Nigel Farage is a coward, yet Cameron and Miliband are too gutless to attack
At Rochester, the main party leaders showed they are too frightened to take on Ukip’s rabble-rouser in chief
You cannot describe Ukip as a far-right party without running into trouble. Respectable commentators tell you that, while individual members may be neo-fascists and that while Ukip had indeed allied with far-right parties in Europe, it does not come from fascist tradition. And I just about accept that.
Hardly any commentator, respectable or otherwise, notices that Nigel Farage has created his own stab-in-the-back myth. The treacherous “Westminster elite” so despised the decent people of Britain that it flooded the land with foreigners who “took our country from us”. This is the manure in which far-right movements have always grown. But, once again, if anyone objects, I accept that Farage is not a führer or duce.
Rather than arguing about labels, let us agree to allow the facts to speak for themselves. Farage is a rabble-rouser and a coward. He plays with racism, the way Ian Paisley used to play with sectarianism: whips it up, then backs off just before he can be accused of inciting violence.
He does not attend the meetings of the European parliament to defend British interests but pockets the money of the “hardworking taxpayers” he affects to represent and skips away. He claims to be a patriot while defending Britain’s enemies in the Kremlin. He claims to be the friend of the working man, while slapping down his economics spokesman for proposing tax rises that would hurt his backers in the City.
As for the men and women he leads, Ukip candidates and donors have suggested they want to drive Lenny Henry out of Britain because he is black, bar women from the boardroom and stop gays from having sex because as, everyone knows, God punishes the sin of Sodom by flooding the Thames Valley.
If you cannot call Ukip a far-right party, you can at least say that it is an alliance of the septic and the geriatric: a movement of the empty-headed led by the foul-minded.
It tells you everything about the absence of principle in the mainstream parties that they don’t even try to beat Farage. Political commentators could not have been more foolish when they believed David Cameron’s promise to “throw everything” he had at stopping Ukip winning in Rochester.
Cameron may have thrown money and marketing strategies, but he did not throw punches. The Conservative attack on Ukip’s ideas never came. Cameron, who once presented himself as a moderate, instead conceded acres of ground to the extremists, no more so than on the immigration question.
As late as March 2013, Cameron was careful to preface a speech proposing restrictions on immigration by praising “Polish heroes who fought for us during the war, West Indians who helped us to rebuild afterwards, those who’ve come to our shores seeking a safe haven from persecution”.
He understood the dangers of provoking hatred and worked to ensure that no racist party or thug, and no employer or landlord looking to exclude blacks, could find comfort in what he said. You no longer hear Cameron insist that most immigrants are good and hardworking people. He has abandoned the centre and veered to the right. The good manners he learned at Eton have deserted him on the way – and what is the point of having an old Etonian if he doesn’t know how to behave? The new Cameron wants to show Ukip voters that he is just as right wing as Farage. Even when Mark Reckless proposed the repatriation of immigrants living in Britain, the Tories did not hammer him for fear of appearing soft.
Alex Massie of the Spectator brilliantly summarised Cameron’s strategy of never allowing Farage to outflank him on the right by saying that it came down to the slogan: “Ukip are right: don’t vote for them!”
The funeral of Cameron’s gutless strategy came when a desperate prime minister appealed to the centrists among Labour, Green and Liberal Democrat supporters in Rochester to vote tactically to stop the extremist Ukip candidate winning. Reasonable people could not see the difference between the extremist Cameron and extremist Farage and ignored him.
Cameron’s capitulation carries a warning. He won’t fight Ukip not only because he is frightened of Farage but because he is a prisoner of his party’s right. If he wins the next election, we now know that he will keep capitulating because he is a leader without honour or inner strength, whose own cynicism defeats him.
Not that Ed Miliband is any better. Cameron has tried and failed to pull the political insiders’ “triangulation” trick, practised by Bill Clinton: get close to your opponent (Ukip in this case), steal his votes and victory is yours. Miliband has tried to follow the “core vote” trick of George W Bush and Barack Obama: get out Labour’s “core” – about 30% of the electorate – throw in old Lib Dems, who cannot forgive the Tory alliance, that’s another 5%, and, eureka!, our strange electoral system will deliver victory. Like a child building a house out of Lego bricks, Miliband thought he could pick up the handfuls of voters he needed for victory and forget about the rest.
