Farage, Glimpsed

by Andrew Stuttaford

Two glimpses of the leader of Britain’s euroskeptic UKIP today.

The first comes from his tribute to Margaret Thatcher:

“I have always said that Mrs Thatcher was a great inspiration to me personally. Whether you loved her or hated her nobody could deny that she was a great patriot, who believed passionately in this country and her people….A towering figure in recent British and political history has passed from the stage. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family.”

Fine words that will have come as no surprise to those who have heard Farage speak about her. Covering  UKIP’s conference last year for (ahem) another publication, I was struck by how many of “Thatcher’s people” (or their children) were there. UKIP is not a purely Thatcherite party–far from it—but  her thinking and political legacy are critical elements in the mix that makes up Farage’s insurgent band.

The second comes from Cranmer’s ‘Brother Ivo’. Farage has been on tour in the UK, and the good Brother went to check out one of his meetings. The result was some very perceptive commentary indeed. It’s well worth reading in full (although you will have to wade through some very British references), but this segment is key:

Brother Ivo distrusts crowd responses, and constantly cautioned himself that populism has a poor history of happy outcomes. And yet, as Mr Farage eviscerated the entire political class with the same directness and wit that he famously deployed against [EU president] Herman Van Rompuy, it became clear that what was being presented was not the disordered ravings of a demagogue, but articulation of the honest concerns of many ordinary people…There is passion and wit but little personal malice. [Former British prime minister] Harold Macmillan once chided Oswald Mosley [the leader of the prewar British Union of Fascists] with the observation that when Englishmen march in the streets they do it in flannel trousers and tweed jackets, not black shirts. And that certainly captured the mood of the meeting.

The cheerful scorn of the three main parties and their leaders is dangerous to them, and they underestimate the appeal of the Farage tour at their peril…..So what did Brother Ivo see at his first foray into a political meeting in years? A David Owen (without the arrogance)? A Ross Perot? Nadine Dorris’s future party leader if Mr Cameron does not set aside pettiness? A rival to Boris? Britain’s premier ‘throw-the-bums-out’ candidate? Probably a little of all of these.

He certainly did not see a well-researched programme for government, or a Cabinet-of-all-the-talents in waiting. What he did see was perhaps not a king-maker for the next election, but almost certainly a king-breaker, and that can be the scariest creature on the political landscape for any of the party leaders, none of whom attracts as much affection or instinctive identification in the electorate as ‘our Nige’.

They will certainly not want him alongside them in any leadership debates.

And if UKIP ‘s standing in the polls then is where it is now, it’s going to be hard to see how they can exclude him,.

Unless they are prepared to admit—to use Margaret Thatcher’s famous term—that they are ‘frit’. As, of course, they are.

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