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What now for Brexit Party as Nigel Farage cancels two Black Country visits?

By Peter Madeley | Willenhall | General Election 2019 | Published:

Nigel Farage has traditionally done well in Dudley.

Nigel Farage has always drawn a crowd in Dudley, but he was forced to cancel Friday's visit to the town

Crowds flocked to see his appearance there in 2016, when as Ukip leader he rolled into town on the Brexit bus just a few weeks before Leave won the referendum.

He was warmly received this year too ahead of the European elections, when he came to tout his new gig, the Brexit Party, which he set up with the aim of sealing the departure from the EU that parliament was both incapable and unwilling to engineer.

Again, triumph was only days away, as the Brexit Party took more than five million votes and became the biggest party in the European parliament.

It takes a fair degree of charisma, a bit of wheeling and dealing and a whole lot of self-belief to forge a party out of the empty shell of Ukip and turn it into an election winner within half a year.

But things have quickly started to unravel, and voters in Dudley won’t get the chance to welcome Mr Farage to the town on his countrywide general election tour.

He should have been there yesterday morning, strolling around the Market Place before delivering a speech at a rally at the Town Hall and visiting Willenhall in the evening.

But he cancelled both events.

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The reason for his absence can be explained by the events of the previous afternoon, when shortly before 4pm, West Midlands MEP Rupert Lowe told the world that he was standing down as the Brexit Party candidate in the Leave dominated constituency of Dudley North.

Rupert Lowe had been due to stand in Dudley North

Both his reasoning – he endorsed the Tories in a bid to stop Labour – and the timing of his announcement were significant.

It initially appeared that Mr Lowe had bowed out just as nominations for the election closed, leaving party bosses with no time to find a replacement candidate.

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However, Mr Lowe has since said he informed party chairman Richard Tice of his decision on that morning, and had been asked not to go public at that point so as not to encourage other candidates to pull out.

For the organisers at the Town Hall it wasn’t the worst news in the world. At least they had a bit more time to get ready for last night’s entertainment – a Bruno Mars tribute band called Jeff Dingle.

But for Mr Farage it was a devastating blow, leading to what Mr Lowe described as a "very angry" phone call which no doubt involved a few choice words slung in his direction.

No Brexit Party in Dudley

His decision means Mr Farage’s party goes into the election without a single candidate in the Brexit heartland that is Dudley borough.

It also highlights that after years of getting everyone dancing to his tune, Mr Farage may well be losing his touch.

A look back over the past 10 days reveals a rudderless campaign where the self-styled King of Brexit has left his troops flapping in the wind while he has stumbled from one debacle to another.

First, he used a launch event in Westminster to announce 600 candidates would be standing. Many of them were there, having their pictures taken by the official party photographer and collecting nomination papers to sign.

It was time to fight Boris Johnson’s awful Brexit deal, Mr Farage told a cheering crowd, a deal that was barely better than Theresa May’s worst-deal-in-the-world and would see Britain tied to the EU for at least another three years.

But as the days went by no candidates were publicly announced.

Is Nigel Farage losing his touch?

Some were told by party officials to stay off the radar until further notice, an order that baffled candidates who were itching to get their message out to the people.

Then on Monday morning Mr Farage delivered another major announcement. He would not be fielding 600 candidates after all, having decided to stand aside in the 317 seats that the Tories won in the 2017 general election.

It was a remarkable climbdown, made all the more bizarre by the reasons behind it.

In short, he’d seen a video the PM had put on Twitter that made him think the Tories deal might not be so bad after all.

How a deal that hadn’t changed in the slightest could go from being terrible to plausible in the space of a few days was a real head scratcher.

Some assumed that Mr Farage had been in talks with the PM, and that some form of Leave pact been agreed by the two leaders.

But neither of those things happened.

Gamechanger

The gamechanger, as far as Mr Farage was concerned, was the PM’s claim that Britain would be out of the EU by 2020, and that he would pursue a Canada-style trade deal.

Yet by Thursday his message had changed again, and he was telling supporters at a rally in Hull that Mr Johnson was not to be trusted.

In the middle of all of this are the hundreds of candidates, many of them embarking on their first foray into politics, who he left without a platform.

Like many others, Stephen Petty, the party's former candidate in Walsall North, did not even get a phone call or an email telling him his services were no longer required.

Paul Brothwood saw the writing on the wall before the cull, pulling his candidacy in Dudley South and endorsing the Tories at the start of the campaign.

Aaron Hudson and John Cross refused to stand down without a fight, and are both contesting Black Country seats at the election as independent pro-Brexit candidates.

It is a picture that has been repeated across the country, and despite (in some cases) their warm parting words towards Mr Farage, many of those who have been sidelined feel he has let them down.

They have put their belief into campaigns that went nowhere, while Mr Farage has timidly waved the white flag and allowed the Conservatives a free run at the Brexit vote across half the country.

He is left pointing the finger over claims of back room deals and peerages being offered, and threatening to call the police over the alleged intimidation of candidates.

Is he really that bothered about what he calls "corruption" in politics, or is he just smarting because Big Bad Boris refused to let him into the gang?

If Mr Farage was serious about causing shockwaves in this election, he needed to show real conviction and back his candidates to the hilt.

Instead, his failed efforts to get a seat at the table mean his party may barely make a ripple.

Peter Madeley

By Peter Madeley
@P_Madeley_Star

Political Editor for the Express & Star. Responsible for local and national political stories, opinion, comment and analysis.

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