Iain Dale’s Biteback has once again published a book that will doubtless sell, and all credit to them for so doing. For political books should be read and to that end it helps if books are free of the jargon that makes so much of the discussion of contemporary public policy so off putting to voters. Nigel Farage, whose autobiography was previously published by Biteback, understands this in spades.
Farage’s book is a breezy read. Short sentences flow into each other like several pints of Spitfire. That is simultaneously the book’s strength and weakness: while parts of the book have the clarity of a first gin, others seem more of a blurry beer-haze.
Clearest perhaps is Farage’s sense of self. For Farage, the United Kingdom Independence party is clearly ‘my’ party and his account of its battles ‘my’ struggle. Biteback describes the book as ‘not an autobiography, but rather the untold story of the journey Ukip has travelled under Farage’s leadership … ’ It indeed reads like the account of a journey – a ‘long walk’ or a long pub crawl, if you will.
A curious quirk of the book is Farage’s notable recall of not only what pub he was in before, after and during important events, but also both the brand of beer he drank and the nationality of the bar tender who served him: ‘No sooner had the Frenchman behind the bar handed me my pint of Kent’s Best … ’ The nationality of his doctors and the brand of car carrying him feature with equal regularity.
Unexpectedly, it is Farage’s case for how Britain would be better off outside the European Union that seems most shrouded in saloon bar fug. For a party whose core purpose is withdrawal from the EU, and whose leader regards his party in such personal terms, this appears odd to say the least. It is perhaps partly explained by Farage’s belief that Ukip will get more votes by campaigning on local issues, recounting the lesson he took from the Rochester by-election: ‘despite the astonishing resources the Tories had deployed in Rochester … they were selling themselves on national policies, when it was keeping our campaign focused on local issues that helped swing it for us.’
So rather than pitching for votes on withdrawal from the EU, Farage outlines his approach to his own parliamentary campaign in Thanet as being: ‘so, apart from debating issues such as future NHS funding and immigration, we had a strong local menu. Under the slogan ‘a powerful voice for Thanet’, without promising anything, I told voters that maybe, because of my profile and my financial background, I might be able to secure some private investment in the area.’ (!)
In local elections Ukip had campaigned on ‘properly local’ issues, like ‘street cleaning and excessive parking charges’ and against the closure of Thanet’s local airport: ‘it also brought home to constituents, in case they needed any reminder, that Westminster could not have cared less about Thanet. There was no interest from Whitehall about the closure of the airport … ’ For Farage, ‘the House of Commons… has not answered or served the people of Britain for years.’
One of the greatest ironies of the book is Farage’s clear frustration with Westminster and Whitehall, to who his party wishes to give more power, and with the Anglo-centric focus of the British media: ‘British newspapers long ago gave up covering Brussels properly. There are a few grown up journalists – and by a few I mean fewer than five – who have a good understanding of how Brussels works, but their London editors have no appetite in reading about Brussels.’
Farage finds at least as many things to complain about in Westminster and Whitehall as Brussels, yet like the Pied Piper he seeks to lead a band of followers to a better future outside the EU without any clear sense of how that that future would work, and how it would not lead to severe negative consequences for British voters. ‘God bless you, Nigel. I smoke. I am a total sinner. But we are the silent majority, and we are not so silent now.’ So said a man in a Clacton pub car park through the window of Farage’s Land Rover. For sinners such as he, Farage may appear a political messiah. But politics and government is about more than blind faith: it is not enough for Farage himself to quip as he did on a recent LBC radio phone in to the caller, 59-year-old dominatrix and former nurse Jill, ‘Jill, I am not the Messiah, I am a very naughty boy.’
Farage concludes his book with a call to arms: ‘So over to you, dear voter. It is all down to you now.’ But it is not. In a parliamentary democracy it is the responsibility of politicians to think through soberly the implications of policies they advocate and not, like a quack doctor, to pretend that withdrawal from the EU will be a cure for all ills.
Anything otherwise is the politics of the beer goggles. And unlike a hangover, the consequences of withdrawal from the EU will not wear off after a day.
Greg Rosen is author of Old Labour to New and chair of the Labour History Group
The Purple Revolution
BiteBack Publishing | 320pp | £9.99
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