A friend should have told him that astounding condescension lay at the heart of his “35% strategy”. Labour assumed that its “core” supporters would not listen to anyone else; that, even at a time of economic distress and political disintegration, Labour “owned” them.
For years now, I and others have been waiting for Miliband to launch a sustained attack on Ukip with whatever vigour the poor thing could manage. But even in this year’s European elections, he preferred to ignore a radical rightwing party, which was heading for victory, and emptied his revolver into the corpse that was once Nick Clegg. You see it was more important for Miliband to remind his Lib Dem Lego bricks that they should stick with Labour rather than fight a foul stain in national life.
Ukip will not be beaten until those in all parties, who know that most immigrants are not the scrounging scum of Ukip nightmare, say clearly that the debate must be about numbers, not race. It will not be beaten until people who believe in maintaining Britain’s place in the world accept the need for reforming the European Union, but tell the electorate that we will founder if we leave.
It most certainly will not be beaten by David Cameron and Ed Miliband, who give every appearance of believing that you can win a battle without fighting it. •
Nigel Farage is a phoney. Scrutinise him and he’ll crumble
Instead of tearing into the preposterous Ukip leader, Britain’s famously aggressive media have made him a celebrity
Allow me to sketch you a portrait of a political leader. Even by the lax standards of the powerful, he is England’s greatest living hypocrite. He courts popularity by warning that tens of millions from the dole queues of Europe are coming to take British jobs, while employing his German wife as his secretary. He denounces “the political class” for living like princes at the taxpayers’ expense while pocketing every taxpayer-funded allowance he can claim for himself, his wife and his colleagues.
He says he represents “ordinary people”. But he is a public school-educated former banker, whose policies will help him and his kind. He claims he is the voice of “common sense”, while allying with every variety of gay-hater, conspiracy crackpot, racist, chauvinist and pillock. The only sense he and his followers have in common is a fear of anyone who is not like them.
You might expect that Britain’s famously aggressive media would tear into his multiple deceits. Yet so tame has their treatment of Nigel Farage been, so indulgent and complicit, viewers were surprised when the BBC’s political editor found the courage last week to raise a timorous voice and ask him why he was employing his German wife rather than giving a British job to a British worker. Broadcasters are ferocious when they tackle mainstream politicians, but are as eager to please as wet-tongued labradors when they meet Ukip. To understand why, you need to grasp how the political culture of modern democracies encourages both conformism and zealotry.
Broadcasters say they give Britain’s representative of Europe’s rightwing wave such prominence because Farage is good on television: a cheeky and witty guest rather than a formulaic political pro. As Hollywood doesn’t cast ugly actors as romantic leads and radio producers seldom hire presenters with stammers, accusing broadcasters of double standards because they favour people who are good on television feels as absurd as accusing Brendan Rodgers of bias because he picks gifted footballers to play for Liverpool or publishers of prejudice because they commission authors who write well.
Media managers would have every right to sneer at bland “professional politicians”, and promote exciting alternatives, had they not helped create the soundbite-spouting robots they are so keen to denounce. With the arrival of 24-hour news, they had to fill hours of empty schedules. Every ill-considered statement by a politician became a “gaffe”; every disagreement with the leader a “split”. Ambitious politicians responded by saying nothing that might be used against them. Social media and mobile phones have accelerated their desire to march in step with the herd. Now a public figure must behave as if they are on camera whenever they are in a public space.
I am not trying to excuse our leaders. Political parties, private companies and public bureaucracies need to relax if they want a hearing in the 21st century, and stop treating the smallest deviation from the party line as an “unprofessional” affront. But it is rich of broadcasters to preach against professional politics when they were its midwives, and sinister of them to promote fanaticism as a cure for the boredom it generates.
