Brexit: Farage Capitulates…or Does He?

Boris Johnson got a big break yesterday when Nigel Farage announced that the Brexit Party would not contest any of the 317 seats currently held by Tories.

This move was a significant climbdown from Farage’s clearly loopy demand that Johnson renounce his own Brexit deal, particularly since Farage got nothing in return (or at least of an official nature, who know what private threats and entreaties were made). There is every reason to think that this is what is appears to be, a free concession made by Farage, likely as a result of the fact that the Brexit Party was losing support.

Richard North argues that Farage has not helped Johnson quite as much as appearances suggest:

But, if Farage – as he insists – is acting to stave off a Corbyn victory – then once again he has failed to think it through. It is not the seats which the Tories won in the last election that count. With or without Farage’s intervention, Johnson will probably win most of these anyway.

More importantly, there are the Labour marginals, which the Tories must secure in the coming election if Johnson is to secure a working majority. Yet Farage intends to front canadiates in all of these seats.

If we use the Ukip results in the 2015 general election as an indicator of the Farage Party performance, we can see that his candidates could still do serious damage to Johnson’s electoral prospects.

For instance, in England, the most vulnerable target seat is Kensington where Labour has a majority of 20 over the Conservatives. Ukip didn’t stand in 2017 but it took 1,557 votes in the 2015 election. That level carried over to 12 December could make the difference between victory and defeat, especially as the Lib-Dems are also eroding the vote of the leading pair, without taking enough to win the seat.

Next in line is Dudley North with a Labour majority of 22. In 2017, Ukip did stand and took 2,144 votes. But in 2015, it took a whopping 9,113 votes. Using that as a comparator, the Brexit Party would almost certainly give the seat to Labour this time round.

Newcastle-under-Lyme is another vulnerable seat, currently held by Labour with a majority of 30. The Tories have been pushing hard in this seat but were deprived victory in 2015 when Ukip took 7,252 votes. The party didn’t stand in 2017 but if the Brexit Party takes over in 2019, it could again keep the seat in Labour hands.

North goes through quite a few more districts with granular details. Consistent with his take, The Sun and The Times both have reports of Tories urging Farage to pull out of even more districts. The Financial Times goes as far as to suggest that Farage hints at broader retreat after ditching battle for Tory seats when it seems they are reading quite a lot into an ambiguous remark:

But Mr Farage refused to deny that he could further help Mr Johnson by standing down Brexit party candidates in Labour seats. “I’ve not considered this at this moment in time,” he said. “But there isn’t much time.”

Oddly, the pink paper did not report on Farage’s professed reason for his big course change: to prevent a second referendum. One wonder if the plunge in Brexit Party popularity also meant he’d have trouble stumping up enough funds and candidates to contest 650 seats.

The Guardian, in a snap analysis, said it expected the Tories and Brexit Party to come to an agreement:

Second, the Brexit party still seems to be intent on standing candidates in Tory target seats – particularly the leave-leaning Labour seats in the north of England, where for a long time Farage has been saying his party could do well. In theory the Brexit party could still split the Brexit vote in these place, preventing Boris Johnson from making the gains he needs to win a majority. But it wouldn’t be in Farage’s interests to do this if he wants Johnson to have a majority, and so it seems more likely that, in reality, the Tories and the Brexit party will operate unofficial non-aggression pacts in these places, allowing the best placed party to challenge Labour. That would be what you would expect from a “leave alliance”, which is what he now says exists.

Ian Dunt argued that this development could rally the opposition (IMHO, this is a tad optimistic):

Perhaps I have too simplistic a view, but Farage’s personal incentives would be to keep Brexit in play, since that would give him a betrayal narrative he could milk for years. However, it also looks as if he’s found out that opposing Boris’ deal, which is what his former position plus running in all 650 seats amounted to, is too costly in terms of the prospect of the Brexit Party having any future.

