Brexit poster boy Nigel Farage back in politics to try and save the day
Nigel Farage is to lead the Brexit Party, having previously headed up Ukip which is now dogged by accusations of Islamophobia
Rising from its beginnings as a fringe movement, the United Kingdom Independence Party blazed like a comet across British politics in 2014, taking over a quarter of the vote in that year’s European elections.
Nigel Farage, the leader responsible for the Ukip campaign and the man most closely identified with the 2016 referendum, is trying to repeat his success by becoming leader of the budding Brexit Party.
Only 24 hours after a short Brexit delay was announced, Mr Farage, angry at the government’s much-criticised handling of Brexit, said he was ready to stand in June’s European elections, placing himself back in the vanguard of the
Mr Farage, a divisive politician whose following at one time stretched to the US alt-right, quit Ukip, the party he helped form, during rows last year over its increasing Islamophobia.
Now he hopes his reinvention could mark the moment a hard-right political figure breaks into the mainstream.
“Farage was so important [to Ukip], it was one of the once-in-a-generation moments when you had a politician that happened to be plausible and have a profile and to be able to raise the profile of their cause – that doesn’t happen very often,” says Martin Farr, a senior history lecturer at Newcastle University in the UK.
“The essential fuel for these sorts of groups is public dissatisfaction with the political provisions. And there’s enormous public dissatisfaction at the moment with the mess that Brexit is,” he says.
With Britain suffering from “declining levels of trust in politics and politicians, the environment is conducive to populist parties getting more support,” says Simon Underwood of the University of Surrey, a researcher into the EU and Euroscepticism.
Mr Farage’s main stumbling block will be translating the support he has garnered in the past from European elections and converting this into seats in the UK parliament.
Experts say that the voting system used in European elections – proportional representation – offers fringe parties better results than the UK’s first-past-the-post system.
Ukip has already moved in a dramatically different direction. From a Eurosceptic party, it has become a far-right and increasingly Islamophobic group.
Mr Farage quit when the anti-Muslim activist Tommy Robinson was hired as a party adviser last November. Mr Farage also took much of Ukip’s so-called “moderate” support with him.
“Ukip is not in a good position at the moment because it doesn’t really have the personnel or the resources or the support base to make the most of that situation, particularly with losing Nigel Farage,” Dr Usherwood says.
Not only has it lost its figurehead but it has “mutated” and is now associated with those “that are so toxic lots of people won’t want to be associated with them”, says Dr Farr.
“It all depends on the Brexit deal, although any lingering disillusionment will most likely be swept up by the Brexit Party not Ukip,” says Matthew Goodwin, associate fellow at Chatham House.
“There is a school of thought that says Ukip’s relatively good polling recently is down to the fact that people haven’t caught up with the fact that Ukip is now a deeply unpleasant party,” said, Anand Menon, director of the UK in a Changing EU think tank, at an event this week.
Populist elements are becoming well represented in the mainstream political parties, says Sara Hobolt from the London School of Economics.
However, the electoral mathematics do not support fringe groups storming parliament and grabbing seats.
“It’s not clear that we have a very credible far-right alternative,” Prof Hobolt said at a recent event.
“If we have a general election tomorrow you would not see the sort of massive emergence of some far-right party out of nowhere.”
Updated: March 24, 2019 10:59 PM