4 July 2016

Bye bye to the man who changed British politics


Nigel Farage has resigned as UKIP leader, making UKIP the third British political party to be looking for a new leader in the space of ten days.

Farage has been the marmite of British politics for half a decade, but it is in the last two years in particular that he has stamped his face, and his mission, on the country. Depending on your point of view, he will be remembered either as the champion who brought the UK out of the EU and re-established British sovereignty, or as a race-baiting disgrace who tore apart the country.

When future historians come to study this moment, the referendum campaign may well be symbolised by the image of Farage standing in front of a Brexit poster featuring a road of migrants with the caption “Breaking Point”. The presiding impression many spectators abroad have of the referendum fall-out is Farage’s gloating in the European Parliament last week, where, after accusing his MEP colleagues of initially laughing at the thought of Brexit, he triumphantly declared “Well you’re not laughing now”. Whether you are delighted or devastated at the referendum outcome, no one has been able to avoid forming an opinion of the man who made it all happen.

Farage himself is going out on a high. He announced that his “political ambition has been achieved”, at a press conference London this morning, and said, “I want my life back, and it begins right now.”

Amusingly, this is not the first time Farage has stepped down as UKIP leader. After failing to win the seat of South Thanet in the 2015 General Elections, he offered his resignation, only to have the party refuse it. He was reinstated as leader just two days later. Farage has reiterated that this time is for good, but bookies are not ruling out the possibility that the next UKIP leader may in fact be Farage again.

For now, UKIP has drawn the spotlight away from the bitter Tory leadership contest that will result in a new British Prime Minister. In the background, the Labour Party continues its shambolic attempts to oust Jeremy Corbyn and form a viable opposition. There’s so much going on that the quest for a new leader of the Green Party has slipped completely under the radar. Whether British parties backed Leave or Remain, the referendum result has ensured a change of direction that may have been long overdue.

And that goes for the country as well. Sebastian Payne of the FT made an interesting observation: Farage has tried – and failed – to become an MP seven times, “yet has managed to completely reshape British politics”. In terms of achieving his key objective, he is probably the most successful British politician of our era, and he has managed to do it without setting foot in the House of Commons. That is not a lesson Britain should forget.

Rachel Cunliffe is Deputy Editor of CapX.