For in the kingdom of the bland, the intolerant man is king. British and US TV have turned newspaper pundits into minor celebrities: a curious addition to the Z-list that makes little sense until you realise that the pundit is free to posture and foam and provide the gladiatorial aggression that will keep the audience from reaching for the remote. Extremist politicians such as Nigel Farage and George Galloway serve the same purpose. They don’t have to worry about breaking party lines because their parties are their own private personality cults, which believe whatever they tell them to believe.
Mainstream politicians, who have abandoned plain speaking, should blame themselves when viewers turn away, of course. But they cannot be blamed for the broadcasters’ abnegation of the basic journalistic responsibility to ask questions without fear or favour.
To pick one of hundreds of examples, Ukip had a party political broadcast featuring “ordinary people” last week. A builder complained that foreigners had taken his job. As you might have predicted, the builder turned out to be an obsessional creep, who thought that Ed Miliband wasn’t British because his parents were refugees from Hitler. My friends in the anti-fascist group Hope Not Hate have files the thickness of telephone directories on how Ukip recruits every species of bigot from women-haters to neo-Nazis. They are open for journalists to inspect. But when Farage announced that he was suspending the builder from his party, the media were satisfied and did not ask him why he attracts and retains thousands more like him. They would never let a mainstream leader escape so lightly.
The English have a strong desire to avoid seriousness, a character trait that makes England both an attractive and a remarkably gullible country. We too easily dismiss people as performers putting on a show. “He can’t really mean that,” we say as the far-left politician salutes Saddam Hussein after he has ordered the genocide of the Kurds, or defends Bashar al-Assad as his forces torture civilians. “He isn’t being serious,” we say, as the far-right politician declares his admiration for Vladimir Putin and signs up members who want to kick out the blacks.
Experience has taught English media managers in particular to believe that no one means what they say. Editors demand opinion pieces that confirm their readers’ prejudices and find willing hacks who will write as required, regardless of whether they believe what they say or not. In broadcasting, BBC researchers call and ask thousands of journalists and intellectuals to take a genuinely held belief and reduce it to absurdity. “Would you come on and say that 2+2=5?” they ask. You refuse. They hang up and phone round until they find someone so desperate for attention that they will say it.
When considering Ukip, we should remember the advice of Lord Renwick, a Foreign Office mandarin and Labour peer. He told young diplomats from good families that their background made them suckers for “the Wykehamist fallacy”. When they went abroad, they were in danger of believing that foreign potentates merely struck blood-curdling poses for effect. For all the bombast, they would think that, underneath, these must be civilised men with an ironic sensibility who might have been educated at Winchester. “They haven’t,” said Renwick. “Actually, they’re a bunch of thugs.”
The same should be said of Ukip.
Ukip’s rise threatens the left as well as the right
That Nigel Farage can speak to former Labour voters ought to be a matter of shame to the British left and a call to arms
The British centre-left has been tempted to ignore Ukip – the most powerful movement of organised stupidity in recent British history – even to welcome it in a quiet way. Conventional wisdom holds that Labour’s hopes of winning the next election depend on the rightwing vote splitting. Ukip are the splitters, who will let the left come through the middle in marginal seats.
Beyond electoral tactics lies a regard for populists who are anti-establishment. George Galloway may have crawled up the posteriors of half the dictators on the planet, while Alex Salmond may want to place barriers between the English and the Scots where none has existed for 300 years, but at least they are sticking it to the “system”. Likewise, Farage is a card, who hounds the professional politicians – and all those other pampered elitists who rip us off and ruin our lives.
A look at January 2014 shows that you have to forgive and forget a great deal before you can treat Ukip with anything other than hostility. Farage disowned the entire 2010 Ukip manifesto – and not in the open manner of an honest politician admitting to past mistakes. Instead, he pretended he knew nothing of his party’s promises for a dress code for taxi drivers and a state-enforced repainting of the nation’s trains in traditional colours. Imagine if anyone else in public life said that a document they had put their name to, and called their own, was “drivel” and tried to avoid awkward questions by pretending that they had never read it. At a minimum, they would be greeted with guffaws of incredulous laughter.
