• Nigel Farage and our democratic nation

    by Jonathan Rutherford

    The Brexit party has energy, clarity and purpose. Nigel Farage is redefining the national political debate around democracy and the nation. The political class, he argues, never intended to allow Brexit. They have humiliated the country, shown contempt for democracy and they are now betraying the people. His message is national redemption. We must restore our national pride by a radical change in British politics.

    Farage is a reactionary. His purpose is not to win a general election, nor to construct a programme of reform and legislation. It is to destroy the Conservative Party and to wreck Labour’s electoral coalition and reduce it to a party of the metropolitan liberal middle class.

    If you dismiss the idea of listening to him or watching one of his rallies; if you feel outraged at the suggestion that he is our most successful politician in over a decade; or if you simply write off the Brexit Party as incipient fascism, therein lies our problem. If Labour does not understand him, if it fails to feel why so many people passionately agree with his message, it will never understand how to stop him.

    The vote to leave the EU revealed the deep inequalities cut into England by globalisation, the monopolising of wealth and power in London, and the offshoring of industrial jobs. The leave vote was a coalition of the Tory Shires and the ex-industrial working class. It united the wealthy and the poor in an historical Euroscepticism that echoed older revolts of the English commons. Its populist disdain for the liberal minded elites bound these two classes together but it was only one element of its politics.

    This is now changing. Farage and the Brexit Party are redefining national political conflict along classic populist lines. Lewis Goodall, Sky’s political correspondent has argued that the failure to leave the EU has now changed the terms of national debate. The failure of the political class to honour the result of the referendum is shaping a new phase of politics. The people against the political class will be a struggle in England over who stands for the democratic nation. The ecstatic welcome the Welsh gave Farage in Newport suggests Wales too is open to his message of national redemption.

    Both Tory and Labour are incoherent on Brexit. Their leaderships are trapped in a Gordian knot of political inertia. Each party is subjected to the political dominance of a sectional class interest. For Labour it is the progressive middle class concentrated in London and its militant People’s Vote. For the Conservatives it is a reactionary, rentier class faction and the ERG. The memberships of both parties push each toward the purity of their ideological extremes, estranging them from the wider electorate and closing off the political give and take necessary for coalition building.

    The Conservatives are consumed with a vision of their own immanent destruction and who will replace Theresa May to avert it. Only the constructive ambiguity of Corbyn’s Brexit position has kept Labour from a similar fate. This strategy is now broken. Into the breach are pouring Remain supporting MPs and party members. There are demands for a second referendum and for a confirmatory vote. Some argue that Brexit’s not worth it so let’s drop it, or that leaving the EU was always a myth and so impossible to achieve. Others denounce the leave vote as isolationist or xenophobic or racist and treat it as illegitimate. Whatever the reasoning, each position serves to annul the original majority vote to leave. Their overall effect is to confirm Farage’s accusation. Labour too, puts its own interests before democracy.

    There is an argument that like UKIP, the Brexit Party is a temporary aberration. Politics after some adjustment will eventually revert back to normal. But the ground is slipping beneath both major parties and it is part of longer term demographic and sociological trends. It may be a slow slide over the next decade or it might be a sudden collapse. Neither are yet able to face this challenge and reinvent themselves. May’s campaign against burning injustices lasted a few days. Corbynism was a radical but limited force. Some insist that it is the renewal Labour needs. It made a start. But its various currents of thinking lack intellectual coherence and it has been unable to forge a new model of social democracy. Its political energy has been dissipated by weak leadership, sectarian factionalism and the brutal political facts of Brexit.

    The Brexit Party is seizing the opportunity to drive a wedge between Labour and its working class heartlands. It is a relationship already close to breaking  and yet Labour’s response is to double down on its leftist rhetoric and ‘insist’ that the real political division in the country is the few against the many. It is simply wishful thinking. Labour is losing a culture war it does not realise it’s fighting. It is being recast as the party of the globalist London middle class who monopolise wealth and hold the rest of the country in contempt. Not the party of the labour interest, but the party of the bourgeois left.

    Is Labour for democracy and the nation? The answer unfortunately is equivocal. It will not talk about England. It is suspicious of patriotism. Its loudest voices denounce people’s desire for a sense of belonging as the pursuit of ethnic exclusivity. For them the vote to leave the EU is adjacent to fascism and racism and so should be denied. It has made a disastrous business of understanding populism and its causes. Labour is losing its traditions and becoming the Whig party. Having learned nothing in the three years since its defeat Remain politics is giving Farage a free pass to build a radical right coalition around nation and culture.

