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Farage, extra-parliamentary politics and the left

How has Farage repeatedly failed to get elected to Parliament, but always succeeded in influencing parliamentary politics? KEITH FLETT looks at the tools available to the right and left locked outside of Westminster

THE Guardian journalist Aditya Chakrabortty recently wrote a typically to-the-point piece about Nigel Farage, what Faragism really means and why it has an impact.

Farage is standing for an eighth time as a parliamentary candidate in Clacton, having lost on seven previous occasions. He has been elected as an MEP — but as part of a party list that did not specifically require voters to ponder if they wanted to back him personally.

It’s difficult to see Farage being overly keen on up to five years as MP for Clacton. It would significantly constrain his media and money-making roles — and his US jaunts.

Yet part of his project is specifically parliamentary. The Tory Party is split and likely to do very badly at the polls. This could open the way for a further lurch to the right with Suella Braverman or even Farage himself as leader. Braverman is now arguing that Farage would be welcome in a remodelled Tory Party, after its election defeat.

Such a formation is likely to be deeply unappealing at the moment. But after a couple of years of a Starmer government that does little about everything that currently does not work in Britain, perhaps it will be much more appealing. The lessons of the European elections in France and Germany, where the far right gained at the expense of social democrat, centrist and Green parties, underline the point.

But the key part of Farage’s project is extra-parliamentary. Farage uses a mostly compliant media to float right-wing ideas and creates sufficient noise to get these picked up by parliamentary politics.

The left is hardly unfamiliar with extra-parliamentary politics. Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum built such a politics from 2015 and nearly won the 2017 election. In the end, though, Parliament won over pressure from outside of Westminster.

It’s a reminder of the point made by Ralph Miliband in his 1961 book Parliamentary Socialism that Labour is the most dogmatic of parties — not about socialism but about Parliament.

It is outside Parliament as much as at the ballot box that Farage and Faragism need to be challenged. The left is capable of doing that and has done so well within living memory in pushing back the National Front and the BNP. But no battle is ever finally won and it needs doing again. The threat of the far right is very real.

Yet if Farage has been successful at extra-parliamentary politics it’s worth remembering that so has the left. The political movement that is having the most impact currently are the huge demonstrations, college peace camps and local protests on Palestine.

We don’t need to look far back in recent history to see other examples of where left politics outside Parliament has made a real difference. In 1972 Pentonville dockers jailed for breaking earlier Tory anti-union laws were released after mass protests and walkouts. In 1990, it was not parliamentary debate that got rid of the poll tax but, again, a wave of demonstrations.

This is not to argue that parliamentary elections are unimportant. For Keir Starmer, they are the be-all and end-all. For the left, there is a more complex politics at work. With a first-past-the-post electoral system, it’s difficult to win seats without a well-organised political machine.

But a good election campaign can mobilise and organise activists and help to build campaigns outside of Parliament, while at the same time putting pressure on politicians that are elected.

The left doesn’t have the media support or the millionaire funding that the likes of Farage have. What it can have is something neither the right nor Labour currently has: people power in the communities and workplaces.

Keith Flett is a socialist historian. Follow him on X @kmflett.

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