Not knowing when to stop, Farage, who has the nerve to pose as a politician who is tough on crime, went on to opine that the ban on handguns after Thomas Hamilton murdered 16 schoolchildren in Dunblane was “ludicrous”. It was left to John Crozier, whose five-year-old daughter, Emma, was among the fallen, to say that the disarming of angry men had meant no other family had to hear that their children had died in a gun massacre since.
Beyond the Farage farragos, one Demetri Marchessini, a Ukip donor, paid for an advert in the Telegraph to announce his abhorrence of homosexuality. He praised the opportunist homophobia of the Putin regime and added that “homophobic” was not be a real word in any event. “Anyone who uses it is uneducated because it mixed Latin and Greek.” It says much about Ukip’s failure to uphold traditional standards that the half-educated oaf did not know that “homo-” and “-phobic” both derive from the Greek.
I could go on. Ukip’s obsession with what gay men do with their bodies was manifest in the remark of an Oxfordshire councillor that the recent floods were God’s punishment on England for allowing homosexuality. Meanwhile Arthur Misty Thackeray, Ukip’s Scottish leader, claimed that Glasgow council was run by a hitherto unknown conspiracy of “gays, Catholics, and communists”.
For all that, Ukip still attracts 17% of the vote in our poll this week. It is not only a large political force in its own right but has large effects on all around it. How many of the 90 or so Tories tearing their party apart are de facto Ukip supporters is unknowable. A few hate David Cameron so much they form a Faragist fifth column. Most, however, are frightened. If they don’t rebel on Europe, immigration and human rights, they know that Ukip may deprive them of their seats by using their failure against them. A “revolt” out of fear isn’t a revolt but a capitulation.
And Cameron is capitulating too. He is frightened of taking on his own backbenchers, who are frightened of taking on Farage, because he does not want the public to see what he is: the John Major of the 2010s. You could argue the capitulation extends to the centre-left, which is relearning the old lesson that in hard times people look to themselves and their families rather than wider notions of the common good.
In other words, Ukip’s success as fearmongers has sent a flood of fear cascading down the political system.
For 100 years, the most reassuring feature of British society was that it did not vote for extremist parties. Far left and far right have pushed their conspiracy theories and shouted their slogans until they were hoarse: all in vain. But Ukip is breaking with the past. Hope Not Hate, which had campaigned with great success against the BNP, discussed last year whether it should fight Ukip too. On one hand, it reasoned, Ukip is not a neo-fascist party with origins in European totalitarianism. On the other, well, just look at the bigoted rabble. Hope Not Hate decided to go for them because it understood that Ukip has made extreme hatreds respectable.
Xenophobic voters who wouldn’t have supported tattooed men with beer bellies hanging over their belts will vote for Farage. As local, European and parliamentary election results make clear, many of them once voted Labour. That Farage, a City man, who offers nothing that might improve their living conditions or job security, can speak to them ought to be a matter of shame to the British left and a call to arms. On some issues, there can be no compromise: racism and other phobias.
But a toning down of political correctness would be most welcome, as would an abandonment of the jargon-filled language of the intellectual left, which ordinary people cannot understand, and know without needing to be told are not meant to understand either. A robust campaign to tell Ukip supporters and, indeed, business leaders who foolishly ally with the Tories, that Britain cannot afford to leave the EU would also be in order. So would an attempt to build a populist social democracy, which, for all their faults, Ed Miliband and his supporters are trying to do.
In their forthcoming Revolt on the Right, the academics Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin will present convincing evidence that in the long run Ukip will hit the left harder than the Conservatives.
Even if they are wrong, and even if in the short term Farage sends Miliband to Downing Street, it is not good enough to stand by while chancers sell millions of our fellow citizens every prejudice known to man and invent a few new ones besides. Left and right are not divided by some Berlin Wall. The one affects the other. A successful far right will poison the whole of politics. The best course is to hit early and hit it hard. •