You can’t predict anything in this election campaign, as the Brexit Party leader has shown already, writes Brian Monteith
Parliament has not yet been dissolved and already the General Election planned for 12 December is throwing up surprises. Nigel Farage deciding not to contest a parliamentary seat is one of them.
Despite Farage receiving the best wishes of President Donald Trump on his LBC radio show for him and Boris to team up, and the apparent inducements of a peerage if he were to change tack and not pose a threat to Conservative candidates, the leader of the Brexit Party has chosen a different course.
Many a commentator who was keen to suggest Farage could and should be bought, that he wants to prolong EU membership to benefit from its largesse now have eggs on their faces.
Farage is not interested in being in government, he’s not interested in becoming an MP, he merely wants to see a genuine Brexit delivered and to do that he needs to be on the campaign trail – not nursing a seat that restricts his ability to travel the country.
When Farage fought South Thanet in 2015 he ended up spending eighty-per-cent of his time there and it had a manifest impact on the UKIP campaign which promised so much but in the end only managed to elect one MP from nearly 4 million votes and a 12.6 per cent share of the votes cast. This time he will be free to visit the whole of Great Britain, which he is proposing to do. Able to draw thousands to public meetings and energise local campaigns, his opponents may yet rue his decision and wish he had indeed embedded himself by fighting a seat.
It’s not as if Farage will be going away anywhere fast. If the prime minister fails to win a majority Farage will still be on hand in the European Parliament if the EU and remain-supporting MPs prolong our membership and seek to drag-out Brexit further through yet another extension until the end of 2020.
Another election surprise is the claim the SNP will campaign hard on independence and seek a mandate for a second referendum.
I argue it would be a surprise because we know the SNP’s past form, it takes the form of a lot of bold talk at party conferences and prior to an election campaign – but then when we get down to the hard reality on the ground we shall find leaflets and campaign materials do not even mention a second referendum, never mind independence.
Indeed this formula of deception, which has clearly worked to the party’s benefit in the past, is already being applied to constituency leaflets that are dropping through electors’ letterboxes. Bad Tories this, bad Tories that, but any mention of a second referendum or independence? Nope, not a hope.
Surprises like Farage’s announcement stand out because there is much that is predictable and true to past form. Observing it as dispassionately as I can the most obvious is Labour proclaiming the NHS is yet again under threat from the Tories. It’s not my job to defend the Conservative Party but anyone with the ability to count up to 100 will be able to work out the NHS has existed now for over seven decades and of that time the Tories have been in charge for 44 of its 71 years. Does it remain under state control, is it still free at the point of demand? Yes and yes.
Will the NHS have loads of money thrown at it by whichever party forms a government, and will it look the same in five years time after the government has run its course? Yes and yes. The reason for this is the Conservatives were present at the conception of the NHS, it was a Tory Health Secretary Sir Henry Willink who published the first White Paper that led to its creation – but thanks to the 1945 general election it was Labour that played the role of midwife. The NHS is a consensual project owned by neither party.
Looking for a new variation on Labour’s old worn-out tune Jeremy Corbyn has resorted to claiming a trade deal with President Trump will lead to higher NHS drug bills from US pharmaceutical companies, without explaining why a British government would commit to paying more and ignoring how the real threat to NHS autonomy comes from the UK remaining a member of the EU. It is entirely in the power of the EU Commission to introduce directives or make their own EU-US trade deal that opens up the NHS to private health companies from Europe and around the world.
Am I making that up? Well it was only three years ago that we were very close to accepting President Obama’s Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership which threatened health liberalisation – and only the UK voting to leave the EU sunk it deep in the mid-Atlantic.
Not to be outdone, the Conservatives have their old standards to serenade the electorate with too. Re-released has been that blue boy band favourite of 2015 of “Vote UKIP get Miliband” but with the lyrics amended now to say “Vote Brexit get Corbyn” – yet now, just as back then, it is little more than an empty jingle. Farage’s claim that the 2015 UKIP campaign actually drew on a larger share of Labour voters, thus making the difference in seats the Tories won, does have a melodious ring of truth to it. When UKIP’s vote fell away two years later (without Farage crooning at the helm) the Conservative majority fell away too.
A visible Brexit Party campaign may mean in some seats Conservatives increase their majorities thanks to Labour voters finding a new home with Farage, while Tory voters remain loyal. Anyhow, the Brexit Party’s best chances are in Labour seats in the North of England and Wales – and that’s where we can expect Farage to now be spending his time, to Corbyn’s cost. We must add to this that seven of Labour’s top twenty target marginals are in Scotland and any Labour implosion north of the border must also reduce the chances of Corbyn entering No.10 – leaving those of Boris Johnson greatly improved.
Taking all of this into account, from my perspective the prospect of a Corbyn government looks rather distant – but the day of political reckoning is six weeks away and anything, literally anything, can happen. There’s certainly more room for surprises.
Brian Monteith MEP is Chief Whip of the Brexit Party in the European Parliament.