Donald Macintyre's Sketch: Nigel Farage makes hay while the goldfish cling to the comfort blanket... and other mixed similes
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).
Monday 26 May 2014
Never mind how historic an electoral breakthrough this is. Nigel Farage is way ahead in the phrase-making stakes.
We’ve had the fox in the Westminster henhouse. We’re braced for the kitchen sink he’s promising to hurl at marginal constituencies. But on Monday he surpassed himself with an arresting mixed simile.
The main parties were like “goldfish that have just been tipped out of the bowl onto the floor, desperately gasping for air and clinging on to the comfort blanket that this is a protest vote”, he said.
Farage was not gasping for air. You could tell he had arrived politically when he didn’t actually take any questions at his victory “press conference”. And from the sleek Land Rover Discovery that drove him away.
And because on the way out, after promising to show that Ukip wasn’t “a one-man band” and that “you will see less of me” over the summer, he was immediately engulfed by television crews who seemed strangely uninterested in the “bright, able” new MEPs from whom he would be selecting spokesmen on issues from defence to immigration.
Ironically, the media scrum eerily recalled the heady days of Cleggmania in 2010. And of course he generously name-checked the LibDem leader, to whom he was “extremely grateful” for the two TV debates, and who – there are times when Farage likes to do a bit of punditry – he found it “very difficult to believe... will lead the Liberal Democrats into the next election”.
For all his effort to detoxify his party – yes, he freely admitted, the selection of all his council candidates had not been quite what it might have been – the Ukip leader still does scary pretty well.
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Having won a Scottish Euro seat, he promised the pro-Union Ukip would create a “whole new dynamic” ahead of the independence referendum, as if the “no” campaign did not have enough problems already.
And in declaring that the “people’s army is marching” to the Newark by-election, he greeted the party’s candidate, Roger Helmer, with a handshake, grin and what can only be described as a slightly sinister double-eyed wink.
Was it mere coincidence that Ukip picked for Nigel Farage’s triumphant appearance the same Westminster hotel where a Very Senior Tory allegedly attacked his own activists as “swivel-eyed loons”?
The new MEPs on the stage were not swivel-eyed. Indeed, the male and suited majority looked a bit, well, conventional. But is this wise? Could becoming boring actually dent the party’s astounding popularity? Is it time to bring back Godfrey “sluts don’t clean behind the fridge” Bloom?
That said, it was Farage’s day all right. If this is just a flash in the pan, you couldn’t help thinking as the cameras popped in the InterContinental on Monday: “Some flash. Some pan.”
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