Everything David Cameron (currently sleepwalking his way to electoral disaster) is not. Too bad for the Tories.
Three years ago, Vit Jedlicka, a 28-year-old from Prague, had never heard of Nigel Farage, the rumbustious leader of the UK Independence party and one of the most vocal opponents of European integration. Then one day Mr Jedlicka came across an online video of a speech in which Mr Farage, a member of the European parliament, likened top EU officials to Soviet bureaucrats and blasted them for “burying their heads in the sand” in the face of a gathering debt crisis.
These days, Mr Jedlicka, an IT consultant, counts himself among an informal band of volunteers who not only post Mr Farage’s speeches online but also translate and subtitle them so they can reach a wider audience.
“We’ve made him very popular in the Czech Republic,” Mr Jedlicka boasts. The YouTube channel he established for Mr Farage’s speeches has been viewed more than 2.5m times, he happily points out…
A Spanish copy of a speech Mr Farage gave in November has racked up more than 1.1m views. Italian, Greek and even Slovak versions routinely pull in hundreds of thousands.
“The amount of hits my stuff gets in Spain and Greece is bloody astonishing,” Mr Farage marvels as he puffs away at a cigarette in his non-smoking office at the European parliament in Brussels. The room is cluttered with papers and the odd champagne bottle. A coffin with a “euro” sign is propped against a wall.
“It’s a whole community that’s just evolved,” he says of volunteers like Mr Jedlicka. “If I wanted to do it myself, it would take a boiler room of 10 people.”
Mr Farage’s viral success appears to be translating into mainstream backing. Recent polls in Britain give the party about 10 per cent support, routinely putting them ahead of the Liberal Democrats that are the junior partner in the country’s governing coalition. But it has been galling in Brussels, the EU capital, where Mr Farage enjoys near-pariah status. For diehard EU-philes, the creation of continent-wide political parties mobilising voters along European rather than national issues has long been part of broader dreams of a more federal EU.
Mr Farage’s international success is, in a somewhat perverse way, the first realisation of such an EU-wide movement – even if it unites only those who share disdain for Brussels.
Adding to the injury, the parliament and other EU institutions have spent lavishly to reach citizens with their own social media campaigns, to little avail. The parliament has a staff of nearly three dozen overseeing its websites. Yet its YouTube channel, for example, has attracted more than 880,000 views – fewer than a single Farage speech.
That’s because the EU’s Potemkin parliament represents no one other than the oligarch class that (most generously) sustains it. It is a parliament without a people, a parliament of dead souls and dreary approximations of debate. Its only purpose is to camouflage the destruction of Europe’s national democracies, and it cannot even make that interesting.
But back to the FT:
Although he is often rude, he seldom fails to provoke or entertain. A high – or low – point was a speech two years ago in which Mr Farage dismissed Herman Van Rompuy, the monkish Belgian president of the European Council, as having “the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk”.
Those remarks drew a fine from the parliament . . .
Of course they did. It’s that sort of parliament. If anything Farage (who later apologized to bank clerks but not, unfairly, to damp rags) was too kind.
But [those remarks] also led to a clip that has been watched more than 3m times online. “The great thing about the internet is if you can amuse people, they send it on to their mates, and that’s been key,” Mr Farage said. “If I didn’t have half an eye on what works on YouTube, I’d be a liar.”
… Mr Farage claims that fellow MEPs who once shunned him are increasingly lending an ear.
“There is that hardcore of fanatics who despise me . . . [But] I increasingly find that amongst that broad body of people, there is much more of a keenness to have a chat,” he says. “I don’t say, ‘I told you so’ to anybody. I don’t dare say that.”
Read the whole thing.