So my take is that the defect that North and the Tories quickly identified, that the Brexit Party could still deny the Tories a majority, is no accident. Farage may be willing to risk being a spoiler if he can manage his affairs so as not to be blamed (much) if Johnson loses. So he may be playing the gambler just as Johnson has, seeing how the polls and media reactions shake out before he decides whether to do anything more.

Moreover, Farage has likely noticed Labour and the LibDems are at odds on Brexit and a lot of other things. So if the Tories lost, and the opposition parties, after some catfights, formed a coalition, it would be very hard for them to much of anything. Corbyn wants his Brexit deal and a confirmatory referendum, while the LibDems want a straight up referendum. Would Farage wager on Corbyn being unable to get a deal approved? Or would he perceive that more splintering of UK politics does not favor Brexit?

In other words, while the odds favor Farage continuing to retreat, it is far from a slam dunk.

Finally, consider this poll, admittedly before the Farage concession:

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  1. EB

    I think Farage wants a hung parliament. He is MEP after all, which earns him 100.000 euro a year for doing very little. Even better, he will get a pension from the EU of nearly 6000 Euro, because he has been a MEP for 20 years now. The problem is, he can draw that pension when he is 63. Farage is 55 so he has to wait a bit for his EU pension. A hung parliament means that he might stay on for another 5 years as MEP. Besides being a MEP, he also hosts a daily radio show on LBC radio which, according to Private Eye Magazine, makes him £30000 a month. Farage has no incentive to become a member of the British parliament because he might have to do some real work, like formulating policies, and it would diminish his earnings.

      1. efschumacher

        Polls like that are exasperating because they don’t take account of Scotland, where the SNP will get North of 50 seats, and likely still be the 3rd party at Westminster. So any hung parliament has to account for their voting intentions and quid pro quo requirements (a Referendum on Scottish independence, of course). They also aren’t accounting for the dynamic in Northern Ireland, where Sinn Fein is standing down some candidates in favour of a Remainer who will go to Westminster and vote.

        I think the hung Parliament scenario is still the most likely, and even with Tories as largest party, if they can’t get support from anywhere else, then a tatterdemalion collective of Labour, SNP and Lib Dem will determine the subsequent Brexit outcome.

        Johnson is hanging a great deal on the English vote.

    1. Jmarket

      If he wanted a hung Parliament wouldn’t it make more sense for him to have his Brexit Party campaign directly against the Tories?

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Per the post, the Brexit Party may not have the $ or the candidates. There were reports that a lot of candidates withdrew because they didn’t want to sink Boris’ deal. They weren’t on board with Farage’s view that Boris’ Brexit is no Brexit.

  2. Plutoniumkun

    You have to hand it to Farage, he has a weak hand, but he’s playing it very well. The Tories will know that every seat will count, Farage can afford to focus on a relative handful to panic Tory HQ, while in public seeming to grant these concessions. The idiots in the BP don’t seem to realise that Farage is playing them all for his personal long game, which I suspect is to keep the Brexit pot boiling as long as possible – any firm exit is not in his interest, this is his ticket to stardom. The one thing he will not want is to be blamed if by some chance Corbyn ends up as PM, so he will only go so far in wrecking Tory chances.

    I don’t think that any anti-Tory alliance has any real chance without Labour support (official or unofficial), and that seems certain not to happen. This will certainly give the Tories more than a handful of seats. Labours stance on this is beyond idiotic, its childish politics. Even Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland is quietly aiding the soft-Unionist Alliance Party where it can help defeat the DUP. Labour doesn’t seem to realise that it needs to do more than win seats, it also has to deprive the Tories of seats, even if they go to the LibDems.

    The huge problem at a local level for any tactical voting is the lack of real information. It’s very easy for parties to spread mis-information, with a lack of solid local polling (not to mention, lack of local media) to guide people as to who to vote for. Poorly organised tactical voting can do as much harm as good to a campaign in those circumstances. I would be surprised if the Tories don’t have team working specifically on setting off false rumours in order to confuse voters in key constituencies.

