The fall of Farage: What next for Nigel?

Angus Walker

Former ITV News Correspondent

Without Nigel Farage, you could argue, we wouldn't have had this election.

His impact was felt in every constituency in the land and yet he's been left perhaps the biggest loser on the night. After all, it was his Brexit dream that was snatched from him.

He led a revolt against the mainstream for 25 years but ended up trampled by the masses choosing other parties at the polling stations. It all begs the question, where did Nigel Farage, the political pied piper, go wrong?

The first week of the Brexit Party campaign began with a stand-off and ended with hundreds of candidates being stood down.

In the weeks before the election was called, Nigel Farage had secretly offered to endorse the Conservatives, to back Boris Johnson publicly.

In exchange, according to Brexit Party sources, Nigel Farage wanted a 'free run' at a handful of Labour 'Leave' seats and an assurance from the Prime Minister of a 'hard' Brexit. It was an offer immediately refused.

The Conservatives haven't done formal election campaign deals with other parties since before the Second World War and that wasn't about to change.

Farage with supporters on the campaign trail. Credit: PA

That rejection wasn't taken well and the bitterness it caused made Nigel Farage issue an ultimatum on the first day of the campaign.

It was a last-ditch "unite or we fight" message delivered on stage at a church hall in Westminster. He urged Boris Johnson to "drop the deal" or he would unleash 600 candidates across the country to challenge the Tories in every seat.

He compared the Prime Minister's Brexit deal to a faulty "second hand-motor" and a "polished up" version of Theresa May's "appalling surrender treaty".

Setting off around the country he headed straight to the seats that the Tories would need to win from Labour if they had any chance of winning a majority. Bolsover was his first stop and he held that initial campaign rally in a boxing club.

The symbolism was blatant, the gloves were off. This was a Labour stronghold but with a heavy Leave vote.

Boxing in Bolsover - the gloves were off once the Tories rejected a deal. Credit: PA

There he told supporters that the Brexit deal was a treaty that "you would only sign if you had been defeated in war".

The Tories couldn't win there and only the Brexit Party could ensure a "clean break" from the EU. It was fighting talk.

But by the end of a week of taking that message to hundreds of supporters in Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Cumbria and South Wales, Boris Johnson was not budging.

Behind the scenes, senior Conservatives had been calling Farage, warning him that he risked humiliation if he didn't stand down his plan to field hundreds of candidates.

"They're rattled," one senior Brexit Party official told me. The deadline for nominations was approaching but it was Nigel Farage that was being stared out and he would soon have to make a decision.

In Newport, on the Friday of the first week of the campaign, he held a rally and his language had noticeably changed, now he was urging Boris Johnson to "toughen up" the deal. He had caved in.

Those same senior Tories were also urging Downing Street to give Nigel Farage "a ladder to climb down on" as one put it to me. On the Sunday, Boris Johnson released a social media video insisting Brexit trade talks with the EU would not continue beyond the end of December 2020.

Farage playing golf on a range at One Stop Golf in Hull. Credit: PA

A key demand from Nigel Farage had been met and that was enough for him to make a significant announcement the next morning. His party would now not field candidates in the 317 seats won by the Conservatives in 2017.

It was the moment that the Tories could now clearly see a majority in their sights without the risk of the Brexit Party splitting the Leave vote. It was arguably THE turning point in the Tory campaign.

The Brexit Party campaign itself continued with the leader on a nationwide tour but, from then on, it lacked momentum. A number of candidates who'd been stood down were now angry and disillusioned.

One called me to describe Nigel Farage as "a megalomaniac" leading "some kind of cult".

MEPs defected, warning that the Leave vote was being split and that Brexit itself was being threatened, ironically, by the Brexit Party.

The Brexit Party's short eight month lifespan had seen extraordinary success: winning the European elections in May thanks to Leave voters liking the clear "leave means leave" message.

Nigel Farage re-elected again to the European Parliament, he's been an MEP since 1999. Those shock results were a key factor in Theresa May then standing down. In his stump speeches, Farage often claimed credit for her departure.

Farage's tactics failed him on this campaign. Credit: PA

Those who know Farage well praise his campaigning instincts, his unfailing ability to judge the public mood.

For someone who tried and failed seven times to be an MP, he has had more influence over the political direction of the entire country than most elected politicians.

But during this campaign it's his tactics that have failed. He overestimated his usefulness to Boris Johnson who snubbed him and clearly bargained that he could win a majority without Farage's help.

He let down many of the party faithful when he scaled back the ambitions. The campaign was undermined by infighting and defections.

Far-right activists were exposed, and in Hartlepool, where Party Chairman Richard Tice was standing, a councillor and an official were dismissed for using racist language and Islamophobic comments, all captured by a Channel Four News undercover investigation.

After a cold, damp winter election, Farage has been frozen out. The ball had come out of the Brexit scrum and was grabbed by Boris Johnson while Nigel Farage was forced to watch from the sidelines as the Prime Minister ran towards the line.

His legacy cannot be underestimated. The Brexiter Conservative Andrew Bridgen says Farage was "essential for getting us a referendum" referring to his time as leader of UKIP, but that now "when the dragon's dead, no-one needs a dragon slayer".

Brexit is now mainstream and the man who started off shouting in the wilderness all those years ago, railing against the EU super-state, has been drowned out by even louder, more powerful voices.

Annunziata Rees-Mogg, Lance Forman, Lucy Harris and John Longworth resigned the whip to back the Tories. Credit: PA

During the campaign Farage was asked what he would do if he lost, if his Brexit Party failed to win a single seat, "you won't see me again" he replied.

Somehow I doubt that, but if he carries on fighting for a 'proper' Brexit he risks being compared to one of the Japanese soldiers who were still hiding out deep in the jungles of the South Pacific in the 1960s refusing to accept that WW2 was over.

What now for Nigel Farage? He says he's registered a new party, the Reform Party, to "Change Politics for Good" as the slogan goes. That could be the next incarnation of the Brexit Party.

Others who know him tell me he'll move to the United States in the new year to work for Fox News and on the 2020 campaign to re-elect the man he would coyly refer to in his speeches as "his American friend" - Donald Trump.

That's why he didn't stand for election himself this time around is the explanation they give to back up that claim.

There's even talk of a Knighthood. Arise Sir Nigel? That might raise a few eyebrows. But think back to that boxing ring in Bolsover where he began the national campaign tour, he's the one who's ended up being knocked out, again, but as we've seen, he's never down for long.