We give our early analysis of the Brexit Party and the far right’s fortunes at the General Election
28 weeks after triumph at the European elections, in which it received a 31.6% vote share, Nigel Farage’s party has crashed back down to earth, receiving just 2% of the vote and zero seats. The result has followed a disastrous campaign marked by scandal, strategic error, internal disagreements and defections.
There can be no question that this morning’s results represent a serious failure for Farage. Whilst he has tried to put his spin on it, telling the BBC’s Andrew Neil that the Brexit Party have “used our influence” to secure the Tory majority, he also admitted that it might not deliver his vision of Brexit, and that he couldn’t even bring himself to vote for Johnson’s party. Just this summer he was claiming that his party could “win serious numbers of seats” in a GE. In his own terms, the Brexit Party has failed, and Nigel Farage has been denied a bridgehead in Parliament.
This failure is partially due to Farage’s decision to stand down 317 candidates in Conservative seats, thereby losing its greatest strength – the clarity of its pro-No Deal Brexit messaging – and became trapped in a cycle of endlessly justifying its strategy.
Farage’s claim, that contesting Labour-held seats would siphon off the Labour vote and usher in Conservatives, appears to have succeeded in a number of seats, helping to win Stoke-on-Trent Central, Sedgefield, Bolsover and Peterborough for Johnson. However, it has backfired in others, splitting the leave vote in seats like Hartlepool, leaving Labour in place.
Whilst we should take a moment to enjoy the crumbling of the Brexit Party, which is in part due to the tireless work of campaigners across the country, it is important to take stock of the high votes the party achieved in several seats, polling highest in Barnsley Central, Barnsley East, Hartlepool, Cynon Valley and Blaenau Gwent. The ongoing crisis of mistrust in our political class has threatened to let the politics of division in.
The bitterest disappointment for the Brexit Party is undoubtedly Hartlepool, contested by party Chairman Richard Tice, who came third with 25.8%, soundly beaten by the incumbent Labour MP. Hartlepool presented ostensibly ideal conditions for the Brexit Party; an austerity-afflicted constituency where 70% voted Leave, and 53% voted Brexit Party in the EU elections. It also returned UKIP’s third biggest vote in 2017.
The Brexit Party focussed much of its energies on the constituency, Farage spending the final day of the campaign there, although the local branch was rocked after Channel 4 exposed instances of ugly racism from Brexit Party officials in the town, who were subsequently expelled. Despite not achieving a seat in Parliament, Tice – who co-founded the ugly Leave.EU campaign – still received a worrying 10,603 votes, but this may have been enough to prevent a Conservative gain in the seat.
The Brexit Party was also beaten into second place by Labour in both Barnsley East and Barnsley Central, identified by Farage as its best chances at victory in the whole country. Following a lively campaign, Jim Ferguson, Farage’s parachute candidate in Barnsley East, received 29% of the vote, missing out by 3,217 votes. Victoria Felton, previously of the bizarre Veterans and Democrats party, amassed a whopping 30.4% – its single largest vote share – losing by a margin of 3,571 in Barnsley Central.
The Brexit Party came in third in Rotherham. Having a solid base in the constituency – the UKIP branch defected wholesale to the Brexit Party this summer – candidate Cllr Paul Hague, received 17.2%, measuring up poorly to UKIP’s 2015 result of 30.2%. Farage’s party also achieved a sizeable 20.4% in Doncaster North, where former Labour leader Ed Miliband has retained his seat.
In Leigh, where the Brexit Party was expected to do well, it received just 6.7% of the vote. However, this was enough to gift the seat to the Conservatives for the first time in history. In Peterborough, the Brexit Party candidate Mick Greene slumped to 4.4% of the vote – a dramatic drop from his 29% in the June byelection – but this helped to bump the Conservatives into the seat.
The Brexit Party fielded big name candidates in Ashfield, Hull West and Hessle and Sedgefield, represented by former Loaded editor Martin Daubney MEP, reality TV star Michelle Dewberry and former Blue Peter host David Bull MEP respectively. However, they have proved unable to cash in on their minor celebrity, achieving 5.1%, 18% and 8.5% respectively.
Beyond the Pale
Despite its shiny new branding, the Brexit Party increasingly resembled the UKIP of old as the campaign progressed. Farage fell back on UKIP’s 2015 messaging and policies around immigration, and, like UKIP, which won the European elections in 2014, has failed to translate seats in the European Parliament into seats in Westminster. Significantly, the party has also been rocked by near-daily racism scandals from its candidates and activists, many of which have been exposed by HOPE not hate. The woefully inadequate vetting process of Farage’s party has meant that these candidates have been provided with a platform, and have received votes based on the Brexit Party name alone, something that constitutes an appalling failure for the Brexit Party.
This includes James Edward Buckley, candidate in Blackley and Broughton, who was exposed by HOPE not hate to have attended a number of far-right meetings and having made numerous antisemitic and fascist-sympathising comments. Whilst the Brexit Party withdrew support from Buckley, he still appeared on the ballot under the Brexit Party name, receiving 7.1% of the vote, coming in third.
This also includes Andrew Garcarz, candidate in Birmingham Ladywood, who we exposed for numerous instances of Islamophobia, including stating “Islam is the problem here. And until we destroy them, the world will never be a safe place”. Garcarz received just 831, just 2% (despite receiving 17.4% as a UKIP candidate in 2015). His wife Wendy, contesting Birmingham Erdington, a 63% Leave seat, received 4.1%.
