Sunday night’s EU election results provided a remarkable picture of just how complicated and divided the current state of British politics is. In the hours which followed, politicians from both sides of the Brexit divide declared their side victorious. The Brexit Party took the largest share of the vote, but this fell below the total sum for the remain supporting parties added together. The remain win is a frustratingly difficult line to spin, had there been a remain alliance under a single ticket, Monday’s headlines would have been much different. However, the key takeaway from the EU elections should be that the threat of The Brexit Party must be taken seriously.
Nigel Farage’s new party is an entirely different beast to UKIP. The Brexit Party is organised and sleekly distributes its sole message through social media channels. The party’s image is cleaner than UKIP, Farage talks about immigration far less than he used to and instead has set his crosshairs on a new enemy: the political establishment. This new enemy was abundantly clear in Farage’s appearance on the Andrew Marr show two weeks before the election during which he refused to talk about his past comments on climate change, gun control and HIV treatment. Instead, Farage complained about what he believed to be a ‘ludicrous’ approach by the BBC. The party is not interested in talking about issues other than the political establishment’s failure to deliver Brexit, they provide no manifesto and its website mentions no policies other than the vacuous platitude ‘Changing Politics for Good’.
The party has also hugely benefitted from Theresa May’s divisive approach to Brexit. In her speech announcing her resignation the Prime Minister talked of compromise not being a ‘dirty word’. In reality, her premiership has sought to divide the country along the lines of leave and remain in the hope that this would get her withdrawal agreement through the House of Commons. Only two months ago she delivered a speech deriding parliament’s decision to repeatedly reject her withdrawal agreement, an irresponsible move calculated to drive the public against their elected parliament. Rather than show the uniting leadership the country needed, her technique has only exacerbated the divides in a period of increasing toxicity between the two sides. When Theresa May became Prime Minister nobody was arguing that the only pure Brexit was a no deal; May’s divisive approach has driven both sides to extremes, and created a political climate which allowed Farage an opportunity for this success.
There are some people who will argue that The Brexit party’s success is down to the electorate treating the EU elections as a single issue election. They would be right, but that same single issue of Brexit has defined British politics for three years and will likely dominate the next general election. We need only look to Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche victory in 2017 to see how a new party can unexpectedly rise to power within a matter of months, albeit from a decisively different point of the political spectrum.
The current political state in Britain calls for more persuasive discussion and less milkshake chucking, such actions only paint populist figures like Farage as the victims and further their appeal to certain parts of the electorate. The left and the centre must act quickly to win over those who defected from the mainstream parties to Farage. This is not a case of pandering to Farage’s politics, but should be an effort to reestablish political dialogue to find a way for the country to move forward together. Every racist may have voted for Brexit, but we must remember that by no means is every Brexit Party supporter racist. We must act quickly to engage with those voters who have defected from the main parties to The Brexit Party in order to understand how they can be won back. If we don’t, the nightmarish idea of Prime Minister Nigel Farage could become a reality.
Image Credit: PA.