    1. vlade

      What more can I say here?

      Labour seems to be bent on the strategy that Corbyn is great on the campaign track. That may well be true, but the reality is:

      – Corbyn will not get back Labour Scotland seats. I do not believe that there was a Labour government ever w/o a good number of Scotland seats. That is regardless of how good Corbyn is or isn’t on the campaign trail.
      – That means Labour has to win MORE of England seats, and not lose any Wales seats (which it could well if the remain vote is split).
      – which means it has to win some Tory seats in deep-blue England, and Tories not win any of the traditional Labour ones. I’m not sure that’s possible even if Labour manages to make sure turnout is maximised.
      – LD brand is not as toxic as it was 2 years ago, and Labour brand became mildly toxic to remainers.

      In other words, Labour has an uphill battle.

      For me, the main issue is that the politics is changing, and the tripod (where the third party was irrelevant) of English politics is more and more irrelevant.

      Labour is clinging to it, because it believes that it’s the only way to deliver the “radical” (maybe for England, in the context of the old Continent not really that radical) changes.

      IMO, it would be better if it went for the political changes first (i.e. removing the electoral system that disfranchises masses of voters). It then could genuinely claim it wants to give _all_ people a voice, and work with the other parties (i.e. not Tories) on delivering it, as all those would cooperate.

      Yes, it would, at least short term, produce less radical policies than what Labour wants. But a) it would be likely to succeeed b) more importantly, it would almost certainly start moving the overton window to the left, as majority of the UK voters are leaning left (right now).

      Instead, they run a high risk strategy, at the worst possible time (unless they neutralise Brexit, which would leave them open to constant sniping by Faragistas and Tories, they would have little time and capacity to implement their radical agenda) that can be easily rolled back by Tories even if the Labour wins now.

      1. paul

        I do not believe that there was a Labour government ever w/o a good number of Scotland seats.

        While this is strictly true, it did not need them in
        1966 (majority 98, scottish seats 21),
        1997 (majority 197, scottish seats 40),
        2001(majority 167, scottish seats 38),
        2005 (majority 66, scottish seats 23)

        The SNP highwater mark in 2015 of 56 seats showed that the conservatives don’t need scotland either. If every one of those seats had gone to labour the conservatives would still have had a majority of 43.

        1. vlade

          97 to 05 was Blair years, where Blair captured the centre. Anyone in Labour who tries to capture the centre now is labeled Blairite and an enemy of the party.

          My point is that anyone who doesn’t carry Scotland needs to have a significant swing to them in England. There is, under FPTP, little chance of such a swing for Labour.

      2. Jeremy

        The libdems will not cooperate with corbyn on brexit, allegedly their biggest issue. What makes you think they’d hold their nose for… electoral reform?

        1. vlade

          You mean like Corbyn ignoring his rebel MPs on Brexit? But whipping to vote for A50 w/o any plan?

          LD would cooperate on electoral reform with anyone. Because a PR electoral reform would only favour them.

    2. DaveH

      I’m not convinced this is as much a Machiavellian scheme as you make it out to be. I think it’s much simpler – they can’t afford it.

      Now that Johnson appears to be a more prestigious horse to back, the money that was flowing to Farage Ltd during May’s tenure is now going back to the Conservatives.

      If you don’t have enough money to run a national campaign, what do you do? Close it down. But try and do it in such a way that it looks like you’re doing it for moral reasons.

