John Harris

Journalist & Author

The energy behind Farage and his Brexit party leaves his rivals in the shadows | John Harris

His crude messages need to be fought with urgency and passion – precisely what the remain parties lack

Last Sunday, I went to a Brexit party rally in Frimley, Surrey. The venue was the Lakeside Hotel and Country Club complex, well known as the setting for international darts contests. Inside, 1,200 or so people had gathered to hear Nigel Farage and most of the party’s other would-be MEPs for the south-east region. The atmosphere was roughly as I had expected: highly charged, defiant, often strangely celebratory. But what was most striking was the slickness of the presentation: brisk, elegantly structured speeches and warm-up videos, and the clear sense that everyone had been told to lay off subjects that usually buzz around Farage – immigration, chiefly. Instead, they doubled down on the twin themes of Brexit being denied and delayed, and what that says about the people and institutions in charge of the country.

The first speaker was one Robert Rowland, a candidate with the face, haircut and stiff demeanour of a freshly bought Action Man. “If Brexit fails, we cease even to be a democracy,” he said. “The duplicitous professional political class will have prevailed. The last three years have seen Britain’s establishment – the civil servants, the majority of MPs from both parties, academia, the judiciary, and of course let’s not forget the BBC” – at this point, there were loud boos – “do their damnedest to delay, diffuse and dilute Brexit. Parliament has abolished the referendum and declared war on the British people … There might not be tanks on the streets, but make no mistake: this is a coup against democracy.”

Farage’s greatest asset is a discourse full of crude binaries, deepened by the hardcore postures struck by Theresa May

Related: Shocked by the rise of the right? Then you weren’t paying attention | Gary Younge

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