What a difference a week makes. This time last Saturday, I was watching Nigel Farage’s ragtag rebel army in Great Yarmouth struggling to rouse themselves for one last attack on the fortress of Westminster, somehow knowing in their heart of hearts it was doomed. And yet, here we are, seven days on: the walls protecting the Conservative Party have been breached and Faragistes are streaming forward, the smell of revolution in the air.

“You’re all freedom fighters!” the party’s candidate, Rupert Lowe, boomed enthusiastically last week to the room of 50 or so supporters who had gathered at the Rumbold Arms. Smiling politely back, the Reform party activists nursed their coffees and early morning pints. They did not look like a revolutionary battalion.

And yet, this week some of the country’s leading pollsters are not simply forecasting the expectedly comfortable Labour victory, but an extinction-level event for the Conservatives — and one caused not by unprecedented support for Labour but an unprecedented implosion in support for the Tories, much of which is moving directly to Reform.

This is partly thanks to Rishi Sunak’s astonishing political ineptitude. His decision to call the snap election was disastrously misjudged. But the idiocy in cutting short his involvement in the D-Day commemorations, days after announcing plans for national service in order to win back wavering Reform voters, defies all explanation. Even Liz Truss would have got that one right.

The decision to elevate Sunak to the premiership, it is clear, was a catastrophic mistake. He is lost. It is not enough to act as though you are simply a more important Chancellor of the Exchequer, or national head boy. The job of prime minister is a role you have to play — consoling the country in times of sorrow, explaining in times of strife, and representing when the occasion demands. Being “across the numbers” is not enough.

But the public had abandoned Sunak long before Thursday’s D-Day catastrophe. In Yarmouth, I was struck by the venom felt towards him. “He’s a little weasel,” said one Reform supporter who still longed for Johnson. “Boris told too many lies,” he said. “[But] I would’ve trusted him. He would’ve got this country back.” This man didn’t care about the lies; he cared about the message. And as a result, he cares about Farage.

Is this “populism” in action, then? Is this evidence of a Great British underclass who cannot see the errors of its ways, who like a dog keeps returning to its vomit? This certainly seemed to be the assumption lying at the heart of much of the commentary in recent days. Take Emily Maitlis’s line of questioning when she quizzed Farage after his announcement to run in Clacton-on-Sea. “Would you apologise for what Brexit’s done to Clacton?” she asked, as if the area were a thriving land of opportunity before the 2016 referendum.

“Here is a system so morally broken it produces unacceptable results for both the migrant workers and the locals.”

Maitlis is certainly correct that Clacton is poor. In Tendring, the district where Clacton belongs, a third of the population between 16-64 are economically inactive — 50% higher than the national average. But a third of the population was also economically inactive 10 years ago. And between a quarter and a third were economically inactive 10 years before that. Clacton’s problems run deep, just as they do in Great Yarmouth and much of the rest of the country. Maitlis and everyone else knows this, of course, which is why there was something particularly revealing about her exchange with Farage. What immigration is for the Right, Brexit has now become for the Left — an easy and ultimately populist explanation for Britain’s current woes. But it does not explain why voters wanted to rip up the status quo before Brexit.

And here is the crux of the matter: the status quo is failing. It was failing before Brexit and it hasn’t stopped failing. Maitlis knew her question to Farage was bogus on Tuesday. We all did. We can see it happening before our very eyes: even as we apparently get richer, our surroundings deteriorate.

Yarmouth is a perfect example of this. Much of the town centre is filled with once-grand Edwardian villas or Victorian terraces, which have been broken up into slum-like HMOs to house poor migrant workers, many of whom work miles away in appalling conditions. Meanwhile, just like Clacton, almost a third of the town’s working age population is out of work.

