Farage is back. Again.
Or perhaps, following his call in last week’s Telegraph that a revolt on the right is brewing and he’s ready to be part of it, it’s more accurate to say that the former UKIP, Brexit and Reform Party leader never really left.
After all, he’s been busy for an absent man. Since his last supposed return in November, Farage has interviewed Donald Trump on his own designs for a second run at power, taken on a daily primetime slot for GB News, and, for that special someone, has offered (now discontinued) personalised video messages via Cameo for £75 a pop.
I scoff but the UK political establishment underestimates Farage at their peril. The reason being his unique ability to connect a vast constellation of seemingly disconnected issues where the government is on the ropes, and to do so loudly and frequently. Anger over a botched Brexit and refugee Channel crossings? Tick. A referendum on net-zero? Check. A threat to defy future lockdowns? Farage is your guy.
Yesterday, Farage was front-and-centre in supporting Novak Djokovic’s successful appeal to have his Australian visa restored after failing to comply with vaccination rules on entry to the country, even flying to a snowy Belgrade at short-notice to interview the Djokovic family. A resulting Twitter spat with Sir Andy Murray which features on many of this morning’s front pages shows Farage’s continuing knack to make the most of a controversy.
The threat to the government, and the prime minister in particular, is that these issues present an emergent worldview which poses problems on the Conservative benches. Where once some of Boris Johnson’s loudest cheerleaders saw him as the populist who delivered Brexit, he is now a big state, lockdown-loving persona non-grata, too, trigger happy in his moves to subsidise green energy through higher bills and tax rises. The party’s right wing is taking note: Steve Baker, an MP who was instrumental in Johnson’s rise to power, has railed against the current net-zero strategy and that his constituents are not going to vote to make themselves “poorer and colder”.
Farage thinks the cost-of-living crisis that many expect in 2022 is the powder keg that will ignite government opposition. He writes that if Reform Party leader Richard Tice can seed the message that 25% of rising electricity bills subsidise green energies, and that a five per cent VAT energy rate has, despite promises, not been removed, then the party has “a big chance”.
He may be onto something. Yesterday, YouGov polling suggested up to a third of voters expect their energy bills to become unaffordable this year. That matters for the Red Wall seats where Johnson won his majority. As Aditya Chakrabortty writes in The Guardian, “In true-blue Woking, only 6% of households are in fuel poverty; in Workington, by contrast, which went Tory only in 2019, that proportion is nearly 14%.”
And with suggestions today that a £1 billion green levy which would add £29 to the average annual energy bill may be dropped after all, Farage’s strategy seems to be getting through.