Teaming up with Nigel Farage would trash the Conservative brand – The Guardian
Remember Cleggmania? When the Liberal Democrats look back on the election campaign of 2010, when their poll ratings hit the 30% mark, it must seem like a heady dream. Their final vote share wasn’t as high as some had hoped, but it was enough to bring Nick Clegg’s party into a coalition government and into power for the first time. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.
We all know what happened next, and why. The Lib Dems experienced electoral wipeout in 2015 as a result of allying themselves with a political party that their core voters found toxic.
It beggars belief that another major political party is considering a pact with an organisation many of its own voters loathe. Yet here we go again. On Newsnight on Monday evening, Crispin Blunt MP talked up the idea of the Conservatives making some kind of electoral arrangement with the Brexit party to ensure Brexit happens. Blunt has always been a bit of an outlier, but this time, he is only floating an idea that many of his colleagues have been collectively mulling over. The Conservative party is considering getting into bed with Nigel Farage.
Back in the day, Blunt seemed like the poster child for a new, modern Conservative party: fiscally conservative and from a Tory-friendly military background, he also advocated cannabis legalisation, criticised the presence of religion in the public space, and came out as gay a few months after David Cameron entered Downing Street, later even openly admitting he uses poppers in a parliamentary debate. When traditionalists attempted to deselect him a few years later – citing their sympathy for his separated wife in expressly homophobic terms – Tory modernisers rightly rallied to his defence. (They nicknamed his defence strategy Operation Meteor – wiping out the dinosaurs.) If Blunt is happy to play politics with Farage, the Tory modernisation project really is dead as a doornail.
Blunt, of course, would point out that any alliance with Farage is on a single-issue basis, because the Brexit party is a single-issue party. That may be true for the forthcoming European elections, which are shaping up to be the maddest national protest vote in British history. But let’s not kid ourselves about who Farage is, and what standing next to him on a platform or a ticket means. This is a man who proudly shares images of himself with Donald Trump; who has suggested people with HIV be banned from entering the country; who thinks women who have children are “worth less” to employers than men (childless or not). Farage doesn’t like to be reminded of all this at the moment – witness his hissy fit when Andrew Marr tried to raise similar questions last Sunday – but this is who he is. Invite him to your party? All those right-leaning social liberals Cameron and Osborne spent years wooing will depart in an instant for Change UK or the finally resurgent Lib Dems.
Even if today’s Conservatives have forgotten Clegg, they don’t need to look beyond their own party to recall what happens when soi-disant liberals get down in the muck with the nasties. Zac Goldsmith had made a name for himself as posh but progressive – the ultimate green Tory – until he allowed the strategist Lynton Crosby to run a racist mayoral campaign against Sadiq Khan. Friends of Goldsmith still whisper that he didn’t approve Crosby’s worst dog-whistles. His sister Jemima tweeted at the time, “Sad that Zac’s campaign did not reflect who I know him to be – an eco friendly, independent-minded politician with integrity”. But Goldsmith’s reputation has – rightly – never recovered. Team up with Farage, and the rest of Goldsmith’s party will learn all over again that toxic associations never rub off. It’s a lot harder to detoxify a political party than it is to poison it in the first place.
• Kate Maltby writes about theatre, politics and culture
This article originally appeared here in https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/may/14/conservatives-brexit-party-pact-trash-brand-nigel-farage