    3. David

      I don’t disagree about Farage and his objectives, I just wonder for how much longer he can keep the ball in the air. If the (a?) WAB is passed and the Art 50 process is concluded, then Farage becomes essentially a spare part, without a political objective or even a seat in Brussels. When the discussion moves on to the future relationship, I really don’t see how Farage can expect anyone to care very much what he thinks: in the public perception, the battle he has been fighting in all these years is over. Ironically, Farage’s best hope may be a weak Tory government, with no overall majority, which stumbles along until some future combination of political circumstances means that the Art 50 notification is withdrawn. Then he’s got a job for life channeling Leaver bitterness and a sense of betrayal. But the British system being what it is, such an outcome will only happen by accident.
      For what it’s worth, if I were Labour I would want the same thing – a weak and largely impotent Tory government unable to do anything. That being so, what really matters, far more than anything else, is how many seats the Tories win. The distribution of the remainder is important, but secondary. This election, it seems to me, is a good one to lose very narrowly. It’ll be the next one that counts.

      1. vlade

        Weak and impotent Tory govt is nice. But I don’t see how Corbyn can survive another election loss w/o the Labour party coming apart at the seams – especially if Labour loses seats vs. last elections.

        1. David

          Yes, that’s obviously the awkward bit. But I suppose there’s a difference between losing an election to a Johnson government with a workable majority (curtains for Corbyn, I suspect) and a situation where nobody can actually claim a victory and so nobody has lost. Given that May “won” in 2017 but never recovered, and that Corbyn “lost” but had his position strengthened, I would not exclude pure chance producing something like the same set of circumstances again.

          1. vlade

            That was because Labour managed to get both higher share of the vote and more (few) MPs.

            Now, if Labour wins some more seats, then yes, it’s quite possible Corbyn manages to soldier on – depending on the vote share (I don’t see how it would work if his vote share was say mid 20s)..

            But if he loses seats and loses voters share, then even if Tories perform not greatly (and remember, here’s where it gets tricky, as Tories can compare against May, or against May less defectors etc. etc..) it will be way harder for his and his camp to say they should keep going. I suspect it will revive the other parts in the Labour party which were, at least nominally, behind Corbyn right now.

            1. Paul O

              I don’t think Corbyn has any intention of soldiering on – unless he happens to be in number 10. I don’t think he wanted the job in the first place (one of his strengths)

              However, unless Labour lose a very large number of seats I still believe the party – and by that I mean the Corbyn/McDonnell/Momentum project within the party – will come out stronger. Many may disagree with that.

              A significant part of what is going on here must be to ensure that when MPs get to nominate candidates in the leadership election there will be sufficient MPs to nominate a replacement from that position within that party. The membership will then duly elect them (myself included).

              Brexit makes this more urgent and far more difficult. But Brexit was not under Labour’s control.

        2. Pavel

          Frankly I shouldn’t be surprised if Corbyn didn’t mind retiring from the leadership. He was a no-hope/reluctant/token candidate for Leader in the first place, and he has had nothing but scorn and virtual libel from the mainstream press (and the Beeb has been particularly vicious, along with the Grauniad under its new neoliberal management) along with backstabbing by his own Labour MPs.

          One thing I like about Corbyn (along with his foreign policy) is his authenticity and humility. His hobby was pottering around in a community garden! His MP’s expenses were something like 10 quid a year!

          Yes, he has waffled endlessly re Brexit. But which UK politician has a better record on Brexit? Cameron? May? Boris? (Bueller?… anyone?)

          The Brits (and Yanks) get the politicians they deserve. They manifestly don’t deserve someone as decent as Jeremy Corbyn.

          1. vlade

            What killed Corbyn’s credibility with me was the Traingate.

            Because for me it was a cheap attempt at publicity that backfired, and where he, at best, massaged the truth (i.e. claim there were no free seats which later got modified “no two free seats next to each other”).

            I don’t really care whether it was his PR team that talked him to it, or someone else, ultimately it’s him who should decide whether he’s going for integrity or not. If you want to trade on your integrity, you’d better make sure it’s up there and spotless.

            And it would have been easy to point that the trains are crowded w/o any creative truth modification.

            1. paul

              Really? One minor,long forgotten PR gaffe, hardly worthy of the obligatory ‘gate’ suffix, is enough to discredit him for all time?

              I suppose it’s different for the current PM, as everyone (outside the mainstream media) is supposed to know he’s a lying chancer.

