Who will fight the British far right? The centre right, the left, the liberals? The European elections are giving Nigel Farage the chance to push for a catastrophic Brexit, and build a formidable and ugly nationalist movement. Yet allegedly serious politicians, who have a duty to oppose him, forget the national interest and their own self-interest and sit on their hands.
Farage poses a mortal danger to the Conservative party. You would not guess it from the reaction of its leaders and PRs. They have provided no coherent argument against the Brexit party. Indeed, I have been hard-pressed to find any argument at all. Go to the Tories’ website and there is nothing.
ERG vice-chairman Mark Francois MP: "The one upside of the European elections is that the British establishment, in all their cosseted, feather-bedded, oh-so-superior smugness are going to get the shock of their bloody lives."@JuliaHB1 | https://t.co/sv3MZUm41c pic.twitter.com/2C3vTR9Qi1
— talkRADIO (@talkRADIO) May 8, 2019
Turn on the news, and I cannot find a Conservative politician answering Farage’s charges of treason and betrayal of the people’s will. Political fights are rarely won with a knockout blow. The far right in Britain will not be beaten by revealing Farage’s multiple hypocrisies. Important though they are, and attractive to journalists looking to make their name with a big story, they are no substitute for the relentless challenging of an opponent. Farage should not be able to utter a line or issue a press statement without the Conservatives rebutting him. Rebuttal comes there none. No defence of the prime minister’s Brexit. No explanation of the consequences of no deal.
My side of the Brexit debate has pretty much given up on the BBC. I bow to no one in my distaste for its cowardice, but I do have a smattering of sympathy for broadcasters. If the opposition isn’t opposing, if government ministers aren’t defending their own government from its enemies, it is hard, and possibly improper, for the BBC to fill the vacuum.
The Tories face being humiliated in the European elections. An invigorated, elated Brexit party, which has enjoyed immunity from prosecution, threatens to lose the Tories scores of seats in a general election. And still they stay silent. In 2015, the centre left could not bring itself to argue against Corbyn. Its cowardice in the face of the enemy, its inability to admit the enemy was an enemy, destroyed it. In 2019, the same applies to the centre right.
You could say that Theresa May is a terrible politician, and I wouldn’t argue back. She must think that a no-deal Brexit will wreck the economy and threaten the Union and the Irish peace. But she does not have the will or the ability to take on Farage. Nor will she expose the Johnsons and Raabs in her own party, who get away with peddling the false promise that the EU will abandon Ireland and reopen the Withdrawal Agreement if we demand it in the loud voice of a red-faced British tourist demanding service in a foreign bar.
Stunned by the crisis, she cannot persuade herself of the justice of her cause, let alone anyone else. The Conservatives have at least warned MPs, councillors and members that ‘campaigning for or endorsement of any other political party is incompatible with membership of the party’, which shows the Tories still possess the faintest flicker of a pulse.
But a flicker is all it is. I do not expect Mark Francois to be expelled for cheering on Farage and saying that, ‘The one upside of the European elections is that the British establishment, in all their cosseted, feather-bedded, oh-so-superior smugness are going to get the shock of their bloody lives.’ Or that Owen Paterson will lose the whip for saying: ‘Prime Minister… we voted to leave the EU and all its institutions: the Single Market, the Customs Union and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. Your deal is rotten beyond belief’.
The right of the Tory party has broken the Tory party. It is not Farage’s enemy but his collaborator. It wills him on and provides him with cover. The Tory establishment may not bow to the right’s demands but it dare not challenge its enemies within (if I may borrow Faragist language for a moment) anymore than the Labour centre dared to challenge the far left. You cannot win a battle without fighting it, the silence of the Tories is a prelude to their defeat.
What then of Labour: left-wing radical Labour, which calls everyone who disagrees with it a fascist? Its spokesmen and women can no more raise a trembling voice of protest when an actual far-right movement appears than the Tories can. Its website contains as many attacks on Farage as the Tories’, which is to say none whatsoever.
You can emphasise, as I have done, the importance of the anti-Europeanism of the dominant communist faction on the far left. You can look at the fears of Labour MPs of losing leaver votes, although most of those voters would never vote for Corbyn, Brexit or no Brexit. You can marvel at the sheer slack-jawed stupidity of many on the left who think that Brexit is a distraction from the real issue of social justice, rather than a deliberate right-wing strategy that will make, and is intended to make, the task of building a fairer society immeasurably harder.
But when all the explanations have been proffered, the brute facts remains: Labour leaders and shadow ministers are no more taking on Farage than Conservative leaders and actual ministers.
As for the Greens, Liberal Democrats and Change UK: they are more interested in fighting each other than fighting against the common enemy. Their inability to cooperate to maximise the Remain vote shows that they will always put their sectarian interests before the national interest.
I don’t want to end by falling into clichés of the ‘only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,’ not least because I am not sure that the Labour, Tory, Liberal Democrat, Change and Green parties are led by good men – or good women for that matter. Nevertheless, we are witnessing a pathetic and shaming spectacle. Frauds are selling snake oil to the British, that will poison rather than heal them. And not one of the parties that purports to stand for the good health of the country dares to expose the quacks.