quite a reasonable intervention from the House of Lords, who have attracted the wrath of Leave voters now agitated to get the exit process under way. Being one of them, I understand their frustrations, but tonight’s government defeat was actually an example of the Upper House at its most useful, not at its most destructive or contemptuous of democratic procedure.

The amendment, which proposed that the government commits to protecting the rights of EU citizens living in Britain within three months of triggering Article 50, defeated Mrs May’s Brexit bill by 358 votes to 256 earlier this evening. At first I sighed at what I thought would be yet another bump in the road to leaving the European Union, but then I took the time to consider a couple of things.

Firstly, the amendment (despite its lack of concern for British citizens living within the EU) is a sensible one. Being the leaving party, it is down to Britain to set the negotiating standard and settle the nerves of other member states who are concerned about damage to diplomatic ties. By enshrining in law protection for the rights of those who came to the UK legally throughout our membership, we lay the groundwork for productive talks and calm EU-born immigrants living in Britain, who in many cases will be uneasy about committing to long-term projects, like finding a mortgage or setting up a business.

Certainty, after all, was exactly what was promised in the government’s White Paper a few weeks ago. It seems to me to be reasonable, as the responsibility for this entire process lies first and foremost with us, that we take the moral high ground on this particular issue. If EU departure is organised poorly and in slapdash fashion, then Britain is the party most liable to political and economic damage. Even Nigel Farage, not known for his humility towards Brussels, agreed with me on his LBC radio show a few moments ago (or, rather, I agree with him).

Since immigration was a major factor in helping to determine the outcome of last year’s referendum, I think foreign-born citizens living in the UK will appreciate a vote of confidence in their worth to the country and support for their stay, especially given the noted rise in levels of hate crime and lingering anti-migrant sentiment after almost two decades of mass immigration from the continent. I also think that other EU member states will be more willing to engage constructively with the UK during negotiations, knowing that their citizens’ rights are to be respected.

Another cause for concern tonight has been the emotional outrage from Leave voters who have emerged in their droves to try to undermine Westminster’s second chamber in calling for its abolition. This is odd, given that most Brexit supporters self-identify as political conservatives (that’s small ‘c’). I can only deduce that they are not thinking rationally whilst their unjustifiable anger consumes them. They only tend to make noise when our Peers behave in ways that they do not personally approve of, and not usually at any other time.

The main problem with a unicameral legislature is that, due to timetabling constraints, the House of Commons simply isn’t able to oversee all legislation put before it. It must, from to time, rely on the Upper House to vote on and scrutinise bills; perhaps one of its more crucial and underappreciated functions. My suspicion is that a unicameral legislature would struggle to get to grips with the sheer wealth of legislation it would have to deal with. And to simply say: “Well, let’s pass fewer laws” seems on the face of things a little naive. It is not possible to predict the country’s future political challenges – especially after substantial constitutional change.

Secondly, as we have seen this evening, the House of Lords has consistently proved itself able to scrutinise government intelligently, reminding them of where they are going wrong and proposing amendments where necessary. This process cannot be understated. It is likely the main reason why the Upper House has remained a fixture at Westminster for such a long time, and while I disagree with the composition of Peers and the manner of their selection, I acknowledge the importance of holding the executive to account.

Those who voted for Brexit may, therefore, want to save their strength. This is not a battle worth fighting, and given the circumstances, it is hard to tell what challenges lie just around the corner.

 


Some thoughts on UKIP’s struggles, purpose and future

First, a little personal history about my involvement with the UK Independence Party:

I joined UKIP around the time of the 2015 General Election, knowing at the time very little about British politics but for the fact that the European Union wasn’t particularly democratic and that crucial powers had left the jurisdiction of Westminster for the jurisdiction of Brussels. Nigel Farage was primarily responsible for igniting my interest in Britain’s EU membership. My reasoning for joining was always to help pursue Brexit. I never really had all that much interest in the rest of the party’s manifesto. I left almost a year later, upon gaining employment with the Vote Leave campaign. To clarify, I was not asked to leave and did not feel compelled to, rather I chose to in order to focus on one campaigning avenue and set of messages.

