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Paul Vallely: Why Nigel Farage so riles the Conservatives  

28 June 2024

His comments on Russia are not the real cause, writes Paul Vallely

Alamy

Nigel Farage speaks at a campaign rally in Devon on Monday

Nigel Farage speaks at a campaign rally in Devon on Monday

THE nation’s politicians are united in one thing: their condemnation of Nigel Farage, for his ill-timed suggestion that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was provoked by the “ever-eastward expansion of NATO and the European Union”. The vehemence of the attacks should remind us of the importance of the Farage factor in this General Election.

The condemnation of the man Russia’s propaganda chief fondly refers to as “Nigel” is pretty universal here. Senior Conservatives have accused him of “playing into Putin’s hands” and “waving the white flag to tyrants”. The former head of NATO condemned him for “cuddling up to the Kremlin”, while a former head of the army said that Mr Farage did not “have a point worth listening to about anything”.

Yet, as Simon Jenkins has pointed out, at the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev pleaded with NATO not to extend its membership to the countries bordering Russia, for fear that it would rile Moscow’s belligerent chauvinists. The United States and other Western nations gave a verbal agreement to this, but did not keep their word, despite statesmen such as Henry Kissinger warning against inflaming Russian nationalism, not least over Ukraine, cradle of Holy Rus.

But this is not really about Russia. That was clear when Boris Johnson condemned Mr Farage’s “nauseating ahistorical drivel” about Ukraine, and the Reform UK leader switched tack by calling Mr Johnson the “worst prime minister of modern times”, who “opened the door to mass immigration” and “betrayed the will of Brexit voters”. For good measure, he threw in a sideswipe about the cupidity and stupidity of a self-entitled Tory elite betting on their own election date.

What really upsets Conservatives is that, at the last election, Mr Farage bolstered the massive Tory majority by withdrawing his Brexit Party candidates, to allow Mr Johnson a clear run. But, this time, his Reform party is challenging Conservative candidates head on, leading polls to predict the wipe-out of his erstwhile Leave allies.

Yet, things are not going straightforwardly for Mr Farage. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has accused him of offering voters “unattainable” tax claims, which have helped to “poison the entire political debate”. And not even his own supporters gullibly swallow the facts behind all of Mr Farage’s flamboyant rhetorical flourishes.

One Reform dissident recently emailed him (sending me a copy), complaining that Mr Farage’s “Britain is Broken” slogan revealed an “inability to find anything good” in the UK, which was a serious weakness. The Reform leader laments that the country is “skint”, \nx yet this is in no small measure caused by the policies of Liz Truss, which, at the time, he endorsed, speaking of “the best Conservative budget since 1986”. He ignores the improvements that Rishi Sunak made to Mr Johnson’s bad Brexit deal, and the steps, “inadequate” though they may be, “to reduce the terrible immigration figures”. The writer ended, cuttingly, by referring to him as Nigel Mirage.

The Reform leader seems sanguine, despite the blizzard of Tory attacks on him. Indeed, from the way in which he doubled down on his insistence that his views on Ukraine could open the door to peace talks, he probably regards all those embittered Tory philippics as a badge of honour. Criticisms from his own members, however, might well be more worrying.

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