Friday, 7 June 2019

Peterborough: failure to launch

To be fair, the Brexit Party pulled in a superficially respectable result, but by eating into the Tory vote they handed the seat to Labour. In this instance an intellectually subnormal grunter. That will likely scare a lot of voters back to their tribal habits at a general election so BP won't do as well but will poll enough in marginal seats to hand the game to Corbyn.

What we see is that Farage has been unable to expand the appeal of his vessel from earlier Ukip efforts and will likely score zero MPs - or certainly not enough to make a difference to anything. There are all the signs that it will hit the rocks again through a combination of unforced errors and internal bickering. The Farage effect. If at that point we haven't left the EU then we probably never will.

The only way for the Tories to make this problem go away is to actually deliver Brexit, but if they press ahead with a no deal Brexit then there's two years of damaging headlines and a wave of job losses they somehow have to explain away. That will also cost them the next election. Then if they ratify a withdrawal agreement then the Torykip wing will stay at home and the Tories lose that way. In other words, the Tories are finished. The only question is whether they take us all down with them.

As to Farage, Beth Rigby of Sky News asks "If Farage can’t win in seat where 61% of the population voted leave, where can he win? ". That is indeed the question. The obvious answer being that Farage is not Brexit and Brexit is not Farage. Ultimately it is the media who foisted Farage upon us. The media has anointed him as king of all things Brexit and had he not been at the head of any new Brexit party the media would likely not have given it a second look. What Farage gives them, though, is ample opportunity to roll out all of thier prepackaged narratives about a "Brexit insurgency". He's easy copy.

Whichever way you look at it there is a ceiling to the appeal of Farage and any party led by him. That ceiling was reached some time ago. It probably doesn't help that the party has set itself up as the party of no deal. No deal may very well have strong support in the Twittersphere but the tone and the rhetoric is a huge turn off for the largely voiceless moderate leavers.

Then, of course, it won't take long for the rot to set in. Farage has an all new, newly energised entourage, largely bleating the same old slogans who genuinely believe the party can smash its inherent ceiling. They fail to recognise that Farage himself is that ceiling. Only new leadership can widen the appeal of Ukip 2.0 but with Farage carefully vetting his followrs to ensure no-one can follow him, without Farage, the Brexit Party goes the same way as Ukip. Oblivion. His old gang are left fighting over the scraps until there is nothing left to take seriously.

The Brexit Party will likely follow the exact same pattern where the gaffes and missteps being to snowball and as its spokesmen start to build up their own media profiles we will see just how ghastly they really are and how utterly clueless they are. Ukippers were not famous for knowing what they are talking about. It looks like nothing has changed. They learned nothing about message discipline and still think they can wing it. Research is a dirty word in the Farage cult.

Should we get near a general election with the Brexit Party still in play, they will have existed long enough for its MEPs to have made total arses of themselves and for the media to have done the grubbing on the internal workings of the party. They will face the same onslaught they faced in 2015 by which time all that slick campaigning we saw in the Euro-elections will be falling apart as the public gets to see them for what they are.

Some believe Ukip 2.0 will fare better having tapped into a new seam of support in the form of Claire Fox and James Heartfield of the Spiked fraternity. The closest the party will ever get to an intellectual wing. The problem there is that virtually anyone can concoct a plausible case against the EU. That's the easy bit. But as readers of this blog know, the question of how we leave and what comes next are the more difficult questions and it doesn't take long to spot who has done their homework and who hasn't. At that point, BP's intellectual wing starts to look as gormless as the rest of them. It doesn't help that they're still in their honeymoon period with Farage and still believe the party can accomplish anything of note other than handing the keys to Number Ten to Corbyn.

The ultimate problem with the Brexit Party is the same problem Ukip had. It has no intellectual foundation and consequently no workable strategy. They don't know the meaning of the word. This is a party obsessed with leaving the EU for its own sake with no regard to what shape we are in afterwards and how we might wield our new found sovereignty. Without a deal, Britain is considerably weakened and the choices are grim.

This is where the Tories would do well to know their enemy. The Brexit Party will follow roughly the same trajectory as Ukip for largely the same reasons. If they try to out Farage the one true Farage then all they do is split their own vote while driving moderates away in droves. This is one thing George Osborne is absolutely right about. Taking a hard line on Brexit doesn't get them anywhere not least since hard line Brexiters don't trust the Tories anyway.

In any case things do not look good. There is only a small window for a viable outcome which is entirely contingent on passing the withdrawal agreement and the chances of that seem vanishingly small. Passing the deal would at least clear the air and allow us to move on to negotiating the new relationship, but if we leave without a deal or do not leave at all then we open the door to a decade of political turbulence and economic stagnation. Never before have we been in greater need of clear minded leadership. That, though, is sadly not on offer.

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