Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Nigel Farage is easy to laugh at… that means he’s dangerous
Donald Macintyre writes political sketches for The Independent, having been Jerusalem correspondent since 2004, covering Israel and the Occupied Territories, as well as travelling for the paper to Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, Libya and Egypt. As Political Editor and then Chief Political Commentator, he previously covered the John Major and early Tony Blair era. He has written for the Daily Express, Sunday Times, Times and Sunday Telegraph, and Sunday Correspondent. He is the author of Mandelson and the Making of New Labour (2000).
Tuesday 23 April 2013
Ambassador Dimitrov was very, very cross with Ukip’s “unacceptable” and “extremely serious” “propaganda leaflets” suggesting that millions of Bulgarians were about to flood into Britain. He would have been much more cross if it had been at a lunch at which Ukip’s leader was regaling reporters with his full-on cheeky chappie routine worthy of the man he himself described as “that late, great comedian Bob Monkhouse”: stand-up with an electoral twist.
Naturally Nigel Farage slipped out for a fag before a speech so politically incorrect you were on tenterhooks about what he would own up to next. Describing his TV interview after becoming an MEP, when a Meridian reporter asking whether he would be corrupted by the champagne lifestyle of Brussels – and he had replied: “No, I’ve always lived like that,” he added, in the inimitable vernacular of the snug bar: “I must confess I was downwind of a couple.”
He positively revelled in the news that one of Ukip’s county councillor candidates ran an enterprise boasting the “best lap-dancing club in the Midlands”. He said that if it was legal he was “absolutely delighted” the party was being represented by a “free-market entrepreneur” in the tradition of Peter Stringfellow – before admitting that he had, while in Stras-bourg, “unwittingly” visited such a venue with “a Fren-ch presidential candidate”. It wasn’t Sarko, he assured us. Once inside the place, Farage added: “I thought this is pretty good. I like this.” And yes, he had probably visited such “establishments” back in the Eighties.
Good taste is so not Farage’s way that – preoccupied with Eastleigh where the party recently came a triumphant second in the by-election – he even joked about Stephen Milligan, the town’s early-Nineties MP who died in what John Major called at the time “rather sad” sexual circumstances.
And yes, Farage was anti-Leveson despite himself being a victim of a News of the World exposé about which his press officer told him was “not too bad” because it said he “was hung like a donkey” and that he “did it seven times”. “Which isn’t true,” he added as an afterthought.
Farage would surely be a spin doctor’s nightmare – as with his candid admission that his county council election manifesto plan was only an “aspiration”.
His most evasive answer was classic Farage. Had he talked to Nadine Dorries about joining Ukip? “I’ve had discussions with all sorts of people in pubs all over Westminster,” he said, adding that many of them, “I can’t remember.”
Sometimes, however, you can’t help thinking that underneath all this he is really one of the country’s most calculating – and menacing – politicians. It’s not so much the crazy claim that David Cameron is a “social democrat” or the warning that Labour will be “grievously” hurt by Ukip in the local elections and that his party may win the European elections next year. It’s more that he already knows the detail that there are only 8,000 postal votes in Portsmouth South, the next possible by-election... and that may help Ukip win.
The Monkhouse joke he delivered was how when he told people he was going to be a comedian “they laughed at me. But they’re not laughing now.” The same, he wanted us to think, goes for Farage.
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