The Wat Tyler of his time? Farage ascends but history serves him an important warning

So after a prolonged, divisive, fraudulent campaign, the British people have confirmed their gullibility by voting to ‘Leave’ the European Union. Heavily influenced by a baying tabloid press and their own xenophobia, 52% of the population has ignored reason and morality to serve a devastating blow to the continent as a whole.

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The disgraceful lies of the ‘Leave’ campaigners – particularly their spurious claims of £350m savings from the EU budget being re-diverted to the NHS – and the tabloids’ predatory insinuations about the potential for mass immigration should the UK retain the status quo, have proved significant. They were too strong for the ‘Remain’ campaign and its divided Tory leadership, the pitiful showing of Jeremy Corbyn and his Labour party’s misreading of their own supporters. Despite an overwhelming majority in Scotland and London favouring continued EU membership, most of the rest of the UK decided that it was time that Britain cut ties with its European neighbours. Even Wales, a former Labour heartland reliant on extremely generous subsidies from Westminster, voted ‘Leave’.

Of course throughout the entire build-up to the referendum, one figure stood above all: Nigel Farage, the UKIP leader, a man compared by some political commentators as the ‘Wat Tyler of our time’.

Farage: an ordinary, decent bloke
Farage: an ordinary, decent bloke

On first glance it might seem odd to compare the back-stabbing, vituperative, unrepentant Farage to the 14th century leader of the Peasants’ Revolt. But a closer look reveals some intriguing similarities.

Like Tyler, Farage hails from Kent and has constantly been at pains to point out his status as an ‘ordinary, decent’ bloke, concerned only with the ‘true desires’ of ‘ordinary, decent people’. Tyler, too, was a self-styled man of the people, his obscure origins clouding just how ‘ordinary’ he actually was. Nevertheless, both men can undoubtedly be seen as political opportunists.

The Peasants’ Revolt ostensibly arose as an opposition to King Richard II’s implementation of a poll tax. Whilst certainly an extremely unpopular measure, the grievances of the peasantry were at this point in history many. Following the devastating Black Death of the mid-century, the economic conditions of an underpopulated realm were dire. Furthermore, their social and political prospects were non-existent, the elitist royal state more reminiscent of an oligarchy by the day, the pre-Magna Carta times relived even for those of ‘lesser’ noble blood.

The Black Death ravaged 14th century England, as it did much of Europe
The Black Death ravaged 14th century England, as it did much of Europe

Tyler united his peasant forces around the issue of the poll tax, even if this was just one facet of a class-wide dissatisfaction. Similarly, Farage almost exclusively campaigned on a single issue; immigration. This was a ruthless platform – accompanied by Nazi-style propaganda posters depicting an apocalyptic post-Turkey accession to the EU – harnessing the powers and immorality of the popular mass media to forge a xenophobic unity across vast swathes of the country.

However ‘inspirational’ such leaders at first appear to be, long-term success is far from guaranteed when trying to control a popular mass movement anathema to the ruling elite. And however many MPs, Lords and Ladies voted ‘Leave’, the vast majority of both Houses of Parliament will be infuriated by the results of the referendum.

Wat Tyler overreached himself in 1381, having been granted an unprecedented audience with King Richard at Smithfield. Chroniclers regale how Tyler spoke to the king with ill-disguised contempt, addressing him in overly-familiar terms that would have been heretical to his 14th century contemporaries. This after a panicked King Richard had agreed to concessions for the peasantry.

After being called ‘the greatest thief and robber in all Kent’ by a royal aide, Tyler went on the rampage, which included an attempt to stab the Mayor of London. In the ensuing melee Tyler was wounded, although he managed to briefly escape to a hospital for the poor on the outskirts of the city. His respite was brief, however, the damage already done. Dragged back to the Smithfield by the Mayor and his supporters, Tyler was publicly decapitated, his head stuck on spike and displayed on London Bridge as a warning to the rebels. King Richard reneged on his promises and the peasants left empty-handed to return to their lives of toil.

Wat Tyler meets his death at Smithfield
Wat Tyler meets his death at Smithfield

Farage is unlikely to meet such a grisly fate, although one would suspect that there are no shortage of people who would revel in seeing his grinning mug impaled upon a famous London landmark. However, to reach the top, Farage has alienated the majority of his past supporters and made promises to the electorate that he is either not in the position to keep, or were downright lies in the first place.

When Brexit takes affect and Britain’s economy goes into nosedive, when immigration continues at a steady pace and multiculturalism takes hold even more firmly in British cities, what then? Who will the people that voted ‘Leave’ blame for the false promises and the sugar-coated apparitions of a non-existent future?

Farage’s finest hour may belatedly have arrived but like Tyler it is not destined to last for time immemorial. The elite forces who steer the country will soon end their bickering and rally to preserve the status quo. Brexit may yet happen but the admittedly unforeseeable consequences are unlikely to satiate the demands of a rebellious, ill-informed electorate.

The Mayor of London’s sword is being readied, the spike atop London Bridge receiving a first coat of wax in anticipation of the coming storm. What remains to be seen is how Farage negotiates his own exit because, however convincing this master orator can be, his fall will duly come.

As with Tyler, his will be a legacy of futile rebellion.

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Author: Stefan Lang

An interested observer of current affairs, researcher and writer

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