The votes have been cast and the results won’t be known until Sunday, but already one thing is crystal clear about this election – it has been a resounding victory for Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party.
According to some polls, he will not only win the election but also could attract more votes than the Conservative and Labour parties combined. If that happens it would be absolutely astonishing. But even if he doesn’t scale quite the heights some polls indicate, it doesn’t really matter – Farage has still won hands down. For a party formed just six weeks ago to totally dominate a national election campaign and turn the normally slick party machines of his rivals into a panic-stricken shambles is simply extraordinary.
This result could be even more significant than the 2014 election when Ukip topped the polls. Then the vote was interpreted as a not-so-gentle nudge to David Cameron’s Conservatives to be braver on negotiating reform with the EU.
This time the result is far deadlier. Farage set out to destroy the Conservative Party and he has already gone a long way towards achieving that aim (admittedly with a lot of help from the Conservatives themselves). Remarkably, he has also managed to inflict grievous wounds on Labour, which has belatedly discovered that if you sit on the fence long enough the only thing you end up with is a big splinter in the backside.
This is what happens to political parties that make solemn promises in their manifestoes and then cynically break them. Voters aren’t stupid. How has Farage achieved this? Firstly, the key message has been simple and clear (the clue is in the party’s name) and the delivery has been consistent and tightly focussed.
Contrast this with the dismal campaign of another new party, the pro-EU Change UK, or whatever they are calling themselves this week, but the other parties weren’t much better. The Brexit Party also managed to unify the Leave side of the argument. Again contrast this with the constant squabbling between Labour Remainers, the Lib Dems and the Green Party. Quite remarkably the Brexit Party – dominated by characters such as Farage and Ann Widdecombe, with decades of political activism behind them – managed to convince people they were the new kids on the block.
They sold themselves successfully as a new, insurgent force that will lead the fightback against a smug, entitled establishment that refused to honour the 2016 Referendum result. Infuriatingly for Remainers, all the attacks on Farage – from the BBC’s clumsy attempts at “gotcha” interviews to left-wing thugs with milkshakes – only served to make him all the stronger. One thing is clear – public trust in our political institutions has been disastrously eroded by the failure to deliver Brexit, and this dovetails perfectly with Farage’s anti-establishment worldview.
Farage pitches it as a battle between him and the Brexit Party against the Government, Parliament, the civil service, the courts, the media, the Electoral Commission, the CBI, the unions and of course the EU. What happens now? First, the Conservatives will choose a committed Brexiteer as their next leader to try to make up some of the ground lost to Farage. Whether the current favourite, Boris Johnson, or any of the other contenders could negotiate an improved Brexit deal with the EU before October 31 when we are finally due to leave, is anyone’s guess.
Second, a “no deal” Brexit is now much more likely – indeed, an increasing number of Leave voters who would have previously accepted Theresa May’s compromise deal, will now settle for nothing short of a clean break.
Oh the delicious irony that fanatical Remainers, by their constant whingeing and refusal to accept a democratic vote, may help to deliver the result they dreaded most of all.
In the longer term, the spectre of Farage and the Brexit Party standing in a general election must be worrying the main parties sick.
And if MPs conspire to revoke Article 50 and cancel Brexit altogether there would be a collective howl of rage from voters that could propel Farage to even greater electoral success and perhaps – who knows? – into Number 10 itself. We live in crazy times and stranger things have happened. The brutal truth for Remainers is this – the only way to stop Farage is by delivering Brexit.