By slaying Labour dragons, Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party helped deliver the Tory majority

By slaying Labour dragons, Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party helped deliver the Tory majority

It was not an auspicious start for Nigel Farage this autumn when he announced that he would stand Brexit Party candidates in every single seat, despite ostensibly being on the same side as Boris Johnson. As Lib Dems, Greens and Plaid Cymru boasted of a ‘Remain Alliance’, sending warning currents around constituencies in the South where incumbent Tories would be ruthlessly targeted by candidates wanting to reject the democratic result of 2016, there was no such harmony between Farage and the Tories.

As time went on, Brexit Party candidates came forward and expressed their concern about standing against Brexiteer Conservative MPs, naturally worried that the mathematics pointed at the Leave vote being split, and stood down to support Boris Johnson. Then came 11th November when, in Hartlepool, Farage announced his new strategy: that he would not stand candidates in the 317 seats where the Conservatives had won in 2017. It was also an important move in defending his own reputation: after decades of campaigning for sovereign independence for the UK and being the driving force behind David Cameron offering the EU referendum, he was otherwise set to be accused of allowing a Remain government to take power.

The nonsense of standing candidates in seats such as Southampton Itchen, where Royston Smith was defending a majority in double digits, was angering the Brexit Party’s own members who, above any kind of personal or party loyalty, wanted Brexit delivered. The candidate who was lined up to stand in that particular seat, Alexandra Phillips, took to twitter to proclaim furiously that she had been “disenfranchised” by her own party leader – and former employer. She quickly returned to the social media platform to urge people to vote, presumably after a talking to by Farage, but it highlighted the divide that existed within the still infant party. Just as Brexit had caused divisions in the older parties, it was doing the same inside the Brexit Party.

Whilst the decision not to stand in Conservative-winning seats was met with many sighs of relief – and praise for the man who put country before party – it was obviously a rushed strategy and an imperfect one, for which the lack of friendship from the Conservatives must also be held responsible. It was a shame to see seats like Hartlepool and Sunderland staying Red despite the combined votes for the Brexit Party and Conservative Party candidate being greater than the eventual winner. Some in the Brexit Party were worried it would make them look like a Tory-lite party and would negatively impact on their support in the Labour-held North.

As it happened, what so many people had underestimated was the strength of feeling in the so-called ‘safe Labour seats’ in the North and Midlands. For three and a half years the voters in these constituencies, along with other Leave voters, had been derided by the establishment as racist and stupid and in need of wise, more knowledgeable brains like Dominic Grieve and Gina Miller to make decisions for them. The adage that they would vote for a pork pie if it wore a red rosette was considered stronger than their pride at having their democratic wish ignored – and their desire to leave the European Union. They proved them wrong.

Refusing to bow to either local tribal loyalties, the endless threats of Project Fear or the carping of Jeremy Corbyn and his groupie luvvies like Lily Allen – who bizarrely claimed that anyone voting for the Conservatives was somehow voting for children to die – they voted for the party which was promising to deliver Brexit in numbers which surprised even party members. But what actually helped get the historic victory for the Tories at this Brexit election was the large numbers of Labour voters who switched to the Brexit Party rather than vote for Corbyn.

One of the early results of the night in Sunderland Central was remarkable for the swing away from Labour – but not to Boris Johnson, but to the Brexit Party candidate: a huge 11.6% voteshare for a party which didn’t exist this time last year. Whilst some Tory activists took to social media to claim that Farage’s party had cost them the seat, they ignored the fact that they themselves had only picked up 2% of the former Labour voters.

As counts around the country progressed, the seats fell to Johnson not only because of their own campaign but because of Farage’s simple existence and the Labour Party’s paternalistic, anti-democratic attitude towards the voters. In many seats the other side of the ‘Red Wall’, the Conservatives picked up seats not because they swallowed up those Labour voters, but because of the significant swing from Labour to the Brexit Party. Rather than deriding and blaming Farage, they should be thanking those in the azure blue rosettes for taking Labour votes and letting them slip through the gap.

Farage knew above anything else one thing: that there would be Labour voters who would simply not be able to bring themselves to vote Conservative. This played out in Don Valley, Sedgefield and Bury North, where only 1.8% of the 7.6% swing from Labour went to the Tories, with 2.6% going to Alan McCarthy of The Brexit Party. With the new Tory MP James Daly only winning by 105 votes, if 10% of the Brexit Party’s support had remained with Labour, feeling they could not bring themselves to vote Tory, the result could have been a Labour hold.

After the astonishing results of the European election in May, scoring zero seats on Thursday was a crash down to earth for Farage and his party. But whilst he may not have been the king-maker, he can lay claim to being the dragon slayer: Johnson could not have won without him.