            2. Jeremy

              Is this genuinely the reason? I… Just… I can’t imagine thinking politics have such low stakes that a historically meaningless non-event such as this is determinative.

              1. vlade

                When somoene tries to sell himself to me as sancrosant integrity, then he’d better deliver. He sets the target, and I will hold him to it.

                How many Sanders supporters would start having doubts if Sanders accepted large money from a billionaire?

                If your brand is X, breaking it matters. Especially on “small, trivial” things – because it shows it’s really just a brand, that can be thrown away as needed.

                He could have, easily, come out and say “it was a mistake of how I did it, but the main point stands”. Nope. No admission of error. Integrity is, amongst others, ability to admit you did something wrong and make amends. He’s asking me to trust him, when reality shows he can lie if he believes he can get away with it (aka the behaviour with all pols, except now Johnson and Trump don’t even worry about getting away with it).

                It didn’t get better. I still remember Corbyn being the only pol who called for immediate trigger of A50 post the referendum. Which shows he’s either careless, or dumb, or both. On the single largest issue facing the UK in decades, and an issue which WILL shape any realistic policies in the future.

                There was no leadership for the last three years – how else can you explain the fact that he’s still barely touching 30% AGAINST FLAMING MAY AND JOHNSON, the worst Tory governments in at least living memory????? (and that’s not just on Brexit, that’s on all of it – there was not a single positive achievement, and a host of negatives).

                When Clinton got dinged for losing to Trump, that’s understandeable.
                But here we have supposedly Sanders equivalent losing to a sock puppet (May) and a Trump-lite (Johnson). Run it past me again?

                You know, I can tell policies from people.

                I like a number of policies he puts forward (and as I say, I don’t consider most of them radical – they are sort of soc-dem Continental policies). But I also dislike number of things on him personaly, and am not sold at all he could deliver on those policies as a result.

                1. paul

                  I still remember Corbyn being the only pol who called for immediate trigger of A50 post the referendum.

                  David Cameron stated:

                  “If the British people vote to leave, there is only one way to bring that about, namely to trigger article 50 of the treaties and begin the process of exit, and the British people would rightly expect that to start straight away.”

                  Jeremy Corbyn, as opposition leader, merely took him up on that. Did you expect him to help the government out of this pickle?

                  As for whipping for article 50 invocation, that was, however vaguely, the people’s will and the ruling party’s manifesto policy. If he’d held it up we would be in a slightly different but just as fraught situation.

                  how else can you explain the fact that he’s still barely touching 30%

                  I would explain it by his having:

                  A large section of his parliamentary party constantly seeking to damage him throughout his leadership
                  An actively hostile media and establishment determined that he should not succeed

                  Those are rather large obstacles to overcome.

                  I am sure if he led with policies that an ian austin could feel comfortable with, he would fare better with these groups.

                  He may not meet your very high standards, but he would serve the population a lot better, at least because he wouldn’t see them as the enemy.

          2. larry

            One of the editorial writers is an MMTer, hence, not a neoliberal. You are painting too broad a brush here.

            1. Pavel

              Fair enough. But the Graun’s treatment of Corbyn and of Sanders in the 2016 campaign compared with its endless — for instance — shilling for Hillary is instructive.

          3. Jessica

            Watching from afar, I get the sense that Brexit isn’t the issue that Corbyn cares about. Austerity, and neoliberalism more generally is. From that perspective, Brexit has focused all attention on the question: Do you want to be ruled by [English neoliberals in] London or [international neoliberals in] Brussels? There is simply no good answer to that question from where Corbyn and those around him stand.

            1. Eustache de Saint Pierre

              Corbyn being the only chance I believe for those who are suffering from the worst excesses like Universal credit, while their self elected faux progressive superiors stampede to the Neoliberal Dems to protect their precious sacred cow, which they are all apparently experts in & will reform later at some unspecified date.

