Farage and Cable: What the Brexit Party and Lib Dem leaders have in common

A peculiarity of the current political malaise is that Nigel Farage and Sir Vince Cable have quite a lot in common.

Primarily, both now look set to become the beneficiaries of the Brexit impasse in ways that neither truly anticipated until just a few months ago.

The reason behind the change in fortunes is the same for both – the government’s failure to deliver Brexit on the 29 March.

It was the twist in the story that changed everything and provided the touchstone for Mr Farage’s “betrayal” narrative, fuelling his new party’s lead in the polls ahead of the upcoming European Parliament elections.

But on the other end of the spectrum, that very same government failure has become the source of fresh belief that remaining in the EU might still be possible – a belief for which the Liberal Democrats have become the principal standard bearers, despite all of Change UK’s aspirations.

The apparent allure of these respective messages stems from the same thing – they are both offering simplicity and clarity in a debate that seems to be getting more polarised the more complicated the process becomes.

While Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn continue to attempt the near-impossible task of straddling both sides of their divided parties, Mr Farage and Sir Vince are organised and making hay at both ends of the national debate.

All the indications are that the results of the European elections could well see them both claim spoils that can be plausibly portrayed as debate-changing victories.

But the reality of the UK’s first-past-the-post general election system means that the impact of any such victories will likely be indirect.

While nothing is impossible, a fundamental realignment that sees both Labour and Conservatives implode at a general election to such a degree that either the Brexit Party or Lib Dems could form a government remains highly unlikely.

With Theresa May on the way out within weeks, what is almost certain is that Mr Farage’s true impact will be to scupper the chances of a moderate Conservative successor.

If a new Brexiteer Tory prime minister were to take control in September, vowing a no-deal exit from the EU and seeking a general election on that basis, would those currently backing Mr Farage risk splitting the national eurosceptic vote and potentially see Brexit lost entirely?

Meanwhile, if the Liberal Democrats beat Labour to second place in the European elections, the pressure on Mr Corbyn to change tack more enthusiastically towards a second referendum will only increase.

If the Labour leader were to ignore that, he would in effect be risking an almighty revolt within his membership base, and even his shadow cabinet, all for the sake of offering up a form of Brexit that most Brexiteers have already dismissed as being in name only.

So in both cases, it seems what Sir Vince and Mr Farage have in common is the potential to influence the two major parties more decisively from the outside that the respective leaders have been able to do from the inside.

It’s not perhaps the kind of power that an ambitious politician sets out for, but I suspect both men will take it.

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