From the Observer 29 March 2015
Being a racist is like being a snob. You are always on patrol; always noticing differences others ignore. Nigel Farage’s enemies accuse him of being obsessed with race. I assumed Farage would use this campaign autobiography to refute them. Instead he obsesses for England.
He tells the standard inspirational story of triumph over adversity, physical as well as political. Farage recalls how cancer left him with a Hitlerian deficiency, when it took away one of his testicles. The NHS misdiagnosed his condition and allowed one testicle – the left, he tells us – to become “as large as a lemon and rock hard”. I am not sure I needed to know that. But three decades after the event Farage still wants the reader to know that the blundering physician was “an Indian doctor”. When he calls on a neurosurgeon, Farage again feels the need to dwell on his physician’s immigration status. This time he tells us he was treated by “an Indian migrant who grew up in Slough”, although Farage does not mind over-much because the doctor turned out to be “incredibly pro-British”.
Farage cannot even remember a visit to a London pub, where foreigners are hardly a rarity, without writing that the barman who handed him a pint of Kent’s Best was “a Frenchman”.
He may not realise what he is revealing, or he may know all too well that his core supporters want him to reflect their obsessions. For a politician whose party may determine the nature of our next government, however, his inability to think about his country is frightening. A large part of the appeal of Farage, and of George Galloway, Alex Salmond and Caroline Lucas, lies in their pose as outsiders. I lost count of the number of times Farage boasts in this book about how he has lived in the real world and had a proper job in the City, unlike Miliband, Cameron, Clegg and the rest of the “political and media class”.
“No one dares mention,” he says at one point, “…how the NHS is so overstretched due to the massive increase in the number of people arriving at our shores.” Yet his own experience of surgery in the “real world” ought to have taught him that the NHS, like so many other services and businesses, needs migrant labour. He cannot register what is in front of his eyes because he cannot see beyond a dark skin. He condemns the Westminster bubble but he and his supporters live in their own self-pitying and self-aggrandising world.
Farage is an attack dog who poses as an underdog. He’s the small-minded man who pretends he’s the friend of the little guy. He writes as if he were a dissident in a dictatorship: a lone and persecuted voice, who has suffered for telling truth to power. The results are occasionally hilarious. The BBC and press are always out to get him, even though most of the Conservative press supports Ukip’s policies, and the BBC never has him off air. At one point, Farage plays David as he enters a televised contest. “I was nervous,” he says as he confesses his doubts. “I was apprehensive. Live television debates were a big risk,” and he was up against “the best debater in the country”. The name of the Goliath our plucky hero duly slaughters against all odds and expectations? Er, Nick Clegg.
Farage’s vainglorious anecdotes are accompanied by a long, low moan about how he could have made “an enormous amount of money” if he had not chosen to leave the City and enter politics. So relentless is the self-pity, so often does Farage play the victim card, that there are times when this book feels like the Home Counties equivalent of a martyrdom video.
It would be easy to dismiss Farage as a representative of the worst of England: the whining, hypocritical, know-nothing wing of the middle class who can never admit that they are fortunate and must always pretend to be put upon. Mockery is certainly in order, but so too is self-criticism.
A crisis in capitalism has not produced an upsurge of leftwing protest but an upsurge of nationalism. In England and Scotland, the poorer you are, the more likely you are to vote for chauvinist candidates. Ukip is a Thatcherite party, which will do nothing to forward working people’s interests. But as so often before, Marx’s claim that the “working class has no country” has been shown to be the silliest statement he ever made.
Voters in northern cities and east coast towns will turn to Ukip, not because they support its economic policies but because they approve of its British nationalism. Academics are fond of describing them as the workers and pensioners “left behind” by globalisation. They forget to add that they have been left behind by a left which ought to speak for them rather than at them.
If Farage has no answer to the question of how Britain would manage outside Europe, then the Labour party and the broader left do not know what to say either. Do they think the eurozone should dissolve or integrate further? Do they believe there should be any upper limit on immigration or any halt to the EU’s accretion of powers? Beyond all else, does the middle-class left realise that it has made a terrible mistake by fighting a culture war in which ordinary people are automatically labelled as racist, sexist and homophobic brutes? Ukip’s rise ought to have taught that accusations of prejudice have a diminishing return when they are shouted too often and with too little justification. Leftwing politics has allowed itself to become associated with a hectoring and joyless culture, which is forever telling people to watch what they say and eat their greens.
To put it another way, if being a racist is like being a snob, then being an anti-racist can have its snobbish side too. The enormous cost of that condescension will be counted in the millions of not wholly wicked or stupid people who will vote for Nigel Farage in May.
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