When you arrive at the Brexit Party’s homepage the first image that greets you is a young black woman in a still from their European election YouTube video writes Andy Stowe. It’s their way of letting you know that you can be confident there’s nothing racist about them.
Normal service is resumed when you start playing it. Nigel Farage appears with the Dover cliffs behind him, dressed as if he’s about to go on a grouse shoot declaiming that “we have been betrayed” and asserting that the party is his personal creation. A few seconds later a young black man appears making an almost insurrectionary assertion that “when politicians fail to deliver, there must be consequences”. He’s followed by an entrepreneur and a retired rear-admiral filmed underneath Churchill’s statue in Whitehall. Cut then to Farage pointing at the camera in imitation of Kitchener’s World War One recruitment post to tell the viewer that “the Brexit Party needs you”.
Farage had never made any secret of the fact that he viewed the membership of Ukip as nutters and that he resented the organisation’s internal democratic processes. He disagreed violently with Ukip’s strategic decision to make an alliance with fascist organisations. What he has done very effectively is to retain Ukip’s reactionary British nationalist set of core ideas and pull together a devastatingly successful electoral machine which won 31.6% of the vote and 29 seats in the European elections in May. He humiliated both Labour and the Tories which respectively won 14.1% and 9.1% of the vote. Of course, he was helped in this by Jeremy Corbyn’s ambivalence on Brexit which led to many Labour voters defecting to the Liberal Democrats and the Greens in despair. But that’s another story.
The Liberal Democrats aren’t the only ones to come off the life support machine. Anne Widdecombe, a former Tory prisons minister who advocated chaining pregnant women prisoners to their hospital bed, has again come to prominence. And as with the election video she’s helping Farage send out messages to a section of their supporters. He knows that a chunk of the population is homophobic and having an elderly former Tory say on TV that maybe one day science will find a cure for being gay will go down well with them. If anyone complains he can condemn them for trying to censor free speech and the libertarians of the former Revolutionary Communist Party, who are also in the Brexit Party, will back him up. They’ll repeat the same trick when a prominent party member says something racist to reassure their voters that racism isn’t that bad really.
Trump’s visit to London has made it obvious that he sees Brexit as an important development for the hard right internationally. He met Farage after telling Theresa May that he wants the National Health Service to be part of a trade deal with the United States. He’s lent his support to Boris Johnson’s campaign to be Tory leader. He has been functioning not as a head of state visiting another country, but as a political activist taking part in an international factional struggle. He was egregiously rude to London mayor Sadiq Khan and Jeremy Corbyn in the way an English Tory would be and he’s actively trying to shape the direction of British politics.
Farage bragged after the meeting that Trump “really believes in Brexit”. Given that he has his eyes on winning a big share of the £127 billion NHS budget that’s hardly a surprise. The British ruling class affects to believe that it has a “special relationship” with the US, but from the point of view of American capitalism the British state is just another market it can sell things to and asset strip.
But this introduction of the most exploitative and inhuman American health practices is exactly what ideological free marketeers like Farage, Ree-Mogg and Johnson want. For them it’s the next chapter in the Thatcherite offensive against the welfare state and Brexit is an essential element of that.
A lot of people on the London demonstration against the visit had already worked this out. Many of them were wearing anti-Brexit T-shirts and badges or carrying placards. Stopping Brexit is not just part of the resistance to Trump, it is a crucial element of rolling back the resurgent European and international hard right.