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Nigel the Kingmaker?   

by Stoker

 

 Nigel Farage, Leader of Reform UK Photo: Gage Skidmore


One doesn’t like to brag, but as it happens I have met both Mr Farage - Nigel to his mates and voters - and Mr Tice - Mr Tice to most people.  They were just passing encounters and the one with Mr Tice was a long while ago and we were both in professional capacities, so it should not be described further.  I am sure Mr Tice would not remember me anyway, though I remember him.

 

But Mr Farage was rather different.  I was in a group of … professionals, I suppose we would describe ourselves; all male, all theoretically working, and in a box at Ascot races, a very fine racecourse.  The next-door box was quite loud and we had a peer round to see what sort of neighbours we had.  They were also all male and I suspect all theoretically at work; and like us, mostly doing the day on expenses provided by munificent employers.  But one I recognised; Nigel of course, looking to see who was looking at him and his mates.  He gave a big grin and a thumbs up, and waved a glass our way.  Memory, which may be faulty, tells me it was a champagne glass, but perhaps that was a trick of the light, and it was really a pint of bitter.

 

We had a buffet lunch in the box and the afternoon drew on and the noise in each box got louder – the boxes hold about twelve, for those who have not had the experience, so the noise can be quite loud after lunch.  Before the 3.30pm race, or whatever time it was, Mr Farage’s grinning face appeared round the divider and he shouted “Got any tips for this race?” As it happened, we had.  One of our number had led a sheltered life and had never been horse racing before, nor had he ever placed  a bet.  He was a City banker. Now, City banks’ most important members of staff were then the messengers; uniformed often ex-military chaps who did all the things that needed doing – making sure the office was in good order, running confidential messages and correspondence to other City houses, and most importantly, keeping senior members of staff well appraised with what was going on in the organisation, and favoured junior members of staff in touch with confidential matters from the board room.  And other minor useful things like giving racing tips to the lucky ones.  A messenger had given our banker a tip for the 3.30pm at Ascot; an unlikely one, as the odds were 25:1.  Not a surefire winner. 

 

Our banker had nervously but in some excitement put £10 on this nag, a tidy sum in those far-off days. And so, at my suggestion, we passed the tip to Nigel, with a source warning.  Nigel said, in that jolly way he is famous for, “H’mmm; cheers!”, grinned and withdrew into his box with his mates; and I have never seen him in person since.

 

But the coda to this rubbing of shoulders with the famous one, was that the horse came in first. Our banker was delighted, of course, and as I have never seen him since either, I fear it may have started him on a downward path of gambling and betting which ended in bankruptcy, divorce, and termination of his promising career.  Did Nigel also put his entire cash reserves on it?  Or did he prudently disregard such a long shot?

 

The point of this long story is that I strongly suspect Nigel did indeed put a significant bet on. Partly because it would appeal to him to back a ludicrously tapped outsider; but also because he too had worked in the City and would know that messengers know all sorts of things and are often reliable in their sources.  Mr Farage is much more of a calculating politician than one might think from his jolly chap, beer-drinking, cigarette-smoking, cords and check jacket image.  He carefully differentiates himself from our standard-issue politicians and does not go in for ludicrous japes – you would not catch him falling off surf boards, stuck for details of policies, or soaked to the skin during a public announcement.  He has a style and a very British way which appeals to a certain sort of voter who likes a lack of polish and prefers politicians who say it like it is, even when, or especially when, politically incorrect or in danger of offending a focus group. 

 

Of course, Nigel has no answers to many of the problems which he has set out as failures by the exiting government.  How would he stop illegal immigrants crossing the Channel without resorting to rough stuff which would upset the generally kindly British?  How would he cut taxation without introducing a programme of fierce austerity?  Who would be his ministers to tackle the many issues which have got jammed in the bureaucratic, over-regulated state which is Britain today?  He has not yet been asked for a manifesto and if and when one comes it will be exciting… and meaningless.  What Nigel knows is that the voters are fed up with their politicians and want to give them, the Tories in particular, a black eye.  But Nigel’s Reform UK Party are unlikely, very unlikely indeed, much worse odds than 25:1, to be forming a new government in Downing Street in early July.

 

Nigel has seemed more interested recently in spending time with Donald Trump to whom he is allegedly an advisor, although on what is not entirely clear.  He, Nigel, has a cynical view that to waste time trying to win a parliamentary seat is merely a prelude to an even bigger waste of time in sitting in the House of Commons.  And yet suddenly, last week, he had a very abrupt change of mind; and announced that he would now be the Reform candidate for Clacton.  So suddenly that the existing candidate, Mr Mack, only found out that he was sacked when it appeared on the TV news.  Almost as surprised was Mr Tice, not just that he had a new candidate running for Parliament in his party, but that he too had been elbowed out of his job as Chairman of Reform.  Yup, Nigel has taken that job on too.  Mr Tice took this in good heart, publicly at least, saying that the party needed Nigel’s abilities at garnering publicity and inspired leadership. Mr Mack, who Nigel shoved so abruptly out of his role was not so gracious, and said he was “surprised” and walked away loudly muttering. He is now standing as an Independent against Nigel.

 

Clacton is a lovely seaside resort (element of sarcasm here for those planning this year’s seaside holiday; you might prefer Salcombe or St Ives), popular with retirees and east London commuters. If anywhere in Britain might be described as Farage country, this is it.  But Nigel is not suddenly smitten with a love for Clacton or even an urge to enter into semi-retirement there.  He has, we suspect, been very closely reading the opinion polls and watching the Conservative Party’s predicted vote falling to possibly the lowest figure since 1906.  And suddenly he realises that he might, in the firestorm of right-side politics that is to come, benefit from being in the Commons and able to plot and scheme in those bars and tearooms.  Nigel tends to think that power lies in mass audiences; something he learnt during the Brexit campaign, his greatest triumph.  But if the Conservative Party collapses, with many of its big beasts having fled pre-contest or booted out by their voters, Nigel could be the kingpin, the Warwick the Kingmaker* of our days, who can reform the right of British politics to his own form and tastes.

 

Even if he does not win the Clacton seat, he has raised his personal profile, and given Reform an enormous boost in the polls. By splitting the former Tory vote he has brought a need for a Tory revolution even nearer and ensured himself a key role in it.  With a seat in the Commons he has the chance of even more influence and a natural platform which cannot be ignored.  The race is once again on for Nigel. A wise punter would not bet against him at this point.

 

 *Richard Neville (1428-1471), Earl of Warwick, who was the power behind various regimes during the Wars of the Roses.

 

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