On Nigel Farage, and What the Brits Really Think About Immigration

by Jason Richwine

Jack Fowler posted a couple of times last week about the growing popularity of U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage, who turned in two strong debate performances against the deputy prime minister Nick Clegg recently.

UKIP is opposed to European integration and open borders, which means Farage is not exactly the favorite of elites on either side of the English Channel. In his debates with Clegg, Farage criticized big business, worried about the economic prospects of the British working class, and decried the cultural changes brought about by mass immigration.

The fact that Farage is generating grassroots support – despite opposition from the leaders of Britain’s three major political parties – is consistent with Mark Krikorian’s dictum about immigration in the West: It’s not a left-right issue, it’s an up-down one.

I have some more evidence to offer, in the form of an anecdote. I interned at the Conservative party’s central office back in 2002, during the ill-fated tenure of Iain Duncan Smith as party leader. As the only American in the office, I received the full cultural immersion. (I once asked a coworker if he knew the rules of American football. “Certainly not!” he replied, with a mixture of indignity and disgust.)

Anyway, once a week I was stuck in the correspondence office, where a team of people would open all the mail addressed to Iain Duncan Smith and then send form letters in response. The office had a couple of dozen boilerplate responses available for various political concerns, sometimes with different emphasis and tone depending on the position taken by the constituent. We would skim each constituent letter and then put them in piles with labels like “pro-NHS,” “anti-NHS,” “pro-taxes,” “anti-taxes,” and so on.

This process quickly led to a memorable lesson in British politics for me. After I finished categorizing my first stack of letters, a more experienced coworker reviewed my work to make sure it was consistent with what everyone else was doing. A wry grin appeared on his face as he came to one letter, and he paused. “Jason, you wrote ‘anti-immigration’ on this one.” The others in the room began to chuckle.

“What’s the problem?” I asked. “It’s clearly anti-immigration.”

His response: “We do not receive any pro-immigration letters.” And he proceeded to scratch out my needless “anti.”