The troublingly agreeable Nigel Farage

EDITOR'S BLOG: UKIP leader Nigel Farage found a receptive audience to his carefully tailored message at the IoD. That is troubling, says Matthew Gwyther.

by Matthew Gwyther
Last Updated: 20 Mar 2015

So, to the IoD to attend what was billed as ‘An Evening with Nigel Farage’. The event’s title conjured up the same feel as ‘An Evening with Simon Callow’ or even 'An Evening with Maureen Lipman’ – an agreeable home counties soiree involving some warm, anecdote-filled reminiscence plus a glass of white wine of similar temperature.

It was neither. (On the subject of what Denis Thatcher would have called Electric Soup, however, I should report that as he delivered his tirade, Farage was sustained not by a foaming tankard of Ferret’s Bollocks but a small glass of iced water.)

It is well known that Farage is impressive on his feet. My seated neighbour was a big fan and had heard him speak several times before – ‘tremendous chap’. He has a great feel for his audience and where its sweet spots are located. Sections of the Pall Mall crowd were whooping and yelling ‘hear hear’ within minutes of him launching his familiar broadsides at Brussels, the CAP, those who would castrate the City and Nick Clegg. He was especially rude about the hapless deputy PM.

He trotted out the old argument that Greeks are not very German and Germans are certainly not very Greek. But, in the event, very little of what he said was devoted to migration and the pestilent effect of outsiders. He acknowledged that were he an unemployed Spanish youth in search of a brighter future he would head to London. But he doesn’t really need to bang on about this issue at the moment as the trials and tribulations of the EU plus recent events in Scotland have given him quite enough ammo to promote his version of English nationalism. Singing from a similar hymn sheet to the SNP, he has to watch how hard he bashes Salmond et al.

A rare black audience member asked what UKIP has to offer black voters. Farage countered by an attack on the evils of multiculturalism, saying that people of colour should be treated first and foremost as individuals. The issue of UKIP and race is pretty tricky – I recently interviewed a Coventry-based Chinese restaurateur who votes for them.

I know from personal Twitter encounters that some of Farage’s fellow-travellers are a rum bunch indeed. One candidate wanted Lenny Henry deported. As Matthew d'Ancona has noted on UKIP and race: ‘Let us be candid. If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, the fact that it denies vociferously being tasty if served with orange sauce does not settle the matter.’

Farage’s argument that leaving the EU will not lead to much in the way of trouble for our exporters and our economy remains a trifle facile. He maintains that BMW, Mercedes and VW will be onto Merkel immediately to demand open access to EU markets for us because their sales would take such an instant drubbing. Likewise, he says the millions of bottles of champagne we consume will mean French producers do the same. I worry that things might prove slightly more complex and long-drawn out than that.

His apocalyptic vision of what lies ahead for the EU suggested to me that we didn’t need to worry about a referendum, because the whole enterprise could well implode before we got to an In/Out ballot. He has a point here and says that he just doesn’t want us in when the balloon finally goes up. Italy in particular appears to be on the abyss of a Japanese-style deflationary death spiral with no possibility to get itself out of the gyre when still in the strait jacket of EU fiscal rules and Berlin demanding austerity after austerity.  

Citing French car production figures – 2005: 3.5 million vehicles, 2013: 1.7 million vehicles – he claims that France is on the verge of collapse and can see Marine Le Pen being elected President – an eventuality he did not appear to find entirely objectionable. The EU has made an awful mess of many things and desperately requires reform. I’d like to think a British government might be able to assist in this or even force something through. But that looks unlikely. We don’t exactly have many listening friends out there at the moment because  we’re regarded as little more than a bunch of bolshie boat-rockers and Yahoos.

My problem with UKIP is that it brings out the worst in us. For all his pint-and-a-panatella bonhomie, Farage’s message is neither warm nor wholesome but negative and corrosive. It plays on fear. It is an integral part of the Age of Rage – we’re fed up and we want someone to blame. We need to get tough with the hordes of work-shy Romanians who have led us into the mire. That will make us feel better.

But he was very warmly supported at the IoD, where the audience did not appear to be entirely comprised of ‘fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists’ (D Cameron).  There were sane business owners there who were infuriated by what they see as passive acquiescence to Brussels meddling and ineptitude where it should keep its nose out.

Farage is on a roll. He talks directly to folk who feel politicians have stopped listening. Providing he keeps his odd caravan of the disaffected on the road through the by-ways of Clacton and the down-at-heel towns of Lincolnshire, if  he manages to welcome a few more Tories like Douglas Carswell into his fold and the mood does not lift before next May, then one could see him holding the balance of political power in our country. And I find that troubling.

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