The future of Nigel Farage’s political career may not be anyone’s idea of happy lunch time puzzler today. Actually it feels like I’ve been up eating shit sandwiches all night and am now voluntarily washing it down with a paper cup of cold sick. This all feels too big, too serious, just too damn awful to talk party political alignments yet – though frankly it’s the kind of parochial response to momentous international developments that we should probably get used to.
And yet, I can’t help wondering. His apotheosis today could herald the start of a truly sinister phase of his political career (when someone hails a political development as occurring “without a single bullet being fired” you have to wonder about their personal Overton Window. Quite apart from the fact that it is, ahem, not strictly proven to be true.) Or this could all be looked at from the opposite perspective. What else is there left for him to do? This is his big issue, and it’s over. Without the cover of all the (to a certain cast of mind) noble-sounding sovereignty and bureaucracy business, he might just start sounding like the nasty piece of work he probably is. Though by analogy with Trump we may well have decreasing confidence that this would signify loss of support.
But what really is going to happen now, from UKIP’s perspective? Most likely, the same thing that happens to every political force that enjoys success: disillusionment. The only way is down, and nothing makes them special. The European divorce will be technical, protracted and difficult, and generally a complete waste of everyone’s time, but under no circumstances is it going to be the stuff of a movie poster. I can see already Remainers crowing about Farage’s admission that the £350 million a week going to the NHS promise was a lie, as if this is going to make his supporters crush their heads into their hands and howl “What have I done?” Of course they won’t, they never really cared about all that in the first place – it was a figleaf “political-sounding” argument and it was understood as such by both those who proffered it and those who used it.
They cared about how Farage and his fellow travellers made them feel about themselves and their lives, and this is far more likely to be the area in which disillusionment sets in. There aren’t going to be square-jawed heroes with pints and union jacks around the negotiating table, there are going to be the same competent, faceless, subtly-minded people who have probably dealt with Brussels all along anyway. No-one is suddenly going to find their town transformed into Camberwick Green, or that all those inconvenient immigrants have disappeared, or that council houses are given out with free ponies, or that hated bosses, jobs and frustrating life circumstances are magically improved. In general, none of these people are going to find that the universe starts handing out validation lollipops in the way that they were implicitly promised would be the case. Given the economic circumstances their decisions have set in train, probably quite the opposite. It was all magical thinking in the first place.
In case you think I’m saying the potential slide of UKIP is a good thing, it’s actually very dangerous, with or without Farage. Once you’ve stoked people up with emotion, you’re both extremely committed to delivering, and you’ve conditioned them to be open to emotion. Certainly some of the Leave camp evidently think Farage and everything he represents can just be put back in its box, and, well, they may or may not be right. This is what Tim Montgomerie said this morning, and this is what the usually-correct @miss_s_b said in reply:
Boris, Gove need to get out soon. Farage must not be face of #Brexit. Need reassurance for markets, immigrants, 1 nation character of future
— Tim Montgomerie ن (@montie) June 24, 2016
.@montie too late. Farage was always going to be the face of this. Too late to back away from what you’ve unleashed now
— I DID warn you. (@miss_s_b) June 24, 2016
The trouble with “necessary evils” in politics (and I’ve thought this since 1997) is that it sets off a chain reaction. Everyone’s designated “necessary evil” embraces, at some point, another necessary evil of their own choosing. This means that whenever (as often happens) we are called on to choose between the lesser of two evils, we find that the choice is worse, and worse, and worse, each time. I can already see it happening today that the right wing of the Tory party are now positioning themselves as the appealing, moderate choice compared to the other shady chancers potentially on offer. And just like all the other briefly successful triangulating political operatives since Blair, they really think they can stop it there.