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Nigel Farage can put this pointless Conservative Party out of its misery

Nigel Farage speaks at the Reform Party annual conference
Nigel Farage speaks at the Reform Party annual conference

To paraphrase Chicago’s song Harry Truman: Britain needs you, Nigel Farage. Nigel, won’t you please come home? 
While the Big Man has been flashing his bottom in the jungle, the Rwanda plan has fallen apart – culminating in the spectacle, this week, of the PM putting a bill to Parliament that both his former home secretary and immigration minister say won’t work.

I’m against it on principle. The plan is unethical; just as bad, it is impractical, and Rishi Sunak has made the fatal mistake of promising something he cannot do. To deport people to Rwanda (where, according to Human Rights Watch, “arbitrary detention, ill-treatment, and torture ... are commonplace”) requires a sustained fight against philosophy and laws – something Sunak has stopped short of, even though history shows that if any proposal contains even the smallest loophole, lawyers will push right through it.

The latest bill is certainly not watertight; a sizable rebellion is predicted. Given Sunak’s signature pledge to “stop the boats”, defeat should be considered a confidence matter – heaven knows, most of us are crying out for an election.

It’s in the best interests of conservatism. The longer Sunak stays in power, making elementary mistakes, the harder the Tories will find it to rebuild their reputation in opposition.

What wonderful timing, therefore, that this dingo’s dinner should take place just as Farage returns from his stint on I’m a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here! There’s a fantasy that once the Tories are out of office, he might become their leader, but I can’t even see the party machinery tolerating him becoming an MP. His chief role in the past decade has been to attack the Conservatives mercilessly from the Right, syphoning off votes to Ukip, the Brexit Party – which pushed Theresa May into fifth place in 2019 – and now Reform, of which he remains the “honorary president.”

The Conservatives hate him. I’m pretty sure he hates them. To Farage, they must seem less like a serious political movement than a social club, one from which he has been repeatedly excluded – denying him even the peerage that was rightfully his after the Brexit referendum. Of course, from time to time the two have found it expedient to flirt with each other, because they fish from the same pool of voters. In 2004, says Nigel, the Tories asked if he’d like to be a parliamentary candidate. According to Michael Crick’s biography, he approached them – and arrived at a secret meeting “dressed as a country squire”.

If Crick’s telling drips with snobbery, it’s because Farage embodies a brand of conservatism that the Tories rejected years ago – and base their self-worth on being a repudiation of.

He is provincial. He is perceived by many liberals to be a bigot. And perhaps worst of all, he smokes. At an elite level, the Tories have deliberately blurred their politics and style to look like Labour, at the same time that Labour has done its best to sound like Tories – with the result that to most voters politicians have become indistinguishable and 99 per cent of them are unrecognisable. This is what gives Farage his opening.

There was a fascinating moment in the jungle when contestants Tony Bellew and Josie Gibson interrogated Farage about his views and were surprised to learn that he doesn’t sit in the Commons. Later, Gibson said: “I had no idea he used to work for the European Parliament … It just goes to show how ignorant I’ve been!” Gibson is a presenter for ITV’s This Morning.

Perhaps people don’t know what Farage does, but they know where he stands, and his uniform of corduroys and cap – like Maggie’s handbag – unites political and personal.

Though I’m a Celebrity’s ratings were down (blame the death of TV) and Farage provided few viral moments because he was disarmingly emollient, many viewers will have said, “I heard this bloke was barmy, yet he seems all right to me” – and thus he flies home solidified in the consciousness as distinctive but also ordinary. Even distinctively ordinary.

Given that he has dedicated most of his life to the bizarro world of Eurosceptic politics, this is an astonishing achievement.

“But he’s never won a parliamentary seat!” cry the critics. True, but you can blame that on the first-past-the-post system – and if we did have PR, Ukip would have won enough seats in 2015 to form a coalition with David Cameron. Today Reform is pushing 10 per cent – competitive with the Lib Dems and far better than the Brexit Party in 2019 – a number calculated to cost the Tories up to 35 seats. What’s holding the party back is Farage putting his media career first.

If he returns to the leadership, he would probably destroy that daydream of ever being a big player in the Tories, but he might boost the Reform vote and perform a truly historic task.

Were the Tories simply beaten by Labour, it would be interpreted to mean that the public has swung to the centre-Left. If they are crushed completely thanks to a strong Reform performance it would send a very different message, that they can never regain power unless they relaunch as a party of the centre-Right. And I find this scenario increasingly attractive.

One thing the Tories have always held over small-C conservative voters is the warning: “Labour will be worse” – that if you let the Left in, Starmer will open the borders, raise taxes and hand the culture over to lunatics.

But given that the Conservatives have done all of those things with knobs on, how could granting Labour a Reform-assisted landslide be any worse than a substantial majority? It would certainly make for some compelling reality TV on election night.

I had never watched I’m a Celebrity before this series, but it has given me ideas. Now I can see the parliamentary Tory party being cocooned by spiders, snapped at by crocodiles and squeezed by snakes – until so many of them have been chased out of office by the restless voters that the next leader of the party has to be selected by its two remaining MPs, Des Swayne and Christopher Chope. Do it, Nigel! Make it happen!

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