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British Conservatives March into Nigel Farage’s Trap

Posted on Monday, June 17, 2024
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by Walter Samuel
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When it rains, it pours – at least for British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party.

The Conservatives’ ongoing campaign, which will culminate in a general election on July 5, was launched in the pouring rain by a soaked Sunak drowned out by hecklers playing Tony Blair’s 1997 anthem, “Things Can Only Get Better.” Things have only gotten worse since, as their campaign has been derailed by events both predictable and shocking, substantive and comic. Absent some massive shift or a polling error of historic proportions, their campaign will end not just in a defeat, but in an extinction-level event, with the party being reduced from the 365 seats it won in 2019 to perhaps less than 100.

After fourteen years in power, in which the party saw immigration rise to the highest levels in history, while real growth in wages has been nearly nonexistent, in which statues have fallen and taxes have risen, the party is facing less a pincer movement than a siege from all sides, including inside the tent.

To the left, there is a resurgent Labour Party, which under Keir Starmer has strategically dropped all pretense of ideology in favor of benefiting from Conservative mismanagement. Labour is joined by a Liberal Democratic Party that has filled in the gap left by Labour’s silence on Brexit, acting as a socially liberal, fiscally conservative pressure group for discontented Conservative voters who like the E.U., low taxes, the latest LGBT fads, and immigrants (provided they live somewhere else), but hate new housing, public transport, or tuition fees for university.

To the right is a resurgent Reform Party, the latest rebranded vehicle for former UKIP turned Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage who has returned, as he put it, not to aid the Conservatives, but to bury them. Citing the example of the 1993 Canadian elections, when a similarly named Reform Party helped reduce that nation’s Progressive Conservatives to a measly two seats, and then through a merger supplanted them on the right, Farage has framed his efforts in terms of a takeover.

This Conservative Party is doomed, Farage tells voters on the right. The real question is what follows. Will it be more of the same, a future heralded by the decision of Sunak to force the nomination of his closest, often liberal, allies for the few remaining “safe” Conservative seats? Or will the future of the British conservative movement be a genuinely grassroots effort committed to controlling immigration, and, to paraphrase the now-expelled former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, a party for the many, not the few?

Even the greatest of strategic minds working through the most charismatic of politicians would struggle against such a potent combination of foes and fundamentals as the Conservatives now face. Sadly, in its hour of need, the Conservative Party has been left not with a Wellington, Peel, Churchill, or Thatcher, but a Rishi Sunak. Its campaign is designed by a team seemingly unaware of the concepts of a coherent strategy or message, fronted by a candidate incapable of executing the most basic of human interactions.

It was possible to believe that the unfortunate events of the campaign’s first week were the result of bad luck mixed with poor advice and learning pains. Rishi Sunak’s rain-soaked announcement represented a colossal failure of advance work. Visits to the launch site of the Titanic, the ill-fated announcement of a national service mandate, and a speech in front of an airplane’s exit sign could be written up as one-off mistakes.

But the two weeks that have followed have revealed those flubs as anything but one-offs. Sunak undermined his otherwise solid performance in the first debate (in which he pushed the charge that Labour would raise taxes on everyone in Britain) by misleading everyone about the origins of the numbers he cited, further bruising his reputation. Then came D-Day.

Few moments loom larger in the minds of older generations of Britons than the Second World War, which for them was truly their finest hour. It was the moment the United Kingdom for a time stood alone against Hitler and eschewed the easy path of compromise at the cost of their empire. Anyone familiar with British culture or history would understand that.

Furthermore, any political strategist worth their paycheck would be able to look at the polls and see that the only group still supporting the Conservative Party in meaningful numbers were the generations that remembered the war in some fashion. The most recent YouGov poll had the Conservatives at four percent among those aged 18-24, 10 percent among 25-49-year-olds, 22 percent among those in the 50-64 age bracket, and 33 percent among those over 65, in the first place. With Reform, not Labour, in second place among those over 65 at 25 percent, and winning 22 percent of those 50-64, there was a potential right-wing majority among voters over 50.

There seemed to be an awareness that in consolidating support among older voters lay a path, perhaps the only one, to salvation. The Conservative manifesto seemed almost targeted at annoying young voters, including items such as national service, banning cell phones in schools, and exempting all state pensions from income tax. The strategy clearly seemed to be to trade youngsters who would never vote Conservative for those who would.

But then came June 6, the 80th anniversary of D-Day. With the Greatest Generation fading away, it was likely to be the last major occasion on which the Second World War is celebrated with a substantial number of veterans present. World leaders ranging from France’s Emmanuel Macron to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and America’s Joe Biden all participated in a ceremony on the Normandy beaches.

