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Brexit: a moment of truth

2019-11-13 07:14:44

While Johnson defends himself against criticism for his slow reaction to the floods, while his opponents seek to make capital out of his discomfort, Farage is probably wondering what hit him.

After unceremoniously dumping 317 of his candidates, he is now facing something of a backlash as yet another group have learnt a lesson that others before them have learnt: they are expendable when they conflict with The Great Leader's ambitions.

The Guardian cites Darren Selkus, now former candidate for Epping Forest. He says Farage had "betrayed my incredible volunteers and thousands of constituents who will have no one to vote for". In a statement on his local party website, Selkus said that as soon as Farage made the announcement at a rally on Monday in Hartlepool, he and other ex-candidates were immediately locked out of their Brexit party emails and supporter databases.

More reaction comes from Robert Wheal, who had been due to stand in Arundel and South Downs. He believes Farage's argument about protecting Brexit was "absolute codswallop", complaining that, "Brexit party supporters have worked their socks off for that party and he's dropped them like a stone at 12 o'clock yesterday".

Claire Mowbray, who was to have taken on Theresa May in Maidenhead, tweeted: "I can't tell you how disappointed I am", adding: "I will be closing this Twitter account".

While bruised egos come to terms with their own redundancy, there are more immediate concerns. For instance, it appears that Arron Banks is still not the bestest of friends with his protégé Nige.

At least Banks is on the ball, after urging Farage to stand his troops down in Labour marginal seats. "Brexit is under threat", he says. "We need to see further moves to stand down candidates in marginal seats they can't win and go for the 40 or so Labour seats where the Tories (Conservatives) haven't got a hope".

Banks is asserting: "There are 48 hours to save Brexit and save the country from a Corbyn government", adding that, "Nigel has remade the Conservative party in his own image, the Conservative Party is the Brexit Party". Thus, he says, "The only way Brexit is going to get delivered is by a Boris majority".

Banks is not alone in asking Farage to call off the hounds. George Farmer, who gave £100,000 to the Brexit Party in May and June, also wants half of the 300 Brexit Party candidates to stand down.

Even The Sun is taking a hand. In a "Sun says", comment piece, it declares: "Nigel Farage must swallow his pride and stand down more Brexit Party candidates - only Boris Johnson can achieve Brexit".

"Farage", it says, "is taking a monumental gamble with Brexit and his place in history. He should rethink and stand down dozens of candidates today. To his credit he did Boris Johnson a big favour pulling out of Tory seats", but it adds, "it is a giant risk to assume that in Labour marginals his Brexit Party will lure Labour voters but not Tories".

The paper agrees with Arron Banks in having the Brexit Party focus on a handful of Labour Leave constituencies. The Tories, it says, could take a back seat there, while becoming the sole Leave option in scores of winnable Labour marginals. If Boris cannot take those, the Lib-Dems and SNP will gift Corbyn power. "Painful as it is", it concludes that Farage "must swallow his pride. It's not a 'sellout' to the Tories. They simply should not be rivals".

However, if Farage does as he is asked, laying off another 150 or so candidates, it would reduce the Brexit Party to a tiny rump, with little political heft. Targeting a mere 40 seats would be even worse. Either would deprive Farage of his publicity platform, relegating his status to that of a bit player.

Predictably, therefore, The Great Leader is refusing to move, reacting defiantly, saying: "I put country before party yesterday and now will take the fight to Labour. Three hundred nominations have been signed off - time to get on the road!"

His party chairman Richard Tice is equally defiant, declaring that "Arron is talking nonsense. We are not here to help the Conservative Party".

This does rather leave the election more open than Farage might have intended. His idea of leaving Conservative-held seats uncontested was supposed to take the heat off Johnson but fighting the marginals could still cost the Tories a significant number of seats.

That, of course, pre-supposes Farage is still able command a respectable proportion of the vote. But the events of the last few days may have damaged the credibility of a man who for the past few months has been riding high. And so much of a one-man party is his creation that, if Farage goes down, his party could go down with it.

Here, the next few days might be critical. Even before Farage pulled more than half his troops out of the battle, his poll ratings were plummeting (some say that is why he acted in the way he did) and if they continue downwards then it could be game over for "our Nige" – the end of a long career.

Doubtless, there will be plenty of pundits prepared to write Farage's political obituary, and the Mirror seems already to have made a start. Under the headline, "Brexit Party implodes after Nigel Farage's general election 'dodgy deal' with Tories", it tells us that the party had been set to hold a rally in Westminster today, but this was quietly cancelled as members vent their fury at Nigel Farage over his "dodgy deal" with the Tories.

That is possibly more telling than other recent events. The party had been assiduously promoting its rally, which was due to be held at Church House in Westminster. But a spokesman has confirmed it is "not happening". He said the party had "already said what we needed to say".

This is a far cry from the heady days of Farage's launch. Now, his best chance of achieving any significant effect would be if Johnson would agree to stand his candidates down in the 40 or so seats where Banks believes the Tories "don't stand a chance".

But, so far, there is no sign of any pact in the offing. There may be local deals, with individual candidates standing down, but there is unlikely to be anything official. If it is to happen, though, tomorrow is the day, when candidate nominations have to be in.

What may doom Farage though is the latest YouGov poll. Commissioned by The Times, it has the Tory lead widening to 14 points after Farage had withdrawn his candidates.

The Tories are on 42 percent, Labour is on 28 percent and the Lib-Dems are on 15. Crucially, though, on standard measurement, Farage's party takes nine percent of the vote. But, when the removal of 317 candidates is factored in, his percentage vote drops to a mere four percent. Not only does that make Farage electorally insignificant, it also suggests that, if he drops more candidates, his vote share will simply fade away.

To that extent, Farage is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. As he approaches his moment of truth, he is damned if he gives up more candidates, and damned if he doesn't. Those political obituary writers had better get sharpening their pencils.