Unlike most of UKIP’s detractors, I have actually been inside the party. This means that I know where faults lie (especially at local level) and I know where to draw the line between fair and unfair criticism. UKIP is not a party of racists and homophobes. In fact, it mostly comprises of former Labour and Tory voters, disillusioned with their former party’s messages around issues like EU membership and immigration. The oddity was that as UKIP drew more scorn from their rivals, they became more popular, as other parties began to reek of sneering, establishmentarian arrogance.

It took the main parties quite a long time to realise this, which has always surprised me. The Labour Party still makes the mistake of referring to UKIP’s message as the politics of hatred and division, despite its ongoing battle to overcome lingering internal anti-Semitism. The Conservatives, who had the most to lose from a strong Independence force, reacted a little more proactively, and ceased labelling UKIP figures and voters in uncomplimentary terms because they knew that it would backfire on them. What is even more interesting is the number of Tory youth members – of which I know many – who like UKIP and credit them for giving their party a kick up the backside across various policy areas.

It is correctly argued that UKIP does best as a radical party, but it is also worth remembering that the sheer scale of immigration for the past two decades, and the party’s ability to link it to a referendum, shaped their success. UKIP will still portray itself as a radical party, but it will not be aided in the same way going forward. Michael Heaver, Nigel Farage’s former spin doctor, believes that his party needs to get back on the offence and take the lead in policy proposals. He mentioned on the Daily Politics today that House of Lords reform or proportional representation could be areas of policy that UKIP may try to influence – but these things simply do not have the same value for them. They are not issues that unite or rally their voter base, and they are not big enough issues to attract very many swing voters. This is especially true of the country’s Remain supporters, who would sooner barbecue their own children than be pulled in by even a sentence of any UKIP manifesto.

The in-fighting quite clearly isn’t helping things either. UKIP squabbles aren’t new and they most certainly aren’t surprising. But, in previous years, hostile sections of the party could put their differences aside much more easily as they knew that on the horizon lay an issue not worth dividing over. Even Farage and Douglas Carswell, who I got to meet several times during the referendum campaign and rather liked, simply ignored one another in the weeks leading to polling day, knowing full well that it was better to enter battle united that it was to entertain pointless feuding.

For the record, I believe Douglas Carswell was a little petulant in not backing a proposed Nigel Farage knighthood. I think it was quite clear why he did it. Just as it became clear that his defection from the Tories softened UKIP’s jagged voice as the referendum debate was under way. For anybody who has not yet read it and is interested, my blog on the case for knighting Mr Farage can be read at the following link:

https://norgroveblog.com/2017/02/25/why-nigel-farage-deserves-a-knighthood/

I am therefore unsurprised to learn that Arron Banks, who I’ve often thought will prove to be more useful behind the scenes in political life, is preparing to challenge Mr Carswell for his seat in Clacton. I don’t believe the UKIP donor will win the seat – in fact, come the next election, I believe it is highly likely that the Conservative Party may reclaim it…even if Douglas Carswell does re-stand for election. Between the by-election of 2014 and the General Election a year later, the Tories gained seven and a half thousand votes, and with the Leave vote now under the country’s belt, it is entirely possible that this increase will continue in 2020 (provided that another election is not called sooner).

I will always defend UKIP from unwarranted attack, and I greatly appreciate their efforts in fighting for an ‘in/out’ referendum on the question of EU membership. It was at least sincere, unlike the false promises made by former party leaders over the years (Tony Blair in 2005, David Cameron on the Lisbon Treaty in 2009). But their time as a credible political force, radical or not, has come to end in Britain. The Conservatives will soon be able to sleep easily.


Why Nigel Farage deserves a knighthood

It is clear to me now why Nigel Farage gives much better political interviews than he does personal ones. Last night’s ‘Life Stories’ with Piers Morgan highlighted Mr Farage’s understandable hesitancy with regards to talking about his private life, despite the host’s repeated and reasonable attempts to extract the juice from him. For that reason, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I was going to.

