Wednesday

20th Feb 2019

Column / Brexit Briefing

All hail the new establishment

For a self-styled anti-establishment politician, a glitzy party at the Ritz - one of London’s classiest hotels - is hardly sticking it to the man. But Nigel Farage doesn't care.

His victory ball on Wednesday night (23 November) was a celebration of one man’s wrecking ball against the EU and its supporters.

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2016 was “the year of the big political revolution,” Farage told his guests. After 25 years of campaigning, most of it spent on the fringes of UK politics leading an often derided party with only one MP, Farage’s wish to enjoy his day in the sun is understandable

Regardless of whether Farage gets a new hobby horse - his bromance with Donald Trump may have the president-elect lobbying for an ambassadorship in Washington DC, but a peerage in the House of Lords is by far the likelier outcome - the truth is that Farage and his fellow travellers in Ukip and the Conservative party are the new establishment.

The levers of political power are entirely in their hands.

"For those that are here that aren't particularly happy with what's happened in 2016, I've got some really bad news for you - it's going to get a bloody sight worse next year,” was the UKIP frontman's ominous warning to Britain’s silent liberals, left-wingers and pro-Europeans.

Perhaps Farage is right about that. Britain’s mourning Remainers will have breathed a collective sigh at the news on Sunday that Tony Blair is promising to return to British politics, to campaign against Brexit.

Blair doesn’t seem to realise that he is precisely the establishment career politician millions of voters wanted to give a kicking at the referendum on 23 June.

He does, at least, appear to have enough self-awareness to realise that seeking re-election is a non-starter.

“I can't come into frontline politics. There's just too much hostility,” he conceded.

Blair apparently met with former Liberal-Democratic leader Nick Clegg this week to discuss how a pro-European organisation could be formed to campaign against Brexit.

There are, surely, worse ideas out there.

Pro-Europeans don't deserve to be ignored

Even so, it’s hard to imagine a less likely insurgent movement than one fronted by a toxically unpopular former prime minister and David Cameron’s former deputy, who led his Liberal Democrat party to near extinction at the 2015 election.

It will be the ultimate coalition of establishment has-beens.

This is not to deny that the 48 percent of Remain voters need a political movement to rally around.

The acceptance of the referendum result by most pro-Europeans has been surprisingly meek.

Had the result been 52-48 percent in favour of Remain - as the pollsters had predicted - would Farage and co have respected the wishes of the majority? It is extremely doubtful.

While pro-Europeans may have lost the battle they don’t deserve to be ignored.

"The tyranny of the majority has never applied in a democracy and it should not apply in this particular democracy," said Sir John Major, the Conservative prime minister for most of the 1990s, and Blair’s predecessor, on Thursday

"We need to lift our eyes away from the philosophical dislike that some people feel for Europe and towards the practical implications of what our government must negotiate in the next few years."

In a political debate dominated by the loud mouths of Farage, Trump and foreign minister Boris Johnson, there is still a need for a voice of moderation and calm.

"In an age when the extremes of politics are rising, the solid centre of opinion should speak out for our values, for our future, and all that is good about our society,” added Major. “Now is not the time for silence... we should speak out."

For the moment, die-hard opponents of Brexit are in a tiny minority. Only a handful of the 650 MPs in the UK Parliament have stated that they will oppose the initiation of Article 50.

“If you think that trust has broken down in our politics imagine if this is not implemented,” Hilary Benn, the chairman of the House of Commons committee on Exiting the EU, and a staunch Remain supporter, told EUobserver.

“The idea that Parliament will turn say we know better is not going to happen,” he adds.

This is the political reality for the foreseeable future.

But debate doesn’t stop just because of an election or referendum. If it did, Nigel Farage would still be stuck in obscurity.

Benjamin Fox, a former reporter for EUobserver, is a consultant with Sovereign Strategy, a London-based PR firm, and a freelance writer

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