Richard North, 04/11/2019  
 


On his show yesterday, Marr asked Farage if there was any sign of the Boris Johnson team reaching out to him.

"Not at this stage, no", said Farage. "Conversations have happened over the previous few weeks. But if Boris is determined to stick to this new EU treaty, then that is not Brexit. And that’s the problem. I promise you one thing: if Boris was going for a genuine Brexit we wouldn’t need to fight against him in this election".

So the die is cast. We have consistently argued that one of the critical factors in the coming general election would be the stance taken by Farage. The received wisdom has been that, if he mounts a full-throated campaign, it could dangerously split the Brexit vote, allowing Corbyn to prevail.

That is definitely a fear being articulated by Steve Baker, who argues that Farage risks becoming the "man who threw away Brexit", a man who is "setting out" to create a "weak and indecisive" hung Parliament.

Thus does the Farage soap opera continue, after a fashion, chronicling the affairs of a man who has decided not to stand for parliament (having already failed to get elected seven times). He owns a company styled as a political party which has three officers and no members and, currently taking a mere seven percent of the vote, according to the latest YouGov poll.

Nevertheless, he seems to be setting the scene for the early stages of this general election campaign.

However, as I suggested yesterday, Farage may be over-estimating his own support and influence, and underestimating the desire of the electorate to "see Brexit done". And, on that basis, I would not be surprised to see a collapse of Farage's support as voters gravitate to the Tories, or simply stay at home.

Furthermore, although BBC early evening TV news gave Farage's decision not to stand pride of place, as the lead item, the print media has been relatively muted this morning, with only the Telegraph and the Metro featuring the man on their front pages- apart from The Sun with a short side-bar.

The Mail ran with news of the growing diabetes crisis, not even featuring any political news on its front page. In that, it matched The Times which led on gangs using top schools to traffic Asian girls, alongside a warning from "doctors" that all the main parties are lying on the NHS.

So slight was the election coverage that one would hardly have realised that Johnson was also doing the telly yesterday, telling Sky News that it was a "matter of deep regret" that he failed to deliver his promise of Brexit by 31 October.

Tucked into that interview was an admission that had The Sun reporting that the prime minister in office had softened his stance on leaving the Brexit transition period without a trade deal.

While No 10 has repeatedly insisted there would be no extension of the transition period beyond December 2020, Johnson refused to repeat his former hard line, saying only that he saw "no reason whatever why we should extend the transition period".

More worryingly, he added that, "We start our negotiations in a state of perfect alignment. So the negotiations, in principle, should be extremely simple" – suggesting that he has still failed to grasp the enormity of the task that is facing him (should he win the election, of course).

What the UK will be trying to achieve has in fact never been tried before – a situation where the parties starts off with a high degree of regulatory integration and seek to craft a deal where this is substantially reduced.

Bearing in mind that the UK will still be looking for a high level of access into the markets of EU Member States, every step away from the current status quo will carry an access penalty. One can see some very long, hard bargaining over complex issues, intensifying as the impact of leaving the Single Market dawns on the UK team.

An alert, knowledgeable interviewer might have picked this up, except that such issues are undoubtedly beyond the competence of our current crop of media stars. Even shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey, prattling about renegotiating "a sensible deal" with the European Union gets a free pass.

Given the lukewarm response of the media to the weekend's election "news", one wonders if we're seeing a reflection of the sentiment expressed by Peter Hitchens in his Sunday column.

Writing under the heading, "I used to love elections. But now I say a plague on all their houses!", he tells us how he has fallen out of love with the electoral process. "This Election is not designed to find leaders", he writes, "just to provide an escape hatch for those who have failed to lead. But there is, in fact, no real escape".

Pete has picked this up and I have to say that Hitchens's views are not so very far from my own. This could be the first general election in my lifetime where I have deliberately set out not to vote. But then, in a safe Labour seat, what is the point?

That said, this is not going to be an election based on a detailed evaluation of the issues. If, on the one hand, we have Farage asserting that the current deal is not Brexit, with Johnson proclaiming its "excellence", the bulk of voters are not going to spend their time poring over the withdrawal agreement, to assess the relative merits of Farage's claims.

Then, with Corbyn and his supporters adding to the noise level, and shrieking Jo adding hers, one might expect the bulk of voters to "do a Hitchens" and simply shut off the noise.

With MPs also being warned by the police not to be out on the campaign trail after dark, this election is largely going to be played out in the media, and especially on television. But with the alternative attractions of Netflix and Amazon Prime video, it is very easy to shut out the politicians and pretend that the election isn't happening.

If I'm finding it hard to watch election coverage, and the press does pick up the vibes and look to other issues to keep its readers entertained, the election could be less of an event that many of the political pundits might have expected. Ironically, for all the hype, we might just be back in the '60s when Private Eye produced its famous front page (pictured).

And if the politicians revert to type and direct all their attention to the "schools 'n' hospitals" social agenda, as we're seeing in the Mirror, as far as the EU goes, we could be in for another big sleep. Bluntly, if the politicians and the media can't be bothered to acquaint themselves with the details, there can be no surprise if the bulk of the electorate follows that lead.






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