“If… what a thought ….if they were to betray the wishes of the biggest democratic exercise in the history of this nation, then I think if you feel, since June the 23rd, you’ve seen political change in this country – if they betray those people you ain’t seen nothing yet”
This was Nigel Farage, speaking at the end of the BBC documentary “Brexit: A Very British coup”. Having, he believed, achieved his political ambition in bringing about the vote to leave the EU, he had resigned the leadership of UKIP and was looking forward to “getting his life back” while the government got on with the job of implementing the result of the referendum.
Yet now here we are, nearly three years later, and Mr Farage has found himself drawn back into politics by the exact betrayal that he had previously found so preposterous to contemplate. And his words could not be more prophetic – for the political changes and disruption we have seen over the past few years are as nothing compared to the further disruption that will inevitably take place over the coming months and years due to the failure of the government to deliver on its promise.
There appears to be a certain paralysis within Westminster, a refusal to see what is absolutely self-evident to anyone who is paying even the slightest bit of attention. The Conservatives, in the run-up to the local elections, were bracing themselves to lose up to 800 seats – yet ended up losing 1,334. Labour, expecting to increase their seat count by picking up seats from the Conservatives, somehow ended up losing 84. And the main beneficiaries were the Lib Dems, Greens and independent candidates.
In my view, this sends one resounding message – voters are fed-up of equivocation and broken promises. No matter how much parties argue that local elections are about local issues, as long as a candidate is running under the banner of a political party they can expect voters to vote not just on how they feel about the individual candidate but also on how they feel about the party itself.
The Lib Dems and Greens, by being utterly consistent throughout the last few years as to where they stand, not just on Brexit but on wider policy issues too, managed to retain their vote share while many of those who could typically have been relied on to vote for Conservative or Labour councillors, either spoiled their ballots or didn’t bother to vote at all. And the number of spoilt ballots containing the words “Brexit” or “Traitors” in loud, angry letters, should have left no doubt as to the feelings of those voters.
You would think that after such a humiliating result, the Prime Minister would be tempted to bring forward her resignation and allow somebody else to try to rescue the Brexit negotiations. You would think, similarly, that her Cabinet would finally break ranks and stop parroting the usual lines about having complete faith in her to deliver Brexit.
But no. On BBC Question Time on Thursday evening, Amber Rudd, asked about a poll for the “Conservative Home” website which found roughly 80% of members have no confidence in the Prime Minister, responded that she doesn’t have much faith in that poll, given “there is a certain type of person who supports Conservative Home” – delivered in a tone that made it clear she does not consider herself one of those types.
Well, Amber, I am one of those “certain types” of person who reads Conservative Home. And I think you’ll find the others are all, like me, traditionally conservative voters at the more politically-engaged end of the spectrum. We are the type of people who tend to read political manifestos before committing our vote to one or other party – we all clearly remember the Conservative Party manifesto promise to take Britain out of the single market and out of the customs union, and we are not blind to the repeated attempts to smear as “extremists” the few MPs who have remained committed to delivering on that manifesto promise.
I think you may find, too, that the young woman in the audience, who announced early on in the programme that she has been a Conservative activist for the last 3 years but now plans to vote for the Brexit Party because the Conservatives have let the members down, just may be an occasional reader of “Conservative Home”.
It seems not to have crossed Amber’s mind, that maybe her failure to identify with, or take seriously, the readers of “Conservative Home”, is an indication that it is her position, and that of the Prime Minister, that is out of place in the Conservative Party, rather than that of the members. If the loss of over 1,300 seats in a local election doesn’t make the Conservative leadership think twice about whether it still represents its core voter base, what will?
Meanwhile, the Brexit Party continues to hold rallies up and down the country, filling out conference halls and football stadia with supporters who just can’t get enough of Nigel Farage, Ann Widdecombe, Claire Fox, Tim Martin, Richard Tice or any of the other candidates standing for the European Parliament elections. Farage has made it clear that not only will the Brexit Party be contesting every seat in the next general election, but that his ultimate aim is to completely smash the two-party political system that has so paralysed our democracy. The tired old Tory line of “Vote for us or end up with a Corbyn government” simply won’t hold up any longer – voters are starting to realise that it’s not only the Conservatives, but Labour, too, who are haemorrhaging support to the Brexit Party, and unless Labour sort themselves up and come up with a consistent policy around Brexit, which the entire party can get behind, they have no chance of winning a majority in the next election.
Whether or not Farage manages to bring about the political shake-up he promises, remains to be seen. But those who laughed when he announced, 20 years ago, that he wanted to lead a campaign to get Britain out of the European Union, were certainly not laughing on 24 June 2016 when the Brexit referendum result was announced. And while the recent fly-on-the-wall documentary “Brexit: Behind closed doors” may have outraged viewers by showing a couple of civil servants in Brussels joking about how the current Withdrawal Agreement will turn Britain into a colony, I remain hopeful that, much though it may take a few more years, in the end it will be Mr Farage and the Brexiteers who will have the last laugh. And in Mr Farage’s words, “if you think you’ve seen political change in this country…. you ain’t seen nothing yet”