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Farage and the curse of Americabrain

Politics is very different on each side of the Atlantic - but the populist right is determined to bring US-style polarisation to Britain

Nigel Farage praises Donald Trump during a campaign rally in Arizona in 2020 (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

There is a syndrome infecting our politics – let us call it becoming Americabrained.

The USA is so politically polarised that around 40% of the country support a candidate for president who is overtly talking about avenging himself on his political enemies, sending state troopers on immigration raids across the country, and overturning legitimate election results.

Donald Trump has close to a 50/50 chance of winning the election based on current polling, and such a win could undermine the fundamentals of US democracy, seal a Trumpian majority on the Supreme Court for decades, and challenge rights to abortion, contraception and same-sex marriage. US politics are divisive, divided, and are playing out at maximum volume.

The UK, meanwhile, is set to hand over a decisive parliamentary majority to a politician whose outstanding trait is his boringness. The main critique of the Labour manifesto is that it is too cautious and too centrist.

The generally nice-but-dull Liberal Democrats are set to quadruple their number of seats in parliament. Commanding majorities of the UK public are in favour of open access to abortion, same-sex marriage, and equal pay.

British politics are in a very different place from those of the USA – however acrimonious it might feel, we are far more unified than our cousins across the Atlantic.

All of that, though, seems to have escaped multiple leading politicians on the UK’s right. First and foremost among those is Nigel Farage, who is transparently laying the groundwork for several years of Donald Trump-style politicking in the UK.

The first salvo in that conflict is Farage’s persistent social media efforts to call anything he doesn’t like “ELECTION INTERFERENCE” – so far targets of this have included Ofcom, Google, the pollster More in Common and the Mail on Sunday.

Farage has subsequently escalated that conflict by bringing in notorious media law firm Carter Ruck to bring a complaint against the Daily Mail – the best-selling newspaper in the country, with an ardently right-wing readership.

The Mail reported that Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been “infected by the virus of Putinism”, which Farage claims was never said. Picking fights with the mainstream media is a tactic that Farage and Trump have both engaged in for some time – though involving lawyers against the Mail is a bold escalation that could easily blow up in Farage’s face.

On the issue of blaming the west for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Nigel Farage is wildly out of step with British voters and politicians – except for Jeremy Corbyn and those on the “Stop The War” left with him, who share his analysis.

Farage and the far-left argue that NATO and EU expansionism ‘provoked’ Putin into his invasion. This is a deeply imperialistic and 19th-century way of viewing the world, in which “great powers” had “spheres of influence” over their neighbours. Most people in the 21st century respect people’s right to self-determination – and eastern European nations chose to apply to the EU. Applications to NATO in the region were in reality spurred by Russia’s invasion, happening after it, not before.

Farage’s Putin apologia is a niche view of the extremes in the UK, but would have been ‘mainstream’ in the US Republican Party, where Trump has regularly aimed to pressure Zelenskyy into a surrender masquerading as negotiations. Farage has spent a lot of time in America: its politics have got under his skin.

Farage’s broader “election interference” tactic is a clear preamble to attacking the UK electoral system in the same way that Trump attacked that of the USA. Farage will likely have a vote total comparable to that of the Conservative Party, and yet will almost certainly win fewer than five seats.

This can obviously be used to make the case against first-past-the-post – an electoral system the Greens, Lib Dems and others have long railed against. That is a valid opinion on its own, but if leveraged in a populist way could be used to attack the ‘legitimacy’ of the election, as if the voting system had not continued unchanged and largely accepted for decades.

Being Americabrained – assuming that America’s furious style of politics will translate to Britain – is probably more of a liability than an asset. “Make Politics Boring Again” is probably a more popular slogan here than “Make Britain Great Again” ever could be. People want better public services, help with the cost of living, and ideally to be able to afford a home.

But having an Americabrain comes with its own rewards. Since being ousted from her summer job as prime minister, Liz Truss has flirted wildly with the US right, and has been rewarded with speaking gigs and US tours. Nigel Farage’s hopes of cashing in over in the States were so high that he nearly skipped the general election over them. Boris Johnson’s post-prime ministerial career relies on raking it in over in the USA.

The edges of UK politics have been Americabrained for quite some time, albeit usually from the fringes. Any time a protest movement is born in the US – usually out of America’s own unique political circumstances – a version has been recreated here.

The UK’s version of BLM would not have happened without the USA’s, despite not having its own triggering event and the UK’s very different racial politics (none of which is to say a reckoning was not due). UK campus protests over the Israel-Hamas conflict did not begin until US campus protests were covered on international news.

Americabrain leads us to imitate whatever happens in the USA, no matter how the circumstances differ. It has now escalated from protest movements to frontline politics. Nigel Farage might have the worst case of Americabrain so far, but several Conservative politicians likely to vie for the leadership post-election are already displaying the symptoms.

Our election itself is accidentally resonant of Americabrian, taking place as it does on the fourth of July. Perhaps in time it will come to mark our national day of co-dependence.

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