“Despite revelations over the questionable views of his candidates and officials, an on-air grilling about the employment of his German wife and accusations of a ‘racist’ poster campaign, Nigel Farage remains on course for one of the greatest upsets in political history in next month’s European elections,” says Jane Merrick in The Independent on Sunday.
In a YouGov poll for The Sunday Times, Nigel Farage’s Ukip gained the lead for the first time with 31% support, three points ahead of Labour, leaving the Tories trailing a distant third on 19%. Later, a ComRes poll for ITV showed Ukip leading with 38%.
In a further blow to David Cameron, former Tory donor Paul Sykes, worth a reported £650m, is currently backing Ukip and has indicated he will bankroll the party at the next general election, increasing Farage’s chances of winning seats at Westminster, says Tim Shipman in The Times.
But Farage has said he will not stand in the Newark by-election following the resignation of Patrick Mercer, who quit over a cash for questions scandal.
He argues that standing would be a “massive distraction” from the European elections. What’s to be done, asks John McTernan in The Times. “Scandals that would halt mainstream politicians in their tracks seem merely to strengthen Farage.” This has led to a “defeatist view” that nothing can be done to prevent the rise of Ukip, a party that embodies the current “anti-political mood”.
In reality, there are ways to fight back. First, “have faith in the facts”. Two million of the 26 million jobless Europeans in the Ukip poster, for instance, are actually British. Pick at the “dangling thread” and the entire argument unravels.
Second, “use gentle mockery”. It’s “ludicrous” for a man who has been an MEP for 15 years to “claim to be a champion of the people”. It’s not the “detail of his expenses”, but the fact that he doesn’t turn up to vote (he reportedly has the fifth worst attendance record out of all 752 MEPs).
Third, “you beat populism by being popular”. Most of us would “give good money for a leader who is clear and direct and appealing”.
Actually, there’s not much mainstream politicians can do right now – although it’s obvious that disowning the “metropolitan elite” to which they belong is counter-productive, says Janan Ganesh in the FT.
The rise of populism is powered by long-term “structural trends”. First, the vote share of the two main parties has shrunk since 1950, leaving far more votes “up for grabs”.
Second, wage stagnation and unemployment, resulting from increasing global competition and automation, have produced a “sizeable” class of people who feel “frozen out by mainstream politics and its economic orthodoxies”.
Farage’s real test, however, comes with the general election. This is when mainstream politicians should remind populists who does the hard work: “representing constituents, reconciling competing claims and taking an interest in the dry corners of legislation that affect people’s lives… Seen from this angle, the ‘elite’ are the people who get their hands dirty. And populists who damn the whole spectacle from cosy sidelines are the truly decadent ones.”