Who is the most successful British politician of the 21st century? The depressing answer, according to the election expert John Curtice, is Nigel Farage.
One can see what he means. David Cameron conceded a referendum on British membership of the European Union (EU) in large part to undercut the electoral threat that Ukip—led by Farage—posed to the Tories. Instead Farage and his allies won the referendum and destroyed Cameron.
Why? Because Brexit has thrown the two main parties and the political system they dominate into complete disarray.
This is particularly true of the Tories. Many of their MPs and most of their activists want to break completely with the EU but the bulk of big business desperately want to maintain close connections with Brussels.
Squeezed between these two forces, Theresa May struck a deal with the remaining 27 EU member states that pleased no one.
Worse still, she has been unable to get it through the House of Commons, where none of the mainstream solutions to the Brexit conundrum seems to have a majority.
It looks as if the Tories will be severely punished for this paralysis in this week’s European elections. This has been obvious for weeks. But now the spotlight is on Labour.
The tragedy is that Jeremy Corbyn could have transformed the referendum campaign back in 2016.
But the Labour right wing that dominated the Shadow Cabinet blocked Corbyn from advocating the position for which he had long stood—a break with the EU from the left.
So the referendum campaign was dominated by the neoliberal centre defending the EU and the Tory right and UKIP leading the Leave camp. Both sides were quite happy to whip up anti-migrant racism.
After the referendum Corbyn cultivated an ambiguous stance on Brexit that stood him in good stead in the general election of June 2017.
Here he won the support of both Remainers and Leavers who liked his principled opposition to austerity. But now it’s make up your mind time.
Corbyn has been paralysed by the pressure of the Labour right to take up essentially a Remain position centred on the demand for a second referendum. He hasn’t caved in, but Labour’s drift means it looks set to lose votes to both the Brexit Party and the pro-Remain camp.
So it is the paralysis of both Tories and Labour that have given Farage his opening. He hopes to use a big vote on Thursday to make the far right a serious electoral force in British politics, as it is in much of continental Europe.
It’s also clear that the supposedly “progressive” pro-Remain parties—Liberal Democrats, Greens, and the incompetent rabble that is Change UK—are targeting Labour voters.
In doing so they are not simply seeking to reverse the referendum result. They are doing the dirty work of big business, which is terrified of a Corbyn government.
The main issue in the European elections is not Brexit, strange though it may seem.
It is whether Labour is going to have the chance to put forward a left wing alternative to the neoliberal austerity that has devastated British society for the past decade. Compared to this, whether Britain stays in the EU is a secondary issue.
If you have any doubts about this, consider how the Tories are likely to respond to a Brexit Party triumph in the European elections.
May will be shuffled off the stage as quickly as possible. Boris Johnson is almost certain to win the subsequent Tory leadership election as the person most likely to see off the threats from both Farage and Corbyn.
This will probably mean a no-deal Brexit. It will in the short term also mean a right wing Tory government aligning itself as closely as possible to Donald Trump.
Also in the short term, the only force standing in the way of this prospect electorally is Labour under Corbyn. Therefore what we need to see on Thursday is the biggest possible Labour vote.