Yesterday, UKIP went into a meltdown that has no precedent in British politics. Usually when something as epic as what has just occurred takes place, it involves people slagging each other off to journalists behind a shroud – the “senior source” of political journalism infamy. This grinds down morale and public trust in a party over a number of months as everyone piles in. Finally someone goes above ground and tells the press, on the record for the first time, that so and so must go. He/she is a great person and has done a great job, don’t get me wrong, but the time has come to move aside and think about other career prospects.
UKIP compacted all of that into one twenty-four hour period and then cubed it. The most well known figures in the party said, in their own names and not behind any cloak of secrecy, that Farage staying on as leader was a mistake and further more than UKIP was in danger of becoming some sort of one man band personality cult.
So already, Farage gifting pro-European this implosion deserves a thank you. But even if yesterday hadn’t elapsed in the way that it did, we’d still have to give our gratitude to Nigel Farage for hanging around the British political scene just a little bit longer.
This is because I think Farage has stuck around for one reason only. The game, and by that I mean an In/Out referendum, is now on. And he thinks he can defeat the whole of Westminster and get Britain to vote itself out of the European Union. The way it’s shaping up, Farage will try and install himself as either the figure head or the literal head of the Get Out side of the argument. Either the antis try and fight Farage’s involvement (likely) or they simply let him do it. Either way, the pro-Europeans win.
Nigel Farage has become one of the most divisive figures in modern politics. He had a honeymoon period, when a large number of people thought he was a breath of fresh air, but that has long gone by. There was a time when he was the only politician in the UK with a positive approval rating. Now, he’s amongst the most disliked. His flip flop on the leadership, promising in no uncertain terms to resign if a certain set of circumstances transpired, will kill the one ace he still had up his sleeve, the “man of his word” card. However much Farage tries to equivocate on the matter, the fact is he promised to step aside if he didn’t win South Thanet. And then he u-turned. His attempt to appeal to his core audience over the general election short campaign saw him really turn up the nastiness, with the unfortunate foreign AIDS victim comment being a prime example. That may work very well with 13% of the population; you need over 50% to win a referendum, however.
If Cameron leads the Stay In campaign, his greatest hope will be that Farage will be either seen as or actually will be the head of the Get Out brigade. If Get Out is seen as some sort of UKIP/Nigel Farage vanity project, they’re in real trouble.