Rosamund Beattie, candidate for Ealing South, was also exposed by HOPE not hate for calling for a ban on Muslim migration as well as the repatriation of Muslims. She received just 867 votes (2.1%).
Of course, toxic candidates are not unique to the Brexit Party, with both Labour and the newly empowered Conservatives having their own entrenched issues with racism.
Farage’s candidate in Lincoln stood down just days ago to support the Conservative Karl McCartney, who we exposed during the campaign for repeatedly promoting the views of far-right activists, including the far-right extremist Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (AKA Tommy Robinson). McCartney won the seat with 24,267 votes. It remains to be seen if the Conservative Party, who were noticeably quiet when his social media activity was revealed, will take any action against McCartney.
In South Cambridgeshire, Tory Anthony Browne, who has made a number of deeply unpleasant claims, including blaming immigrants for bringing germs and HIV to UK shores, held onto to win the seat with 46.3% of the vote.
In Harrow East, Bob Blackman, who has a history of stoking division between Muslims and Hindus but has not been expelled by the Tories, received 26,935 votes and won his seat.
The silver lining on this dark, heavy rain cloud is that former Labour MP Chris Williamson has finished dead last in his bid for re-election in Derby North. Williamson, who has supported antisemites and continually baited the Jewish people, received just 1.4% of the vote, running as an Independent after resigning from Labour. In Dundee West, Jim Malone, a candidate rocked by accusations that his campaign was backed by people with antisemitic and Islamophobic views, lost heavily.
Beaten second by the Lib Dems in the hotly contested seat of Richmond Park is Conservative Zac Goldsmith, known primarily for his disgraceful dog-whistle campaign during the 2016 Mayoral election, attempting to associate the Labour candidate (now Mayor) Sadiq Khan with extremism.
In Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, the SNP’s Neale Hanvey took the seat despite being suspended by his party during the campaign when he was accused of antisemitism. The SNP have an important decision to make over whether they allow Hanvey to take the party whip in Westminster or whether they will maintain his exclusion.
The Far Right
The election also saw the continued electoral decline of the traditional far right in the UK.
The ascendency of the Brexit Party has facilitated the near total collapse of UKIP. Having received a vote share of 12.6% in 2015, UKIP has failed dismally to retain its support since the EU Referendum, and since its embrace of far-right figures in early 2018, has become mired in vicious infighting and endless scandals. The party’s measly 44 candidates (just 12% of the 378 it stood in 2017) have received 0.1% of the vote. Just a handful of years after arguably forcing David Cameron to promise the Referendum, UKIP is now languishing in irrelevancy.
Most of the traditional, more extreme far-right parties have decided against fielding candidates; for example the nazi National Front and British Democratic Party, and the anti-Muslim For Britain Movement, did not contest the election.
The British National Party (BNP), which began the decade looking like it could achieve Parliamentary breakthrough, has closed out the 2010s fielding just a single candidate, David Furness in Hornchurch & Upminster, who received a dismal 0.9%. Andrew Emerson, sole candidate of the irrelevant Patria party in Chichester, just managed to break into triple digits this year, receiving 109 votes. The English Democrats, who stood five candidates across the UK, received a total of 1,987 votes.
This election has been one of the most divisive and challenging in recent memory, with the poison of racism in the mainstream meaning many anti-racists felt unable to vote for either of the main parties and the spectre of Farage’s Brexit Party looming large on our TV screens and in our newspapers.
As is always the case with elections, it will take some time for the dust to settle so we can properly analyse the outcome. Yet certain things are already clear.
The traditional far right, in the form of parties such as the BNP, NF, English Democrats, and the British Democrats, as well as the newer For Britain and the increasingly far right UKIP, currently offer no electoral threat whatsoever. This past decade has seen their complete collapse in a way that would have been unimaginable for those campaigning against the BNP in Dagenham, Stoke and Burnley in 2010 or UKIP in 2015. This is of course welcome news, though as we have seen in recent years, the closing of an electoral route for the far right can contribute to an upturn in violence.
It is also certain that Farage and the Brexit Party had a woeful campaign and a terrible set of results. Their failure is the result of a combination of the tireless work of anti-racist campaigners across the UK, their bungling of their campaign, and the Tories ability to capture the Brexit issue. Whether the Brexit Party does evolve into the Reform Party as promised remains to be seen, but their abysmal results in this election beg the question if there is any space for such a party on the current political spectrum. With rumours of Farage heading to America to aid President Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign already doing the rounds, it seems unlikely at this stage that he will be making any more waves in British politics for a while.
In what proved a difficult night for many progressives, it is worth celebrating the decline of the electoral far right and the failure of Farage. Huge amounts of hard work went into making that happen over the past decade.
However, now is no time for complacency. With the Labour Party still in the grip of an antisemitism crisis, a Conservative Party dogged by charges of Islamophobia and led by a Prime Minister with a history of using racist and homophobic language, we have to ask if one reason for the decline of the electoral far right is that they simply aren’t needed any more. The cordon sanitaire that kept explicitly prejudiced politics to the margins seems to be crumbling, and the language of prejudice and xenophobia has once again entered our mainstream discourse.
This poses huge challenges for us as a society and those of us in the anti-racist and anti-fascist movements. The years ahead are going to be extremely challenging and at times disheartening but we have overcome such challenges before and we will overcome them again.