MITCH BENN: Farage is the emperor without new clothes

Nigel Farage. Photograph: BBC.

Nigel Farage. Photograph: BBC. - Credit: Archant

MITCH BENN on why Nigel Farage's election win was not a call for speeding up Brexit.

Right, brace yourself because I'm about to ruin your day. If you're standing up, sit down; if you're sitting down, lie down. If you haven't had breakfast, don't have breakfast yet and if you have had breakfast, I'm terribly sorry and can only suggest you make sure there are no obstacles between you and the smallest room in the house.

Ready? Okay, here we go:

Nigel Farage is naked.

I'll give you a minute to recover as that image oozes across your visual cortex before I explain what I mean.

Nigel Farage at the launch of the Brexit Party in central London. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

Nigel Farage at the launch of the Brexit Party in central London. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

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That ought to do it.

What I mean by "Nigel Farage is naked" is that he is as the emperor in Andersen's fable. We can see this already - we've always seen it - and it's becoming harder for even his most glassy-eyed followers to deny. He's a one trick pony and he's done the trick to death.

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Not that you'd get this from watching the television news or reading 60% of newspapers. It is getting to the point at which one almost expects our TV newsreaders to end each edition by turning to a side camera and saying: "Did you spot the deliberate mistake, viewers?"

This week's deliberate mistake has of course been to trumpet the showing of the Brexit Party Ltd (one must never forget that that's what it is; it's not a party, it's a profit-making limited company masquerading as one) in the recent European elections as some sort of electoral miracle and as clinching proof that the country is every bit as gung ho for Brexit (and, moreover, a no-deal Brexit) as ever.

Even a cursory objective glance at the numbers disproves this. Firstly, the support garnered by the Brexit Party Ltd is a scant improvement on the then-beFaraged UKIP's vote at the last European elections in 2014 and, as Remain activist Mike Galsworthy correctly points out, if you add the 2014 votes of all the now defunct anti-EU fringe parties which were, one can at least suppose, similarly absorbed by TBP Ltd then the increase all but disappears.

Meanwhile, the fact that the now Farageless UKIP's support has evaporated without him suggests that not only is TBP Ltd a rebrand rather than a resurgence, but that the Farage-era UKIP was in fact just the ego trip/personality cult a lot of us suspected it was at the time.

As many Remain pundits have pointed out, the votes of the avowedly anti-Brexit parties add up to far more than the combined votes of the no-deal parties, even if you don't add any Labour votes to the total. Indeed, nearly a million fewer people actually voted for the Farageistes than signed that 'Revoke Article 50' petition of a few months ago.

As for the two 'big' parties, I read (and can't be bothered to verify) that it's the worst showing in a national election for both Labour and the Conservatives since 1910 and 1832 respectively, and richly deserved on both counts.

Labour - or everyone in Labour except Jeremy Corbyn and Len McCluskey - seem finally to have realised that if you try to be all things to everyone you end up being nothing much to anyone. The smug 'Well who else are they going to vote for?' attitude to their own supporters has cost them as dearly as many of us predicted, and if the party doesn't get some humility and fast, the next general election could see them rendered as irrelevant south of the border as they already are to the north.

The Tories meanwhile, did as they always do in a time of crisis; they've regrouped, put aside all petty distractions and steeled themselves to the all-important task of spending the next few weeks tearing each other apart in a leadership contest. The smart money is inevitably on Boris Johnson, and if I can say something controversial: good.

Before you deluge me with hate-email, let me explain: the one thing you can be sure of with Boris Johnson is that he lies. Whoever wins the Tory leadership will have to bang the no-deal drum to do so, but what distinguishes Boris from his rivals is that we can be sure he won't actually mean a word of it.

His faults are innumerable but stupidity is not among them; he knows that no-deal will be pretty much the zombie apocalypse and a man so obsessed with his own place in history will never want to be remembered as having shepherded the country to disaster. He'll wax no-dealtastic until he gets the gig then drop it at the first opportunity (doubtless blaming someone else).

But to return - as alas we must - to Farage; he's made a big mistake. By refusing to publish a manifesto, or even to announce any policy decisions other than on Brexit; by choosing to run TBP Ltd as a single position on a single issue 'party', he made these elections a proxy vote on no-deal. And by coming in at 31%, he lost. Badly.

The figure of "17.4 million voted to Leave" will still be trotted out by Brexiteers on a tiresomely regular basis but it's going to ring rather hollower given that, offered the chance to reaffirm their position, 12.2 million of them, for whatever reason, chose not to.

Neither Farage nor his cheerleaders will ever admit it, but somewhere in that sclerotic heart of his he knows he's blown it.


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