According to a recent study by Cambridge professor Catherine Barnard, Yarmouth’s migrant workers spend so much time working in factories without a single British employee that many cannot speak English even years after arriving. Meanwhile, those who moved to Britain in the early 2000s after the eastern expansion of the EU are now reaching an age where they are so broken by the physical demands of their work that they will soon fall back on the state and local services to pay for care. We have, in effect, created a giant human Ponzi scheme whereby we import workers to fix the systemic contradictions of our economy, only to have to find even more migrant workers to care for them when they retire in ill health.

Here is a system which is so morally broken it produces unacceptable results for both the migrant workers, who deserve far more protection, and the locals, who have seen their town transformed by a demographic upheaval which has done nothing to improve their lives.

At the Reform rally in Yarmouth one man stood out amid the sea of white faces: Ebenezer Amoah, a good-looking, smartly dressed, 33-year-old teacher in the town who had only recently arrived from Accra in Ghana. Ebenezer was a striking presence in the Rumbold Arms, strolling through the elderly crowd, AirPods in ear, to take his seat at the back. I grabbed him afterwards, keen to find out how he had become a Reform supporter. “I went onto the website and checked their policies,” he explained straightforwardly, as if everyone did that. But what did he make of the party’s one-in, one-out immigration policy? “You cannot illegally come to England, you have to go the right way,” he replied. “If Reform is bringing out a policy that will restrict immigration then, of course, it is for the betterment of the people. Citizens of England deserve to live their lives in a better way.”

Talking about how he had settled into Yarmouth, he told me there was certainly a different attitude to discipline in English schools. And towards our attitude to fishing. “We have a huge fishing community in Accra,” he said. “Each and every government that comes in tries to have a way to better the life of the fishing community.” This, he said, was different in Britain. “I think that is very unfortunate.” What really struck me, though, was his surprise at the liberalism of the British state. Four months after arriving in Yarmouth from Ghana, Ebenezer had concluded the British government needed to be more British.

June Mummery, the Reform party candidate for Lowestoft, had the same message. June’s anger at the Conservative Party’s betrayal over Brexit was deep and heartfelt. She ran the fish market in the town and believed sincerely that restoring full control of the country’s fishing waters was the key to restoring lost glory to Britain’s seaside towns. Once the fishing fleets were repatriated, the food production jobs, the markets and the restaurants would also return. Boris Johnson had told her he would deliver, and she felt a “fool” that she believed him.

The political scientist Christopher Browning understands the psychology of this sort of revolution. He has written about the economic and cultural changes that can take place in a country where many people had been made to feel like “strangers in their own home”. Those who once saw themselves at the nation’s “heartland”, he wrote, “have not only become alienated, they have also been socially stigmatised and shamed”. These people are now marching in Farage’s rebel army. Brexit, in this telling, was an attempt to recover an older Britain — and a lost status — which had disappeared. The inevitable result is further alienation and radicalisation.

June’s fury with the Government for abandoning Britain’s coastal communities had similarly grown since Brexit as Lowestoft and Yarmouth continued to suffer. “Yes!” she exclaimed. “Because we had it in our hands. We had great plans. It was wonderful and they just destroyed it.” Now she wants to destroy the Conservative Party in return.

“They had a wonderful majority and they squandered it.” It’s hard to argue with her. A ruling party elected four times to reduce debt, taxes and immigration has instead overseen an explosion of all three. And at the same time, living standards have barely grown since 2008 and public services have deteriorated. Is it any wonder voters keep pressing a button to blow up the system, and get angry when they discover the dynamite never seems to work?

“[If] the town and the tide had not been quite so much mixed up, like toast and water, it would have been nicer,” Charles Dickens wrote of Great Yarmouth in David Copperfield. Something similar could be written about Brexit and this election today. Although Brexit is neither the cause of the country’s problems, nor on the ballot paper on 4 July, the great revolution of 2016-2020 continues to define our politics. The Conservative Party needed a Napoleon. Instead they got Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak. No wonder Farage’s revolutionary army is again on manoeuvres.


Don’t miss Tom’s podcast special on Farage’s rebel army. Listen here.

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Source: UnHerd Read the original article here: https://unherd.com/