Rishi Sunak, however, could apparently not be bothered to attend. As Scholz, Biden, Macron, and even Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky walked the beaches and greeted veterans, they were joined not by Sunak, but by his foreign secretary and former Prime Minister David Cameron. Sunak, after a brief ceremony with British veterans, had returned to London in order to tape a campaign interview.

D-Day should have been a golden opportunity for Sunak to use the majesty of his office to turn around the campaign. Instead, it became the greatest gift Nigel Farage had ever received.

Conservative commentators were left speechless and aghast by Sunak’s absence, a situation not improved when he belatedly explained that he had scheduled the interview in advance and had met with British veterans, only deciding to skip the French event. Both explanations indicated he had no understanding of the importance of D-Day either in general or to anyone else. He had only called the general election in the last week of May, so it would not have been possible to schedule an election interview before that point, whereas the date of D-Day’s 80th anniversary has been known for eight decades.

In one stroke, Sunak suggested that D-Day never entered his mind or that of his staff when they planned the campaign, and that it was not important enough to rearrange his schedule. Even Cameron, evidently desperate to preserve his legacy, threw Sunak under the bus, responding to questions about why he did not force Sunak to stay with him, “There is only so much I can do.”

Michael Kinsley once remarked that a “gaffe is when a politician tells the truth – some obvious truth he isn’t supposed to say.” In the case of Sunak’s D-Day gaffe, and the others which have beset the Conservative campaign, they have been so devastating because they have reinforced the charges levied against them by both Labour and Farage. They confirmed Labour’s charges that Sunak and the Conservative leadership are incompetent and out-of-touch. It also reinforced Farage’s charge that Rishi and the Conservatives do not care about “conserving” British history, culture, or traditions, and in fact, do not even understand them.

Ultimately, Sunak’s D-Day snub reinforced the charges from all sides that he and his team do not care, about the campaign, the party, or the country, and that they have already thrown in the towel.

Farage has been aided by the widespread belief that if the Conservative Party is doomed, it deserves to be destroyed, a sentiment evidently shared by many of its own supporters. In a recent poll, one-fourth of those who voted for Boris Johnson’s Conservatives in 2019 reported that their preferred outcome for the 2024 election was for the Conservative Party to win zero seats. If even the Conservatives themselves do not care, why should anyone else? This sentiment also explains why the major Conservative messaging point against Farage’s party, which in effect has been, “please vote for us to prevent a Labour supermajority,” is unlikely to work.

Farage does not care about saving the Conservative Party in 2024. He has written that off as impossible. His self-appointed mission is to save British conservatism, and that means ensuring it has a voice in 2029. Every indication that the British Conservatives under Sunak do not understand Britain or conservatism is a vindication of Farage’s goals. Every indication they cannot win, from polls to gaffes, to signs of demoralization, are signals to voters that Farage’s strategy is sound.

It increasingly looks like Nigel Farage may well succeed in burying the British Conservatives. If so, it will only be possible because they appear determined to bury themselves.

Walter Samuel is the pseudonym of a prolific international affairs writer and academic. He has worked in Washington as well as in London and Asia, and holds a Doctorate in International History.

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PaulE
PaulE
26 days ago

The average citizen, no matter which country he happens to reside in, has little use for a professional political class that continually fails to deliver any real value for their citizenry and then insists “the public is simply too ignorant to be allowed to have a say in how the country is run or appreciate what the political class has delivered”. Kind of like what you hear in our own MSM that is constantly trying to spin Biden’s lousy poll numbers by saying the American people are either too stupid to make decisions for themselves or they just don’t understand all the great things Biden has done for them through his brilliant leadership. Basically, it’s the same playbook used by the professional political class around the world.

People, at least some of them, are generally smarter than the professional political class gives them credit for and eventually, if you pound the country with enough high taxes and job killing regulations, rule by executive fiat in contradiction to existing laws, cause elevated inflation rates by unsound economic policies dreamed up by the same politicians to fund their usually ideological fantasies, the public eventually pushes back in some manner. In the case of the current political climate in the U.K., the so-called not so conservative Conservative Party finds itself in danger of being voted out of power for not actually adhering to the principles of their own Party.

The British Conservative Party hasn’t been an actual party representing true fiscally conservative values for quite some time. Specifically, really not since Thatcher was replaced. Today, they are more what you call a Labour-lite Party, with numerous half-way measures centered around still maintaining an overabundance of compromised policies to keep most of the country’s leftist policies in place. So, you have the far leftists that now dominate the Labour Party and moderate leftists that essentially now control the Conservative Party. With no real alternative to the mounting fiscal and societal pain of persistently bad governance by an out of touch professional political class, is it really any wonder the British people want a real change? Now whether they get it depends on the people themselves, as the country is currently a real mess.

Jerry
Jerry
26 days ago

Looks like Nigel Farage may be Britain’s Trump.

phoenix
phoenix
26 days ago

Who cares? We’ve so much trouble at home.

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