The former UKIP leader teased the audience with mentions of his relatives and those in his personal life, but kept his guard up and refused to be drawn into lengthy, informative storytelling. Perhaps ironically, Farage was at his most emotive and engaging when asked about topics he explicitly did not wish to discuss (like accusations of racism). Mr Farage’s personal life and professional rise are extremely interesting, and I felt he should have expanded upon some of the more personal aspects to his interview. I invite readers at this blog to watch the hour-long show for themselves and let me know what they thought in the comments below.

Towards the end of the show, however, the question over his future was raised. I was reminded, as Morgan asked him about his future plans, by Thursday night’s Question Time discussion on the issue of a potential knighthood (on which I should add that I completely believe that a Farage knighthood was blocked by his public nemesis Douglas Carswell). It would seem to me entirely reasonable for Nigel to be knighted given his standing as this generation’s most impactful and important politician.

And yes, he is a politician, much as he may pretend not to be. His impression on Britain’s political climate outweighs even that of Tony Blair’s. Liberals on both sides of the spectrum utterly despise him, but he retains significant support amongst older voters and traditional English, patriotic conservatives (a bracket that includes many Labour voters, we often forget).

Mr Farage deserves a knighthood because he truly embodies what it means to be a difference maker. His legacy is far more profound than that of most world leaders. He exudes a determination not seen in other political figures and his role in directing the single biggest democratic decision taken by British people can’t be overstated. He sacrificed his reputation and time with his family for a single goal that, against all the odds, he is on the cusp of achieving. It is hard to name a politician more driven and more focused, and one who overachieved in such a manner. It is indeed what public service is really all about.

I have met him several times, always surrounded by others and never getting the opportunity to get to know him, and each time I bumped into him (which included two public meetings, a Leave rally in Bromley and an occasion where he came into Vote Leave HQ to speak with Dominic Cummings) I was astounded by his stamina. He’d give up his time to talk to just about any curious passerby if it meant furthering his dream of Britain leaving the European Union. It was really quite inspiring.

Of course, his opponents will look to his stance on immigration and apparent status as flag bearer for the alt-right as an argument against a knighthood. I think this is nonsense. Mr Farage opened up the immigration debate at a time when nobody else even dared to, which proved beneficial for the country and especially for the silent (as we now know) majority who were left sidelined by the establishment parties they thought they could trust.

Also, it does not make sense to politicise and categorise the requirement criteria for a knighthood in this way. In doing so, we allow only for a certain kind of person with a certain batch of views to be given knighthoods. If the honours system does not facilitate the inclusion of a man who did more for Brexit than just about anybody else, then what exactly is it for? Knighthoods must recognise achievement – they should not be the plaything of metropolitan liberals.

It is also true that Mr Farage should be awarded a knighthood and not a peerage. As we have already discussed at this blog, peerages have been devalued almost beyond grief. They are handed out like sweets to well-behaved children and tend to be awarded for the purpose of political posturing. Governments increasingly create Peers out of nothing simply to boost the chances of their legislation being approved by the Upper House.

A knighthood symbolises exceptional achievement, and nobody – not trendy, mainstream celebrities or campus Lefties – can argue that Mr Farage’s efforts in creating the conditions through with Britain voted to leave the European Union were not an exceptional achievement. He cleverly forged an unbreakable link between mass immigration, which frustrated many communities in the country, and membership of the EU. Had he not tied those two issues together, the UK would not be on the brink of triggering Article 50.

All the pieces are in place. Mr Farage meets the criteria for receipt, the arguments against are personal and petulant, and the honours system needs a figure of his magnitude to truly validate itself. Even The Queen, said to be herself a supporter of Brexit, would be up for it I’m sure.


What rival Leavers need to understand about Vote Leave’s use of the ‘£350m’ figure

I have in recent days found myself dealing with perpetual criticism of the Vote Leave campaign’s use of the ‘£350m’ figure during last year’s EU referendum campaign. Scores of Twitter followers and individuals I know in person have, it seems, converged on me, telling me that our figure was either a flat out lie, or that it was harmful to Leave’s campaign more generally. I wanted to address the issue at this blog and explain why I wholeheartedly reject the tiring residue of condemnation that our campaign, and my former employer, continues to receive for its use.