              I know a few who believe that they are well above such a fall, but the reality is that they are on thin ice & I not so long ago would not have believed it possible that I would get a 6mth sentence of it.

              I recommend it as a temporary state which was fortunately the case with myself as it is a hard dose of reality that can only be truly appreciated through it’s actual experience. I now know what it feels like to be very cold & hungry while being treated by some as if I were a total non-entity. A combo of circumstances got me there starting with a case of extremely bad timing in 2008 & I am very fortunate to possess the ability to get out & in the long term to have learned from that hard lesson.

              There but for the grace of Mr Market……..

  3. Eustache de Saint Pierre

    I have relatives in Newcastle-under-Lyme which was once a thriving market town now only missing tumbleweed blowing through the streets. There appears to be much in the way of anger towards the Labour led council who appear to delight in Neoliberalism & have built a new HQ for themselves in that glass & steel fashion that sticks out like a sore thumb on the once site of a much loved by locals old school. It is opposite another even sorer thumb which is a half finished multi storey student accommodation, organised by the council that went bust & is now lawyer fodder.

    Overall everybody appears to detest the council which I suppose added to quite a strong Brexit vote, might I suppose not work out very well for Labour, although of course it is not a vote for those particular fat fish in their splendid aquarium.

    1. FKorning

      HS2 and HS3 would have gone a long way to revive such places. It is shocking to what extent the media is mute on the how generous the European Union was committed to fund the British High Speed Rail projects.

  4. Pinhead

    We know what a Conservative majority will do about Brexit.

    The only likely alternative is a hung Parliament. In that case will Labour replace Corbyn and force yet another election but this time with a credible leader? He or she could win a majority, renegotiate a very soft Brexit (or not), and hold a second referendum.

    The EU will not wait forever.

  5. DaveH

    The only likely alternative is a hung Parliament. In that case will Labour replace Corbyn and force yet another election but this time with a credible leader? He or she could win a majority, renegotiate a very soft Brexit (or not), and hold a second referendum.

    If a Johnson government cannot be formed (and unless they win an outright majority, it’s hard to see how it could be), I can’t see a plausible scenario where Labour chuck Corbyn without at least trying to work as a minority Government. It would be pretty short-lived, but surely the mechanics don’t work for No Government able to be formed –> brand new Labour leadership campaigns / elections –> new General election? What is the rest of the country doing while Labour are spending a couple of months sorting out their leadership?

    Obviously the Lib Dems are as flaky as anything, but if I were them, surely you’d allow Labour to govern with the bare minimum level of support, vote through their Brexit policies / extension requests / referendum and abstain on everything else.

    Once the “renegotiation / referendum” is done, you no-confidence the minority Government and the election cycle starts again…

  6. fajensen

    Oh Bother. I was already looking forward to the spectacle of 650 ‘not very well vetted at all” BP-candidates delivering 1-2 good scandals per day all the way till Christmas.

    Anyway, I don’t think Farage has the manpower and that’s why he is ‘helping’ the Tory’s.

    The ideal outcome for Farage is for his Brexit Party Ltd replacing the DUP as “those that must be bunged lots of taxpayers money, no questions asked”!

  7. Anonymous 2

    On the subject of scandals, Bill Browder was on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning claiming that Russia has been bribing UK politicians, both Tory and Labour.

    The time was when an allegation like this would have rocked the British political world but so far it appears to have gone largely without reaction.

    Banana monarchy?

    1. fajensen

      Nobody, outside of the closed circle of people paid very well to hold certain beliefs, seriously believe in the magick Russian influence in all matters. Putin is like Dr Mabuse to some folks and it’s getting very tiresome the way they insist we must just take their word for everything. It is time to show us the receipts or shut the hell up!

      I believe that the issue blocking the releasing of the ‘Russia Influence Report’ is mainly that there are more fingers in that particular pie than ‘the Russians’, and some of those digits will be embarrassingly ‘ours’, taxpayer-funded and all.

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