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The Farage Virus
“Nigel Farage is not an anti-Conservative: he’s a rebel Conservative.”
Matthew Parris, The Spectator, May 3, 2014
It was not something Conservatives in the UK needed. Certainly, Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party (Ukip) has them worried. Is he a true political virus, one engendered by the very political system that needs a good deal of self-purging? Each broader political movement will have to allow its symptoms to find a face, a voice, loud and sometimes so lucid it cuts through the machine talk, the technocrats, the scripted balderdash. That is what Ukip is – only as sensible as any emotion against a system that has been sanitised of prejudice or covered with gloss.
Farage, like many a condition, has been creeping up on establishment Britain, and, in fact, establishment Europe. Ukip is not, according to Matthew Parris of The Spectator (May 3), a national party so much as a Tory sickness. “Ukip has assumed the form of a political party but it is not a political party: it is a mutiny within Conservatism.” Farage may look like an externalised revolt, when in fact, he is an internalised insurrection channelling fundamental Tory sentiments.
This leads us to the ease with which Farage can be mocked. This is the political critic’s classic downfall. Attack his hypocrisy over Europe. Attack his clownish disposition, his ale-in hand conversational tone, his “People’s Army” message that strikes home to those in windcheaters and blazers. Assume the subject of your attack to be a buffoon, and let him make a buffoon of you. This was David Cameron’s mistake, who described Ukip in 2006 as a party of “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”.
The reversal, and a play on that reversal, is classic disaffected politics – Farage is the pretend outsider looking in, but is only playing the card because no one else, as it stands, can. The European project is wonky, the economy is woozy, and immigration is merely the smokescreen over broader issues of governance directed by Brussels. Farage doesn’t so much want to close the door as retrieve the keys.
His interview with Euronews (May 7) is fairly comprehensive. “We believe that the United Kingdom should be an independent, self-governing, democratic nation, not part of a political union with its headquarters in Brussels that now makes 75 percent of the laws of this country, costs us a fortune, and stops us making our own trade deals with the new and emerging economics of the world.” Farage’s Britain also wants to stretch its legs more and aim for the old markets of the Commonwealth and “English-speaking countries of the world”.
Farage also plays the ever convenient populist card, a view that embraces market capitalism while scolding the more unsavoury traits of big business – “big multi-national industries” that have capitalised on the free movement of goods and labour within the zone. “If you want to be completely ruthless about it, if I was the boss of a big business I would want to keep my wage bills low.” The British worker, in this scenario, misses out, even if Farage ignores the fundamental problem that the “British worker” would never want to engage the unskilled market in any case.
Farage can be formidable in his glibness. When confronted with questions about his German wife, who doubles up as conjugal partner and tireless secretary, he could only say that she was the only one capable of taking on the job. (No, she was not out there pinching the job a good English secretary might perform.)
The issue of race is also tiptoed around, since race lurks beneath many economic arguments where the pennies aren’t finding certain pockets. “There will always be in any system a few people who creep over the line and cause embarrassment. I would rather the 10 people – out of 2,234 (candidates) – who said things that are either stupid or offensive in some case – I’d rather it hadn’t happened” (Guardian, May 8). He has made it clear in interviews that he would not join the anti-establishment club of Front National of Marine le Pen or the political grouping of Geert Wilders from the Netherlands. Within those parties, “the French National certainly, there are still elements of the old anti-Semitic brigade and that’s of no interest to us” (Euronews, May 7).
Then there is the brazen approach to repudiating the EU while running in its parliamentary elections – in this sense, true to viral form, something introduced into the system to undermine it. In what is both a reflection of what Ukip is, and perhaps the European project more broadly speaking, we are bearing witness to an anti-EU party who is making its presence felt in the EU, who has 38 percent of the voting intention, according to a ComRes poll. The virus is unlikely to become the host, but it is bound to be around for a good stretch.
Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org