Richard North, 06/12/2019  

Predictably, George Osborne's Evening Standard is crowing about Farage's latest discomfort, offering a headline which tells us: "Brexit Party odds slashed by bookies as Nigel Farage faces onslaught of resignations".

This is triggered by the loss of four of Farage's MEPs. Three resigned yesterday, including Annunziata Rees-Mogg, sister of the invisible Jacob, who are now urging voters to support the Tories on polling day. The other was John Longworth, one-time director general of the British Chambers of Commerce. He was sacked for "repeatedly undermining" what is described as "Farage's election strategy".

Mind you, any idea that Annunziata Rees-Mogg has ever been anything other than a Tory is a bit of a stretch. She was a Tory candidate in the 2005 general election, where she served her apprenticeship in the safe Labour seat of Aberavon, and then fought in the Lib-Dem marginal, Somerton and Frome, for the Tories in 2010.

It says something for "Nancy" – a name Cameron apparently wanted her to adopt – that after Tory candidate Clive Allen managed to trim the Lib-Dem lead in 2005 to a mere 812 votes, she presided over an increase in 2010 to 1,817.

Only in 2015, when she had been dropped as a candidate, did David Warburton for the Tories come storming back with a stonking majority of 20,268 after the collapse of the Lib-Dem vote. Warburton then kept the seat in 2017, with an increased majority, making it one of the safest Tory seats in the country.

Thus scorned, Annunziata took her bat home to join up with Farage, becoming an MEP in May, representing the victorious Brexit Party. But she has lasted seven months before reverting to type, deserting the sinking party to root for Johnson's Tories and their fatuous "Get Brexit Done" slogan.

Ex-Tory chancellor George Osborne has now used the opportunity to parade current bookmakers setting the party's odds of total defeat at 2/7, reinforcing opinion poll predictions that it is unlikely to win a single seat in next week's poll. This is down from being odds-on at 2/5 in October, to win at least one seat.

Betfair spokesperson, Katie Baylis is cited, saying: "After starting their campaign with a bang, the Brexit Party has failed to live up to their own hype and today's resignations show that they are not the force Nigel Farage had hoped for". They had been as short as 12/1 in June for an overall majority, but with the wheels starting to fall off their campaign they are now at 999/1.

The Telegraph is indulging in its own form of gloating, with a cartoon of Farage in front of a group of supporters, declaring "Leave means Leave", only in the next frame to have his supporters do precisely that … leave, reduced to a scattering of discarded rosettes on the floor.

But John Crace really has the measure of the man, painting a picture which I can recognise from long personal experience. "Nigel's unique talent", he writes:
… is to destroy everything he creates. He craves power but is unable to delegate or share it. People who disagree with him are cast out and crushed. Like Trump and Boris, he is a political narcissist who can see no further than his own reflection. He has no friends or equals. Only willing acolytes who are, from time to time, granted a slot as his warm-up act. Nigel makes the rules and Nigel changes them.
Yet, despite being shredded by Andrew Neil (pictured), there are still consolations for Farage. Apart from his massively inflated bank balance, this election has also seen the collapse of the main "remainer" activist group, the People's Vote, with the tale of its demise recorded in detail recently by the New Statesman.

The demise of the fringe activists on both sides has had the unexpected effect of leaving the field clear for the main parties and with the Lib-Dems failing to live up to their earlier promise, we are effectively back to old-fashioned two party politics, with the Tories and Labour battling it out for dominance.

In the "blue corner", we have Johnson pushing the "Get Brexit Done" mantra, yesterday telling us that we had "seven days" to achieve that feat, while the party is putting its effort into a negative campaign, capitalising on Corbyn's reputation as an anti-Semite and his inability (or unwillingness) to control antisemitism in his party.

In the "red corner", there is an increasingly frazzled Corbyn. Having effectively abandoned Brexit, he has now decided to fight on an "austerity" ticket, arguing that a vote for the Tories will bring down a rain of "cuts" on the land, and the destruction of the NHS as it is chopped into pieces and sold off to predatory US capitalists.

And while the national polls show a largely static position, with the Tories holding on to a slender lead, under the surface things may be very different. The Times is one of many sources to report that support for Labour is draining away in the North and the Midlands.

The paper claims that voters in areas that once counted on generous Labour majorities are aligning themselves to the party they think will most likely break the Brexit deadlock, with policies featuring only second. It cites a lawyer from Bolton who voted Remain, who tells us: "People want the person who will get them out of the EU. They are not that interested in other things".

The paper also cites the latest polling data, which show that since 2017, the drop in Labour's popularity in the North and Midlands has accelerated. According to YouGov, its vote has been hardest hit in the North West, where support has fallen by 25 percentage points to 30 percent. This puts Labour behind the Tories in a region that until now it could take for granted.

However, such projections are based on very slender data, and there is a danger that the pollsters are falling into the trap of believing their own rhetoric. More than ever, one suspects, local factors may prevail, causing local upsets which may affect the overall result.

Crucially, although Farage has taken a drubbing in the polls, in some Labour marginals his party may siphon off enough votes from the Tories to prevent them taking seats they might otherwise gain. Despite George Osborne's triumphalism, it would be unwise completely to write off Farage's influence.

That said, there is little doubt that this election campaign has failed to enthuse the voters and the mood is remarkably flat, with a "plague on both your houses" sentiment very much in evidence.

And then there is the lack of activity on the ground. Yesterday, I drove from South Bradford to Skipton, through three constituencies, and saw only one campaign poster. To date, with only a week to go, we've only had the two Labour leaflets, and nothing from any other party.

In another interesting facet, the Guardian reports on the impact of smartphones on the dissemination of news. The politicians and the media may think they are controlling the messages but, by the time they reach the end users, coverage "is warped by social media algorithms and friendship groups".

This "chaotic world" has people consuming news passively by scrolling through headlines rather than actively seeking out information. One woman in London, participating in a research project, read 29 headlines but clicked on just six and only read three articles to the end.

Several participants were observed sharing articles on Facebook without clicking the links, and excitedly diving into comment sections for an argument before looking at the articles. Most showed a tendency to read news that confirmed their existing views.

Some behaviours were more surprising, hinting we may be becoming a nation of trolls. One 22-year-old Conservative-voting woman was observed going out of her way to read reputable mainstream news sources so she had a balanced understanding of Labour policies. But she would then seek out provocative far-right blog posts to share on Facebook because their headlines would anger her left wing friends and create online drama.

Crucially, though, a lot of the content was been taken out of context, with concern expressed that phone users were "disengaging with mainstream sources". Said one analyst, "a lot of content that is quite exaggerated or deliberately presented to influence you in a way that's not connected to the full picture".

Thus, what the politicians and media are telling us isn't necessarily what the voters are hearing. People are filtering their input and deciding for themselves on the content they are prepared to accept. And, how this might influence voting, no one yet knows. This election may still be more open than we imagine.

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