    There are two ways Parliament can stop Farage and the Brexit Party. The first is to honour the result of the 2016 referendum and leave the EU. The second is to take the wind out of his sails by voting for a deal. It will not do the former and it has failed to decide on the latter. It has succeeded in turning its conflict with the majority leave vote into a conflict of liberalism against democracy. When May’s deal failed, parliament asserted a political authority it proved incapable of exercising. It has contributed to undermining people’s trust in its sovereignty. It is a dangerous condition and one that Farage is exploiting.

    The solution to our political crisis no longer resides within constitutional procedure. We are witnessing a return to the political. It is angry, argumentative and divisive. Consensus will have to be worked for. The common good will have to be constructed through the negotiation of estranged interests. It will require political skill and leadership which are in scant supply.

    Psephological evidence since 2010 has shown that an electoral majority in England can be built on a paradoxical politics that is radical on the economy, and conservative on the nation, security, defence, and social and cultural issues. The party that can tell a compelling story about the democratic nation and which can articulate a politics of earning and belonging will be able to build a winning coalition. Farage lacks the instinct for this kind of paradoxical politics and bridge building. His goal is revolutionary destruction not the democratic politics of the common good. But then neither Labour nor the Conservatives currently possess this instinct. Whichever can gain it first will safeguard our democracy and inherit the future.

9 Responsesso far.

  1. PHILIP ROSS says:

    Politics has changed, the game has change but the parties are out of touch. Parliament discredited, the population exasperated. If anything the parties are becoming charactertures of themselves.

  2. Paul Knaggs says:

    I agree with much of this article and would like permission to reproduce some very relevant points in on my own web page please.

  3. Stephen Gwynne says:

    Hi. I think our perspectives are pretty much aligned but I’d like to go a bit deeper and share the following post.


    What’s missing but perhaps will be revealed as this series continues is that national sustainability, sufficiency and resilience are degraded as EU integration has advanced. Therefore, not only does the EU federal project proceed without the required democratic consensus to legitimise continued integration from the national point of view, it fails to ensure that nations are given adequate autonomy to protect and safeguard economic and ecological sustainability and sufficiency from which a national population derives its security. In other words, the federalising tendencies are out of balance with the conceivable rate in which integration can occur.

    Putting the cart of federalisation before the horse of national sustainability and sufficiency is in my mind the predominate reason why the project is failing with the inception of the euro at such an early stage being a catastrophic error.

    The EU project could only ever had worked if nationalism transmuted into multinationalism thereby enabling national sustainability and sufficiency being a key principle in the integration process. As soon as national sustainability and sufficiency are perceptibly lost, then the project loses its legitimacy as a project for the common good. In this respect, supranationalism was simply a leap too far. A leap that quite simply skipped over the need for a lengthy duration of multinationalism during which national sustainability and sufficiency were adequately safeguarded whilst slow but sure integration occurred.

    Instead we got the premature emergence of the EU institutions which did not safeguard national sustainability and sufficiency. Hence the retreat to nationalism is an understandable and logical conclusion except for those that were directly benefiting from the profit making and livelihood making aspects of the EU Treaties in form of EU marketisation, EU privatisation and EU procurement rules.

    Importantly, national sustainability and sufficiency are not simply matters of economic GDP but adequate provision of public services, grey infrastructure and the built environment in balance with ecosystem services, green infrastructure and the natural environment. This balance that underpins national survival of which cultural and social dynamics exemplify, has been wantonly ignored in the hastyness of the federalising EU project for reasons yet unknown.

    European peace can never be built on national insecurity, national unsustainability and national Insufficiency and no ideology will ever be able to substitute for the pragmatism of national security, national sustainability and national sufficiency.

    That said, is it even conceivable that a highly centralised liberal technocratic superstate could ever be democratically legitimised as an adequate replacement for the national democracy and national autonomy needed to ensure national security, national sustainability and national sufficiency. For ideologically driven liberals maybe who would gladly trust their idealism over and above realism.

    Since liberals are the main beneficiaries of the EU system whether culturally, economically or ideologically and underlying feel that any ecological disruption can be adequately avoided by their social mobility, then it is not surprising their perchant for enforcing conformity. As such, their self centred perspective of europhilism is not driven by the common good or the common sense but a profound sense of themselves which is then masqueraded as their pronouncements of bigotry.

