“Our Nige”: The New Happy Warrior

“Our Nige”: The New Happy Warrior

N.B. A short­er ver­sion of this piece on Nigel Farage appeared in The Week­ly Stan­dard online

Nigel Farage
Nigel Farage and his hero. (The Guardian)

A few years ago Britain’s Nigel Farage was a polit­i­cal curios­i­ty, head of a fringe par­ty, gad­fly mem­ber of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment, an ex-com­modi­ties bro­ker who nev­er went to col­lege, dis­missed as a nut­ter by rul­ing elites in Lon­don and Brus­sels. On 23 June 2016, he was wide­ly cred­it­ed with a key role in the ref­er­en­dum favor­ing Brex­it— Britain’s exit from the Euro­pean Community.

“Our Nige,” his sup­port­ers call him—personable, chat­ty, good-look­ing, beer swill­ing, cig­a­rette and cig­ar smoking—wants Britain, not the Euro­pean Union, to gov­ern British affairs. To flip an uncer­tain quote from his hero Win­ston Churchill, he has all the vices they admire, and none of the virtues they despise. He also has the Churchillian habit of say­ing exact­ly what he thinks, regard­less of polls, focus groups and the establishment.

Farage’s UK Inde­pen­dence Par­ty (UKIP offi­cial­ly, “kip­pers” to crit­ics) has been rolling like the nascent Labour Par­ty a cen­tu­ry ago, which dis­placed the Lib­er­als and dom­i­nat­ed polit­i­cal thought until Mar­garet Thatch­er’s time. In 2014 UKIP turned 21 years old—Labour formed its first gov­ern­ment at age 23.

In 2013’s local elec­tions, kip­pers fin­ished third. Last May, UKIP became the first par­ty since 1906 to out-poll Labour and the Con­ser­v­a­tives nation­wide, win­ning 24 of Britain’s 73 seats in the rub­ber-stamp EU legislature.

This Octo­ber UKIP elect­ed its first mem­ber of Par­lia­ment, Dou­glas Car­swell, and near­ly oust­ed a Labour mem­ber in a “safe seat.” In Novem­ber it’s like­ly to elect anoth­er MP. The party’s ris­ing 25 per­cent in nation­al polls—a polit­i­cal tsuna­mi sug­gest­ing they may even­tu­al­ly hold the bal­ance of pow­er. [Since the Brex­it vote, things haven’t gone very well for the par­ty, so as of 2016 this was very much up in the air.]

Mr. Farage insists he isn’t against trade or immigration—he wants nation­al con­trol over them. “Right now, we have an open door to 485 mil­lion Euro­peans, and can’t make our own trade deals. Ice­land, with 350,000 peo­ple, has a free-trade agree­ment with Chi­na. You’re telling me 63 mil­lion Brits can’t do such things?” He wants more trade with the “Anglos­phere”: the U.S., India, and “the Com­mon­wealth we so shame­ful­ly deserted.”

Noth­ing fazes Nige, a razor-sharp debater who jousts joy­ful­ly with the “ghast­ly” EU bureau­crats. The 2009 appoint­ment of Her­man Van Rompuy as “Pres­i­dent of Europe” was just so much red meat: Instead of a giant glob­al fig­ure, Farage said, “all we got was you…And I don’t want to be rude, but you know, real­ly, you have the charis­ma of a damp rag and the appear­ance of a low-grade bank clerk. And the ques­tion I want to ask is, Who are you?”

That earned him one of many fines, which, typ­i­cal­ly, he laughed off. “It’s been cal­cu­lat­ed that if I’m fined anoth­er 63 mil­lion times I per­son­al­ly will have paid the entire Euro bail-out fund.” A UKIP tea tow­el with Van Rompuy’s image pro­claims, “gen­uine Bel­gian damp rag.”

UKIP has a lib­er­tar­i­an agen­da: low­er tax­es, an end to lim­it­less debt and extrem­ist envi­ron­men­tal­ism, dras­tic reduc­tions in enter­prise-sti­fling reg­u­la­tion, and no more mil­i­tary actions with­out a clue what the goal is: “What have we to show for our sup­port of rebels in Libya, Syr­ia, Egypt?” he asked Amer­i­can inter­view­er Lau­ren Lyster. “In Afghanistan and Iraq, we’re achiev­ing, let’s be hon­est, noth­ing. I’m extreme­ly tired of the UK join­ing over­seas adven­tures where we nev­er real­ly think what the endgame’s going to be.”

With an under­stand­ing of real­i­ty Amer­i­can con­ser­v­a­tives might emu­late, Farage has learned that you can’t win big with a nar­row base. He’s purged UKIP of extreme “full-moon­ers,” resist­ed the easy charge of racism. UKIP has an Indi­an-born Brit who says how hard it is to run a small busi­ness, a Caribbean-Brit who sounds like Adam Smith. Farage has a senior advis­er named Raheem. In the 1980s there were Rea­gan Democ­rats; now in Britain there are Labour kippers.

Asked to advise Amer­i­cans, Our Nige is care­ful: “I’m a guest in your coun­try. [But] we both want per­son­al lib­er­ty and the respon­si­bil­i­ty that goes with it. Yet your pub­lic finances are no bet­ter than the Eurozone’s.”

Dur­ing the 2012 pres­i­den­tial debates he did ven­ture what Rom­ney might have said: “Look, Barack is a nice chap, but he’s proved he’s not up to the job. I have been suc­cess­ful in business….I’ve run a com­pa­ny, I’m the man you need…And let me tell you, it’s going to be tough. There’re going to have to be some very big cut­backs in the size of the state. But if you fol­low me, we’ll get this ship steady again.” One won­ders if we’ll ever hear a U.S. politi­cian cam­paign like that.

Nige as Win­ston (BT.com)

Of course he’s an easy tar­get. “Farage makes me proud to be British,” wrote Alan Tyers on BT.com in May 2014. “UKIP’s pop­u­lar­i­ty is tes­ta­ment to British tol­er­ance. Where else would such half-baked views be grant­ed so much air­time?” Four days lat­er UKIP rolled up the Euro­pean elec­tions. Peo­ple used to say such things about Ronald Rea­gan. And then…

The estab­lish­ment par­ties are worried—“they’ve nev­er held a job out­side pol­i­tics; they’re social-democ­rats, indis­tin­guish­able from each other”—and the media is dig­ging. Recent­ly, charges sur­faced of Farage romanc­ing a staffer—hotly denied by both. Then in Octo­ber 2014, Farage’s “Europe of Free­dom and Direct Democ­ra­cy” (EFDD) Group in the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment col­lapsed. EUP pres­i­dent Mar­tin Schulz (“act­ing more like the pres­i­dent of a banana repub­lic”) coerced the res­ig­na­tion of a key mem­ber and dis­band­ed the group.

Undaunt­ed, Farage replaced his loss and EFDD announced, “we’re back.” The new mem­ber was a Pol­ish MEP from a right-wing par­ty led by a Holo­caust denier, though the man him­self says Hitler was evil and deserved what he got. So it goes. Back on the offen­sive, Farage declared, “…this will be the last Euro­pean Com­mis­sion that gov­erns Britain because with­in the end of this five years, we will be out of here.”

Clear­ly Nigel Farage is more than a blip on the radar now. How he han­dles his chal­lenges may deter­mine whether the EU revolt is real, and whether UKIP can rede­fine British politics.

But nobody who has seen him in action is count­ing him out.

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