The first interesting aspect to the disapproval that meets Vote Leave’s use of the ‘£350m’ figure (this figure being our gross weekly contribution to the European Union) is that a surprising proportion of it comes from members of our own camp. Much of the abuse thrown my way, and indeed the campaign’s way, has been from fellow Leavers. Criticism is easy to take from your opponents. Often it is useful as it can make you think and allows you to improve upon your own arguments, but when it is from those who you consider to be on your side of the argument, it can be more challenging to take.

I have been told numerous times by voters associated with the UKIP, Leave.EU or Grassroots Out campaigns that our constant referral to the £350m figure nearly cost Leave the referendum. They say that, due to how contentious it was, damaged our credibility and ability to tackle the economic arguments posed by Remain. In the midst of an intriguing 19,000-word recount of how the referendum was won, Vote Leave campaign director Dominic Cummings acknowledged this at his blog, saying:

“Pundits and MPs kept saying ‘why isn’t Leave arguing about the economy and living standards’. They did not realise that for millions of people, £350m/NHS was about the economy and living standards – that’s why it was so effective. Unlike most of those on our side the IN campaign realised the effectiveness of this, as Cooper, Coetze and others said after 23 June. E.g. ‘The power of their £350 million a week can’t be overstated.’ Andrew Cooper, director of strategy for the IN campaign.”

Cummings also makes clear that his pre-referendum research revealed to him that primarily, voters cared about two main issues: immigration and the money in their pocket. By pushing this figure, itself a close approximation of official Treasury figures, and by making it clear that it was gross and not net, we were taking the economic arguments by the scruff of the neck. I often get the feeling from active Leavers that they themselves gave Remain more credit for their economic arguments than they perhaps deserved. I remember vividly, a few days before polling day, sitting in the office late in the evening reading the results of a major IPSOS  Mori poll that had swung 10 point in our favour. I have tried to find the exact article but have had no luck so far. Towards the bottom of the report, we were informed that 10% more people believed our Turkey claims than they did Remain’s economic forecasts.

The economic arguments that we were told constantly we failed to address were simply not credible and most did not believe them. So herein lies the first beauty of ‘£350m every week’: it was a simple, believable statistic that when paired with: “let’s spend that on our priorities instead” disarmed Remain’s economic doom-mongering. It reminded voters that, thanks to our ongoing membership of the EU, we had a black hole in the coffers that would be filled upon leaving, and that even if there was damage to the economy, it could be eased by a substantial saving elsewhere.

Another point raised by those who hated our use of the infamous figure was why we decided to make it such a central and prominent theme (painted on our bus, raised in television debates and printed all over campaign materials). ‘If one of your arguments has been so consistently rubbished, why draw so much attention to it?’ they would ask. It’s a good question, but those asking it ought to, just for a moment, step out of the shoes of somebody with a passion for politics and jump into the shoes of the ordinary, mildly engaged man in the street. For Joe public, dipping in and out of referendum content throughout the closing weeks of the campaign or watching our bus drive past, the figure had a significant purpose.

As polling day drew nearer, Number 10 and Stronger In would send out their campaign representatives to do whatever they could to bash our £350m figure and make sure the public was aware of how useless it was. This was counterproductive and soon backfired. In any referendum, two sides are expected to counter eachother’s arguments. But in this particular case, counter-argument worked perfectly in our favour. When IN attacked ‘£350m’, they thought they were squashing our most potent weapon. Actually, they were sharpening it. When they said things like: “it doesn’t take into account the rebate, the net figure is roughly half that!” all it did was remind people that, regardless of the actual numbers, the cost of EU membership was extortionate, and most people were onboard with us when we suggested that British taxpayers’ money would be better off spent here in Britain.

It was also especially useful that quite often, the very people attacking our figure (and economic standpoint) were people and institutions with woeful track records. The Bank of England, the IMF and the British Chambers of Commerce, in particular, were net negative contributors to the campaign they were desperate to strengthen. It also suited the kind of image that we wanted to portray: that of anti-establishmentarianism, even if we were a little Tory-heavy. IN’s economic arguments were confusing (many couldn’t understand how an EU vote possibly linked to a fall in house prices or a rise in food prices), offered by tainted individuals lacking credibility and were rebutted in a way that was simple and relatable. It certainly helps to explain why so many poorer, working class members of society opted for Leave.

