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Nigel Farage – The Johnny Rotten of British Politics?

May 1, 2014


A couple of thoughts about Nigel Farage, esteemed leader of Britain’s UK Independence Party.

Images of the great man supping a pint of real ale at the bar of some cosy-looking pub have become the most powerful “man of the people” icon in British politics since Harold Wilson’s ubiquitous pipe. Given that former Labour Prime Minister was a former Oxford don, and Farage a stockbroker’s son who spent much of his career as a city commodities trader, it shows that a well-chosen prop can convince most of the people most of the time.

Farage and the UKIP also bring to mind the 1970s punk boom. Whether he most closely resembles Malcolm McLaren, the godfather of punk, or Johnny Rotten, the main man, is debatable. Perhaps Paul Sykes, as UKIP’s biggest benefactor, deserves the McLaren tag more than Farage. But the comparison between a grass-roots musical movement orchestrated by a manipulative impresario and populated by a bunch of kids who couldn’t play their instruments (but could make a lot of noise), and a political party looking to give mainstream politics a bloody nose by “telling it like it is” on immigration, Brussels and any other subject you might hear in the pub towards closing time is irresistible.

I also admire UKIP’s “Bill Grundy moments”, in which election candidates and donors pop up with racist, sexist and xenophobic outbursts, and are immediately disowned by the party. I refer to the infamous Bill Grundy Sex Pistols interview in which Johnny Rotten and Steve Jones came up with a choice selection of expletives on live TV. After several other carefully-selected outrages, The Pistols were rewarded with the cancellation of their EMI recording contract, signed up with A&M Records, trashed their offices, were released again, then signed up with Virgin Records and sold a truck-load of records on their back of their expertly-won notoriety.

Of course I’m not saying that Farage and UKIP put their supporters up to advising Lenny Henry to emigrate to Africa, declaring that married women cannot be raped by their husbands, that gay men are incapable of love and that female party supporters who don’t clean behind their fridges are sluts. But you could argue that for UKIP no less than for 1970s punk bands, bad publicity is better than no publicity. And if you were of a cynical disposition, you could suspect that there could be a little “you might think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment” going on.

These days mainstream politicians avoid saying what they really think about UKIP, as Prime Minister David Cameron did in 2006 when he described them as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”. They realise that insulting people who previously voted for them but are now leaning towards Farage’s party might be counter-productive.

But I’m not a politician, and I have no problem with upsetting millions of my fellow citizens when I say that I would rather have the Pub Landlord running my country than this latest incarnation of the Monster Raving Loony Party.

There have always been fruitcakes in politics, some less benign than others. I suppose it’s our good fortune that the social media provides them with a platform they’ve never had before, so that an undisciplined rabble of a party like UKIP allows us an unfettered insight into the wilder shores of its support, whereas the armies of communications people employed by the mainstream parties quickly sniff out and snuff out most damaging utterances from within their own ranks.

Fortunately the good voters of Britain would seem to be far too sensible to treat UKIP as anything other than a suitable vehicle for registering a protest against the policies of the mainstream parties. Should I be wrong, and the electorate seriously considers voting a large number of UKIP candidates into our own Parliament – as opposed to the European Parliament, which most UK voters consider an irrelevance – I’ll seriously consider emigrating to a proper democracy where the voters always make the right choice. North Korea perhaps.

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