    We surely live in duplicitous times and this requires highly discerning minds and Roger provides one of these minds. However, we all need to find our own way of challenging the duplicity that underpins the europhile mind and overtly show our solidarity with the working class who will always be the most vulnerable in such times. This means showing solidarity beyond discernment but also in terms of policy and equity.

    If national security, national sustainability and national sufficiency is the true basis of a coherent inclusive civic nationalism, this means class collaboration needs to be put to the fore, because if we are serious about challenging the gross dysfunctions of EU federalism then we need to show that national solidarity is the true basis of the common good.


    I’m not a conservative but I am supporting the broad coalition of the Brexit Party am very aware that their challenge is to create a policy framework that can satisfy national security, sustainability and sufficiency which is balanced with free market globalism since let’s face it, Britain is currently heavily dependent on import dependancies. Consequently some deal will need to be struck with European economies.

    I think I’ve said before, the new radical politics has emerged because all nations need to develop sufficiency, as opposed to the illusion of unlimited growth, and how that will be achieved between nations will undoubtedly mean unprecedented levels of cooperation if we are to avoid regional blocism and the possibility of another world war.

    I feel hopeful that this radical turn will lead to the necessary creative destruction in order to remake the world anew.

    In the meantime, the current strategy of the Brexit Party is to build up popular support from which, as you say, to split the hegemony of the two main parties. So no doubt proportional representation will soon become a strategic policy which may also soak up wavering support from the LibDems and the Greens.

    I certainly don’t place myself in opposition to you and therefore understand your solidarity with Labour, but whilst Labour are selling themselves out to the bourgeois left and their denialism of sufficiency, then as a democratic deep ecologist I will continue to support whatever party that best helps to create a sustainable, sufficient and resilient future for Britain. This doesn’t stop me from making the national democratic deep ecological case to other parties since I would prefer all parties were on the same page.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  4. Mike Manning says:

    OMG an intelligent analysis of Brexit. I didn’t think one existed.

    I don’t think the Labour party is capable of denying what the London Labour party demands. Any attempt to reconcile northern aspirations of low immigration and decentralisation will be met with the R word and that will be that.

    If the Conservatives can find it in themselves to become conservative then they will reap the rewards. Currently they are Labour-lite.

  5. Paul V says:

    A brilliant analysis. You only neglect the role in all this of the Civil Service and the media There is no will in the national administration to make a reality of the referendum result. And there is no will in mainstream media to clarify what economic sovereignty means and how EU membership negates it. But you have drawn the principal lines of our political distemper with a clarity that deserves the widest notice today and a perpetual place in the annals of these chaotic times.

  6. rollo57 says:

    “The first is to honour the result of the 2016 referendum and leave the EU. The second is to take the wind out of his sails by voting for a deal.”

    They can’t do a deal, as any deal will mean ceding power to EU, which is anathema to leave voters. We voted to leave on the understanding, we’d lose SM, CU, ECJ & FoM. We’d also take back control of our waters, borders and laws! Cameron also told us “we’d leave after two years under WTO?”

    Taking WTO off the table merely strengthened their hand, they no longer need to give us a deal we like!

  7. Sarah Hancock says:

    Brilliant so well thought out and perceptive. So good to read a really good piece of analysis. Blue Labour seems like my political home if this is the standard. Excellent!
    I recently read National Populism: the Revolt Against Liberal Democracy by Matthew Goodwin and Roger Eatwell which had similar analysis and needs to be read by every politician in this country.

  8. Vern Hughes says:

    Come on, Jonathan. Blue Labour has been dithering over these issues for years, hinting at the coming political reconfiguration but never committing to it. A new electoral alliance of Blue Labour, Red Tories, and communitarian Lib Dems is inevitable – it is just a question of when.

    The protection of civil society and the winding back of both states and markets requires this new electoral realignment. Every Blue Labour activist knows it, and every Red Tory knows. So for God’s sake, just get on with it. To complain about Farage filling the interregnum because of your own inaction in filling it first, is surely an abdication of responsibility. The excuses are becoming tiresome.

    Dump careerism. It is the elephant in the room preventing the political reconfiguration that Britian, and the western world, need. Get on with it.

  9. Diarmid Weir says:

    Jonathan – I am sympathetic to some strands of ‘Blue Labour’ (although the name itself is an abomination!) but I think that to claim that Labour is now ‘the party of the bourgeois left’ – at any rate to any more extent than it was in the Blair/Brown years – has little factual basis.

    More specifically, can you articulate some policies Labour should adopt that are ‘conservative on the nation, security, defence, and social and cultural issues’?

    Thanks, Diarmid

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