Vote Leave’s reliance on ‘We send the EU £350 million a week – let’s fund the NHS instead’ was simple and devilishly effective. It reminded the public of the sheer expense of EU membership whilst presenting a credible alternative to outlandish economic forecasts. It played a hugely important role in winning Leave the referendum, even if Nigel Farage doesn’t seem to think so. Leavers of all allegiances should respect our efforts and our message, even if they did not like our campaign. The fight, we should remember, is far from over.

It does, therefore, trouble me somewhat when I see or hear people asking where our £350m is. I don’t need to insult the intelligence of readers at my blog by describing why this amazes me so.


Why 2016 was the year of the establishment

When Nigel Farage and Donald Trump describe the events of 2016 as a ‘political revolution’, they do so not to paint an informed picture, but to massage their own egos. For them, the idea of revolution cements their place in history. It validates their importance to the political arena, even in the face of adversity and massive public criticism.

Various alt-Right claims concerning the magnitude of last year’s political changes are at best dubious and at worst insulting lies. 2016 was not the year of political revolution. It was a year in which swamps were drained with swampland and a year in which the public relations industry worked its magic in ways never seen before to create the false perception that we now, more than at any other time, live in a post-truth political environment.

Yes, it is true that startling alliances were exposed that sent powerful signals to government, and that the public mood seemed to defy even reputable polling, but one only has to take a look at the manoeuvring of the chess pieces currently on the board to examine that the effects of 2016’s groundbreaking votes haven’t been as profound as commonly thought.

Take, for instance, the new cabinet of president-elect Donald Trump. After promising to ‘drain the swamp’ at the White House for many months, Trump’s new cabinet picks are more than a little eyebrow-raising. The combined wealth of Trump’s cabinet, excluding the president-elect’s $3.7bn fortune, is a staggering $4.5bn[1], and not all positions have been decided upon.

It can be a little easy to forget that the establishment often branches out far wider than politics itself. What we call the establishment is in reality an intricate web of political figures, banks and multinational corporations, media, owners atop strategic industries and international institutions. Many of Trump’s cabinet selections, like ExxonMobil chief Rex Tillerson or Wilbur Ross, who made millions dealing with subprime mortgage’s during the 2007-08 crash, reek of establishmentarianism.

They are deeply engrained within an economic elite, and despite Trump’s plan to draft in figures that will revolutionise America’s negotiating skill and allow it to do business his way, the establishment stench will linger so poignantly that even many of his voters will be able to smell it. If by ‘swamp’, Trump was referring to establishment figures, then swampland has undoubtedly been replaced with swampland. It is, too, worth noting that the ‘anti-establishment’ candidate received more than 2 million less votes than the firmly established Hillary Clinton in last year’s presidential contest.

I am always suspicious when a political figure claims to be waging a war with the establishment. It tends to be a war cry, designed to rally a specific kind of voter; whoever the disillusioned and marginalised voter of the day would appear to be. It makes sense, as the thirty year period of neoliberal capitalism has, for all its successes, brought about a deep-rooted marginalisation of the working man. Anger is understandable. The question therefore should be: “How do we deal with this frustration constructively?”

Similar trends were noticed during Britain’s EU referendum. As the arguments intensified, established politicians like Boris Johnson and Theresa May played their cards close to their chest, one choosing to use the campaign to fight a proxy war with David Cameron, the other choosing to campaign mildly in order to take advantage of a fallen Prime Minister. The script read like a west end play.

After Cameron’s resignation and an underwhelming Tory leadership contest, Remain-backing Theresa May took the helm and entered Number 10 as Prime Minister. The government she formed featured campaigners on both sides of the referendum, and once again the Conservatives found themselves strapped with the task of carrying out Brexit. Thanks once again to some clever manoeuvring, the party that for years had supported Britain’s membership of the European Union was in charge of withdrawal.

