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Millions of postal votes have already been sent out for the MEP elections on the 23rd May. And while the Conservatives continue to pretend – until today – that they aren’t really happening, the Brexit party has for weeks been preparing for a landslide.
The party is so confident that it took the highly unusual step of holding an actual press conference today. Parties used to do these all the time. Now they refuse to be cross-examined. The Brexit Party wants to signal it is different, and is up for a fight – particularly with journalists.
At an event in St James’s this morning some of the party’s candidates filled the front rows, seemingly there for no reason beyond clapping politely for its grumpy party leader Nigel Farage. The party chairman Richard Tice (an entrepreneur who founded the Leave Means Leave campaign in 2016) called candidates “the highest quality” in a generation that has stood for election in this country.
With the government paralysed by Brexit, the country looking like it’s locked into an extension over the summer, and the complete stagnation and despair of cross-party negotiations, the energy needed to deliver Brexit might be dissipating in Westminster. Farage is banking on that not being the case when it comes to the rest of the country. If he’s right, the angst of disaffected leave voters might just manifest itself in millions of votes for the Brexit party later this month.
But, as Farage announced this morning, success at the MEP elections is only the first step for the party. They “intend to change politics for good” he said. The Brexit party is now recruiting candidates to stand in the next general election (which may be sooner than we might expect, he was keen to emphasise).
The party has enjoyed a remarkably successful time of it since launching – benefiting from the clarity of its message. It is hard to mistake what The Brexit party stands for, after all. And their slick operation only looks all the better when compared to their nascent rivals, Change UK The Independent Group, whose name and logo seem to be different every day. They don’t like Brexit but can’t seem to agree on anything else.
While the MEP elections look set to be pretty cushy for Farage and his latest outfit, a general election might be more tricky. The party is currently enjoying the benefits of running on a single-issue platform, but when it comes to a general election, The Brexit Party will need some other policies.
Farage indicated that he’s interested in taking the focus off London, and funding more infrastructure projects across the Midlands and the North. Beyond that he wasn’t particularly keen to discuss any details. One would be forgiven for suspecting that The Brexit party might not yet have a comprehensive national manifesto, beyond its obvious eponymous aim.
Where they are clear on their party policy is then, naturally, Brexit. Tice said a vote for the Brexit Party is a vote for a WTO Brexit – “no ifs, no buts.”
Farage will stand in the general election, but “you don’t need to be in Westminster to change politics” he said.
Once again, Farage sought today to present himself again as the outsider. He believes the media is an enemy and accused The Guardian of peddling “crackpot theories” and questioning why none of his candidates had appeared on the BBC yet. But when it comes to the actual obstacle of the first past the post voting system at Westminster, he was pretty sanguine.
FPTP does nothing to help new groups break through a largely two-party system. That determined the fate of UKIP, he claimed. But “if ever there was a time to break the first past the post system it’s now.”
Little insight was offered in the way of how he intends to do that. But, the party is growing fast, funded mostly by its claim to have 88,000 members (and one mysterious, currently undisclosed donor – it’s not Arron Banks he emphasises), and the prospects for the 23rd of May look good.
While it’s clear he doesn’t intend for his latest venture to be just a flash in the pan – beyond taking the UK out of the EU on pretty severe terms, the direction of the Brexit Party is undefined.
“Don’t underestimate us, we know what we are doing and we are going to change politics for good,” Farage barked at one point.
An increasingly terrified Tory party fears he is going to do precisely that.
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An earlier version of this article mistakenly quoted Richard Tice as saying the Brexit Party candidates were “the highest quality” ever to have stood for election in this country. It has been amended to say he called the candidates “the highest quality” in a generation.