Nigel Farage, for so long the hero of the Brexiteers, has finally been well and truly trashed by the Tory tabloids, his erstwhile cheerleaders.
In Boris Johnson’s hour of need, Farage has been abandoned by newspapers that once went to the utmost lengths to promote his cheeky-chappie bloke-next-door image, pint of beer in hand.
When the Conservative Party is desperate for every vote to deliver Johnson’s deal for the UK to exit the European Union by 31 January 2020, Farage became expendable, tossed aside into an already overflowing bin of broken Brexit promises.
“Stand down, Nigel!” was the clarion call of the Daily Mail (9.11.2019) as pressure mounted on the Brexit Party leader to withdraw his troops from the election so as not to split the Leave vote.
When Brexit Party candidates were pulled from 317 Conservative-held seats, there was short lull in the offensive: “Farage ‘bottles it’ in boost for Boris” (London Evening Standard, 11.11.2019);
“Nice one, Nigel...but it’s still not enough” chorused the Daily Mail (12.11.2019).
A partial retreat was never going to satisfy the demands of Johnson’s press supporters:
“48 hours to do the decent thing, Nigel” was the Sun’s diktat (13.11.2019) as the Conservatives tried – and eventually failed -- to persuade Farage to withdraw candidates from Labour marginals being targeted by the Tories.
Columnists had been wheeled out in a vain attempt to soft-soap the Brexit leader into making a full retreat: “Arise Baron Farage of Brexit” was Richard Littlejohn’s try-on. (Daily Mail, 12.11.2019).
Stephen Glover argued that an apparent surrender would be statesmanlike: “Patronised. Belittled. But now the real threat of Farage’s legacy is...himself.” (Daily Mail, 14.11.2019)
Weasel words cut no ice the battle hardened Brexiteer. By sticking to his guns, and fielding Brexit Party candidates in a total 274 Labour-held seats, Farage has retained, for the moment, at least some degree of political leverage over Johnson.
In previous years, throughout the rise of the United Kingdom Independence Party – and latterly the Brexit Party – media allies were all too eager to manipulate Farage in support of a shared objective to push the Conservative Party ever onward in curbing immigration and leaving the European Union.
For almost a decade Farage was feted with double-page spreads and given the top spot for his signed columns, exposure that peaked in the run-up to the 2013 council elections and then before the European Parliamentary elections of 2014 and 2019.
By constantly promoting Farage in his drive to sweep up as much as possible of the anti-EU vote, the electoral success of UKIP -- and then the Brexit Party -- could be used by Conservative-supporting newspapers as yet another line of attack in press campaigns to harden up the policies of David Cameron and then Theresa May.
Until recent weeks Farage had accumulated a roll of honour in the headlines and front pages of the Brexit press that had proved far more enduring than that of any of his rivals.
On the day after the 2016 European Referendum, a photograph of a jubilant Farage, arms aloft, filled the Daily Mail’s front page. “We’re out” was the banner headline. (24.6.2016)
Again in 2019, after the declaration of results in the European Parliamentary elections when the Brexit Party topped the poll, a picture of Farage being applauded by his supporters dominated the front of the Daily Mail under the one-word headline: “Earthquake”. (27.5.2019)
Farage’s electoral success in May this year was the final nail in the political coffin of Theresa May and helped to ensure Johnson a two-to-one victory in the Conservative leadership election.
But once arch Brexiteer Johnson was safely installed in 10 Downing Street as Prime Minister, Farage’s usefulness to the Tory press was always going to be time limited.
Perhaps the one surprise was that it was his political chum across the pond who saw the writing on the wall and was the first to act:
“Trump tells Farage: Do deal with Boris” (Daily Mail, 1.11.2019).
The Brexit press took Trump’s cue and the Brexit leader was told in no uncertain terms that he had no alternative but to team up with Johnson and that if he did, they would, in the view of the US President, make an “unstoppable force”.
At the midway point in the election campaign, the Tory newspapers seem to have adopted the tactic of trying to ignore Farage and his party, in the belief that this is perhaps the best way to limit the Brexit Party’s impact in the all-important Tory targets in the Midlands and the North of England.
Nonetheless the closer it gets to polling day another Farage hatchet job might be in the offing and prove too tempting for the Tory tabloids to resist.
Illustrations: Daily Mail (9.11.2019); London Evening Standard (11.11.2019); Sun (12.11.2019).