The same politicians, with a few exceptions, are calling the shots, and Britain seems both reluctant to reveal its negotiating cards and content to stretch the process out for as long as possible. The very same pattern has emerged on both sides of the Atlantic: the anti-establishment types, camouflaged as defenders of the working man in a bid to attract widespread support, were so zealous and deceiving in their pursuit of power that they forgot almost entirely how to deal with it when it came.

In 2016, the establishment launched a coup unto itself, disguised as its sworn enemy. It managed to harness the anger of forgotten communities and mould it into a brand new mandate; with which it will trot confidently into what is deemed to be the new political era. And what’s worse? Even our populists, who ceaselessly present themselves as anti-establishment, are starting to look every bit as careerist and every bit as bubbled as those they claim to oppose.

 

[1] Peterson-Withorn, C. (2016). Here’s What Each Member Of Trump’s $4.5 Billion Cabinet Is Worth. Available: http://www.forbes.com/sites/chasewithorn/2016/12/22/heres-how-much-trumps-cabinet-is-really-worth/#e7a9676f0219. Last accessed 2nd Jan 2017.


My tribute to Nigel Farage

“I want my life back”, said Nigel Farage earlier on as he called time on his stay in British politics. The irony is perhaps that after so many years of claiming not to be a career politician, he has been a more influential politician than most have in the twenty first century. His resignation earlier came as a relative surprise; I had always believed that he would stay on as pressure whilst negotiations were ongoing in order to see the Brexit process through.

It’s been a turbulent few years for Nigel Farage. Britain’s EU referendum result on June 23rd was his shining moment after 20 hard years of campaigning, and I suspect he’s a very proud man as he sails into the sunset. I can fully appreciate that he is not everybody’s cup of tea. Even many on the Leave campaign – indeed many of my former colleagues – didn’t particularly like him, and likewise, many voters from other political parties will have liked and respected him. He was a marmite politician, for want of a better word. But he can (and will) be pleased with his efforts.

I did not know Mr Farage that well. We met on a few occasions; once at a public meeting in Westminster, once at an EU rally in Kent, once on a street stall in Bromley and once at Vote Leave HQ, and he was always perfectly pleasant to me. What struck me, particularly at political events, was his energy and his charisma. He never tired and always wanted to meet members of the public. Anybody who ever campaigned with him will know how many hours he put into travelling and meeting members of the public from all over the country.

Nigel also helped to put his party, the UK Independence Party, onto the map. UKIP was founded in 1993 as a one-issue protest party, but didn’t quite receive the attention or the support that it perhaps should have until Nigel Farage took hold of the reigns. It is a testament to his oratory ability and leadership skill that he was able to guide UKIP to 4 million votes at a general election and force an EU referendum upon the Prime Minister (it is perfectly plausible to argue that without Nigel Farage, there would not have been an EU referendum to contest at all).

He hasn’t gone without controversy, however, and it is quite possible that history will not be too kind to him. His comments about Romanian men, foreigners with HIV and his ‘Breaking point’ poster were low points which brought him a lot of criticism from the electorate and from political commentators. I do not suggest and have not suggested for one moment that he was not a divisive figure. Even many on the Right of politics found him to be a little toxic at times.

He has certainly shaken up the political landscape, though. That much is certain. Mr Farage’s party, message and politics have exposed huge divides between the voters and leaders of both the country’s mainstream parties. If he is thanked for anything, it can be this. Despite taking quite a lot of personal abuse over the years (let us not forget the abuse he dished out also), and his status even threatening his family once or twice, he fought on and can be proud of the way he campaigned tirelessly for Britain’s EU referendum.

The fact that European Union leaders have had enough of him should speak volumes. He has been a thorn in their side for very many years, and I’ll bet that they cannot wait to see the back of him. My only hope is that we do not see any more snarling, aggressive speeches from him in the European parliament any time soon. Now is a time for intelligent diplomacy, not thoughtless gloating.

For UKIP and the rest of British politics, it is time to move on from Nigel Farage. I’d like to personally thank him for opening up the immigration debate and for playing his part in getting Britain out of the European Union. It should now be down to fresh faces and a new generation to see the process through, but we mustn’t forget Nigel’s own personal contribution.

And who knows, perhaps he’ll be a peer some time soon?