Donate

Populism ain’t dead yet

Nigel Farage is too hasty to abandon Brexit Britain for Trumpist America.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Politics UK

Want to read spiked ad-free? Become a spiked supporter.

If there were an award for brass neck, Britain’s chattering class would win it every time. For years these folk devoted every ounce of their energy to making Britain a hostile place for populism, and yet now they’re having a good old chuckle at Nigel Farage for buggering off to America. ‘Some patriot!’, they’re yelling in their online echo chambers in response to Farage’s announcement that he won’t be standing in the General Election and instead will be crossing the pond to help Donald Trump get back into the White House. The front! They all but criminalise populism in the UK and then mock populists for going elsewhere.

Of course, Farage deserves some stick for his ‘bombshell’ announcement – as the Independent describes it – that he won’t be standing for the Reform Party in the 4 July election called by Rishi Sunak yesterday. ‘Important though the General Election is, the contest in the United States of America on 5 November has huge global significance’, he said. Oh, thanks dude. Way to make British voters feel small. Apparently we’re ‘important’ but not ‘significant’. It is sad to hear the man who did so much to spearhead the global earthquake that was Brexit now speak of Britain as a poor cousin to populist America.

His ducking out of the election is very bad news for Reform. Polls suggest it is Farage’s involvement in the party that entices some Brits to back it. A More in Common survey found that a quarter of Reform voters support it because they support Farage. Only seven per cent support it because they support Richard Tice, the current leader. It was always unlikely that Reform would execute an upset and storm like a populist fox into the technocratic henhouse. Yet now, Farageless, bereft of ‘Mr Brexit’, their electoral fortunes seem even poorer.

And yet even as we ask why Farage is refusing to use his own considerable talents to try to make our election ‘globally significant’, it’s worth wondering if he has a point. Is he right that there are greener fields for populists in America? He wouldn’t be the first troublemaking Brit to think so. The greatest populist in our history – Thomas Paine – likewise left these unrevolutionary shores for the seductive tumult of an angry America on the cusp of insurrection. Calm down – I’m not comparing Farage to Paine, or Trumpism to the American Revolution. I’m just saying there are historical precedents for Britain’s slump into political despondency even as America continues to bristle with populist promise.

And here’s the thing: it’s the Farage-mockers who cultivated this despondency, who frustrated populism. It’s the people who are all over social media today saying ‘Ha ha, Farage thinks America is more important than Britain’ who made it hard to be a populist in Britain. The usual suspects have been out in force following Farage’s announcement. The Remoaners, the Guardianistas, craft-beer centrists who say ‘cockwomble’, Cold War fucking Steve, all having a laugh over Farage’s ‘fake’ patriotism. All we need now is a Marina Hyde column – there’s always a Marina Hyde column – and a Led By Donkeys projection on to the White Cliffs of Dover saying ‘Come back, Nigel’ or something similarly hilarious and every anti-populist wanker will have had their say about Farage’s American journey.

These are the very people who made populism tantamount to a thoughtcrime. Their post-Brexit meltdown, their horror that us plebs were asked to deliberate on such an important matter, led to one of the most savage assaults on populist thinking in living memory. They made populism a dirty word. They likened it to fascism. They traipsed through the streets to demand the voiding of the masses’ vote for Brexit. They chased Boris Johnson – who wasn’t even a good populist – from Downing Street. They elbowed out Liz Truss – again, not a good populist – for the crime of ever-so-slightly deviating from the economic consensus. They cheered every globalist outfit, from the IMF to the UN, that took swipes at Brexit Britain. And now they make fun of a populist for basically saying: ‘I’m out of here.’ Twats.

What has happened to British populism? It’s a good question. Britain was the launch pad for 21st-century populism. Our vote for Brexit in 2016 made waves that reached as far as Middle America, Australia, France, Sweden, Italy. We pushed the first domino in a worldwide offensive against the morally exhausted globalist elites. And yet now, you’ll search in vain for a halfway decent populist politician on this sceptr’d isle. Even Farage is packing his bags.

There are two things going on. First, the political class failed – spectacularly – to make good on our populist desires. Even the Boris’s and Liz’s, even the European Research Group or whatever it’s called, didn’t truly understand the thirst for change expressed by Brits in June 2016. They thought we wanted ‘Singapore-on-Thames’ when really we wanted a radical democracy that makes its own laws and tolls the bell for wokeness. And second, there was that revolt of the elites against the plebs, that half-blimpish, half-PC war on everything populist. Either through ineptness or vindictiveness, the establishment threw water on the flames of populism.

America feels different. There, it seems, the proletarian desire for change enjoys greater protection from the slings and arrows of the ancien régime. Trump’s supporter base is fairly well organised. There are media outlets that challenge the coastal consensus. There’s room even for Nigel Farage. Who could begrudge him his moment basking in the applause of dissenting Americans rather than having to suffer yet more insults from Britain’s angry middle classes whose hatred for Farage is really a hatred for the working classes who quite like him?

And yet… populism in Britain is not dead yet. It bristles in towns up and down the country. It’s there in pub jokes about ‘72 genders’ and public concern about the betrayal of Brexit. It’s there in the masses’ bewilderment at an elite that doesn’t care about borders and cops more concerned with policing tweets than the streets. It seethes beneath the apathy many of us feel towards having to choose between Sunak and Starmer, two cheeks of the same grey arse. If only there were more political forces that might give voice to our still bubbling dissent.

Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. His new book – A Heretic’s Manifesto: Essays on the Unsayable – is available to order on Amazon UK and Amazon US now. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Pictures by: Getty.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics UK

Comments

Want to join the conversation?

Only spiked supporters and patrons, who donate regularly to us, can comment on our articles.

Join today