BY FRANK HAVILAND
Not since Margaret Thatcher has Britain had a Conservative Government in anything other than name. John Major was too busy ‘putting Britain at the heart of Europe’, David Cameron obsessed with gay marriage; and while Theresa May parroted ‘Brexit means Brexit’, she did a spirited impression of not knowing what it meant. For Boris Johnson, God only knows what conservatism means.
Still, I doubt there are many Tory voters who elected Boris for his conservatism. No, Johnson’s 80-seat majority was achieved thanks largely to the Brexit Party stepping aside, and under the solemn promise that Brexit would be delivered – but even that resolve appears to be slipping.
Low expectations notwithstanding, Johnson’s administration has still managed to disappoint. Those hoping for fiscal responsibility will have been aggrieved by Johnson’s profligacy. Instead of shelving vanity projects like HS2, Boris appears to have invented a few of his own – a £20Bn bridge from Northern Ireland to Scotland for instance. In terms of Covid, even the partisan cannot deny the government’s response has been disjointed.
Priti Patel’s tough talk in the Home Office has been reduced to diversity shortlists for senior posts, while illegal immigration remains the elephant in the channel. So tantalizing is the UK benefits package it seems, even ISIS pin-ups like Shamima Begum are considering a return.
There are record numbers of migrants arriving daily at Dover, migrants camping out in Park Lane, migrants packing out hotels while Brits are turned away, even migrants hiding in roofboxes. This is not a strong, conservative Britain, but a Britain so enfeebled it cannot prevent ISIS-leading mothers-of-nine from claiming Universal Credit.
As reassuring as it may be to see Corbyn spending more time with his vegetables, the Johnson honeymoon is definitely over. A year into his premiership has seen a Tory lead of 20 points eroded to just 4. A glimmer of hope remains on the horizon however, not from the Tories of course, but the Labour Party who are reassuringly unelectable as ever.
Having replaced Magic Grandpa with unctuous human rights lawyer Keir Starmer, Labour are now in possession of the nation’s preferred candidate for PM (Starmer edges Johnson 37% to 35%). Despite this, they are still woefully mistrusted on the key issues. On the economy, Dodds scores a lamentable 6% to Sunak’s 44%. On immigration, it’s no secret that Starmer wants a return to free movement. On antisemitism, Labour are currently coughing up substantial damages to whistleblowers. And while the public may just about consider Starmer leadership material (38% to 34%), the Party itself is not considered ‘ready for government’ (23% to 54%).
It is amidst this glut of incompetence that one man might just have the answer: the man it always is, Nigel Farage. The Brexit Party may have been dormant since the General Election, but Farage certainly hasn’t been. Poised to relaunch as the Reform Party, he has been hard at work for months: consulting with a PR firm, filling the coffers via donations, and holding talks with senior Tories on the right of the party – Tories who admit the following:
- “It will be a disaster if they relaunch, they will pick up 8-10% of our vote immediately.”
- “Boris has left an open goal for Farage by pandering to the left.”
- “Boris has gone over the top with lockdown, and allowed the streets to be taken over by rioters”
It is Farage, not Starmer, who has provided true opposition to Johnson’s government; keeping the public abreast of government failings not just on immigration, but on the softening of Brexit negotiations (i.e. over fisheries), the shameful kid gloves approach to Black Lives Matter (while Starmer was on his knees), and the ludicrous proposal of a US style Number 10 spokesman.
It is Farage who has forced the government’s hand, not merely in acknowledging the illegal immigration scandal, but promising to do something about it (though admittedly that appears to be little more than begging the French to stop taxiing migrants through the channel!)
The danger of an emboldened Reform Party is naturally a split in the right-wing vote, effectively handing Labour the keys to Downing Street. And yet it is this fear which has safeguarded the two-party stranglehold over British politics; a fear which must be faced if we are to regain a genuine conservative force in Britain.
Farage is undeniably a political heavyweight, ‘the most successful politician of his generation’ even according to his enemies. Having led the Brexit Party from conception to victory in the European Elections in just 6 weeks, sealing Theresa May’s fate into the bargain, he could be a serious challenge to Boris.
And with 86% of the populous considering him the central figure of Brexit, and 62% of Britons thinking Boris Johnson’s government is failing on immigration, any slip by Johnson anxious to push a Brexit deal over the line will be just the incentive Farage needs.
As Farage himself says, “I am watching and waiting. The lack of leadership from our government has been pitiful. Millions of Conservative voters want to see some moral courage not the current cowardice in the face of anarchic Marxism.”
The Brexit Party may currently poll at a mere 2%, but it would be foolish to write Farage off. If Boris does not double down on Brexit negotiations and get a grip on immigration, the next General Election could come a lot sooner than 2024.
The odds of Farage becoming Britain’s next Prime Minister currently range from 50-100/1. But with the Tories in office not in power, and no reason to step aside this time, I’d put a few quid on Nigel – he might just be worth a punt.