There is a surprising new asset in the struggle against the far right in Europe – Nigel Farage. The inability of the garrulous pub landlord of British politics to keep quiet cost the Freedom Party victory in the Austrian election on Sunday.
That is certainly the view of the Austrian right wingers. Farage had taken it upon himself to declare that Norbert Hofer, the Freedom Party leader, would hold a referendum on leaving the European Union after he had won. “That did not help us, it hindered us,” was the angry complaint by Anton Mahdalik, a senior party member. “We were very aware that a majority of Austrians support EU membership.”
Hofer had described Farage’s unsolicited intervention as a “crass misjudgement”. He was so worried by the pronouncements of the Ukip man that he put out a statement on the eve of the poll saying, “I would ask him not to interfere in Austria’s internal affairs. It doesn’t fill me with joy when someone meddles from outside.” His country, he pointed out, had no desire to emulate Brexit. “It is not something I want. We need to build a stronger union,” he said.
Early analysis of the result shows that Farage had introduced enough apprehension into the proceedings for a large number of conservative voters to swing behind Alexander Van der Bellen, the Green candidate. A majority of those who had voted for the right of centre People’s Party, which is in coalition with the Freedom Party in Upper Austria, in the first run-off in May, voted for Van der Bellen. The result that time was annulled over postal vote irregularities. But Hofer had come to within 30,000 votes of winning on that occasion, raising expectations of victory this time around.
As well as condemning the strident anti-foreigner stance of the Freedom Party, Van der Bellen had repeatedly pointed out his support for the European Union. Researchers found that some in the electorate who were tempted to go with Hofer for his hardline views on migrants and refugees decided instead that the threat of a referendum and possible ensuing upheaval outweighed the “Muslim threat”.
The issue of a referendum also appeared to have galvanised the parts of the population that are most pro-European Union, ensuring they turned up at the polls. Van der Bellen won overwhelmingly among the well-educated, women and pensioners. Overall, the people who voted for him said they had done so for the image of Austria abroad, his strong European Union position and his competence. The Green Party leader beat Mr Hofer by 53.3 per cent of the vote to 46.7 per cent. The turnout was a high 74.2 per cent of the electorate.
Farage had said he would put money on Hofer winning the election. He and his allies did not address the matter of his intervention sabotaging that outcome. Instead, Arron Banks, the Ukip funder, blamed the Austrian people for making the wrong choice. This was, he held, because they “haven’t suffered enough rape and murder yet” in the hands of refugees. “You can’t always get it right,” he tweeted.
Nigel Farage's most controversial moments
Nigel Farage's most controversial moments
1/12 When he unveiled that 'breaking point' poster during the referendum
Mr Farage was accused of deploying “Nazi-style propaganda” when he unveiled a poster showing Syrian refugees travelling to Europe under the next “Breaking point”. Users on social media were quick to compare the advert to a Nazi propaganda film with similar visuals and featuring Jewish refugees. The poster was particularly controversial because it was unveiled the morning of the killing of Labour MP Jo Cox
2/12 When he said he’d be concerned if his neighbours were Romanian
In May 2014 Mr Farage was accused of a “racial slur” against Romanians after he suggested he would be concerned living next to a house of them. “I was asked if a group of Romanian men moved in next to you, would you be concerned? And if you lived in London, I think you would be,” he told LBC radio during an interview. Asked whether he would also object to living next to German children, he said: “You know the difference”
3/12 When he said the EU campaign was won 'without a bullet being fired'
Nigel Farage has said the next Prime Minister has to be a Leave supporter
4/12 When he resigned as Ukip leader and came back days later
After failing to win the seat of South Thanet at the general election, Nigel Farage stepped down as Ukip leader – as he had promised to do during the campaign. Days later on 11 May he “un-resigned” and said he would stay after being convinced by supporters within the party. We’ll see how long his resignation lasts this time
5/12 When he blamed immigrants for making him late
Mr Farage turned up late to a £25-a-head ‘meet the leader’ style event in Port Talbot, Wales in December 2014. Asked why he was late, he blamed immigrants. “It took me six hours and 15 minutes to get here - it should have taken three-and-a-half to four,” he said. “That has nothing to do with professionalism, what it does have to do with is a country in which the population is going through the roof chiefly because of open-door immigration and the fact that the M4 is not as navigable as it used to be”
6/12 When he wanted to ban immigrants with HIV from Britain
Mr Farage has used his platform as Ukip leader call for people with HIV to be banned from coming to Britain. Asked in an interview with Newsweek Europe in October 2014 who he thought should be allowed to come to the UK, he said: “People who do not have HIV, to be frank. That’s a good start. And people with a skill.” He also repeated similar comments in the 2015 general election leadership debates
7/12 When he defended the use of a racial slur against Chinese people
Defending one of Ukip’s candidates, who used the word “ch**ky” to describe a Chinese person, Mr Farage said: “If you and your mates were going out for a Chinese, what do you say you're going for?" When he was told by the presented that he “honestly would not” use the slur, Mr Farage replied: “A lot would”
Lintao Zhang/Getty Images
8/12 When he said parts of Britain were ‘like a foreign land’
The Ukip leader used his 2014 conference speech to declare parts of Britain as being “like a foreign land”. He told his audience in Torquay that parts of the country were “unrecognisable” because of the number of foreigners there. Mr Farage has also previously said he felt uncomfortable when people spoke other language on a train
9/12 When he said the British army should be deployed to France
At the height of trouble at Britain’s Calais border Mr Farage proposed a novel solution. The Ukip leader called for the British army to be sent to France to put down a migrant rebellion. “In all civil emergencies like this we have an army, we have a bit of a Territorial Army as well and we have a very, very overburdened police force and border agency,” he said. “If in a crisis to make sure we’ve actually got the manpower to check lorries coming in, to stop people illegally coming to Britain, if in those circumstances we can use the army or other forces then why not”
10/12 When he said breastfeeding women should ‘sit in the corner’
Mr Farage sparked protests from mothers after he told women to “sit on the corner” if they wanted to breastfeed their children. “I think that given that some people feel very embarrassed by it, it isn’t too difficult to breastfeed a baby in a way that's not openly ostentatious,” Mr Farage said. He added: "Or perhaps sit in the corner, or whatever it might be”
11/12 When he said the gender pay gap exists because women are ‘worth less’
At a Q&A on the European Union in January 2014 Mr Farage said there was no discrimination against women causing the gender pay gap. Instead, he said, women were paid less because they were simply “worth far less” than many of their male counterparts. “A woman who has a client base, has a child and takes two or three years off - she is worth far less to her employer when she comes back than when she went away because that client base won't be stuck as rigidly to her portfolio,” he said
12/12 When he said he actually couldn’t guarantee £350m to the NHS after Brexit
During the EU referendum campaign the Leave side pledged to spend £350 million a week on the National Health Service – claiming that this is what the UK sends to Brussels. Nigel Farage didn’t speak out against this figure and also pledged to spend EU cash on the health service and other public services himself. Then the day of the election result he suddenly changed his tone, saying he couldn’t guarantee the cash for the NHS and that to pledge to do so was “a mistake”
The deciding issue for the voters was, of course, the European Union. Nigel Farage’s zealotry makes him see most things through the prism of opposition to Brussels and he fails to understand that populists in Europe are not one-dimensional. They may want reforms to the institutions of the Union, but are not all clamouring to get their countries out of it.
Uwe Schneider, in Vienna, seems to reflect the views of a significant number of voters at the election. He had backed Andreas Khol, of the People's Party, in the past but had some reservations: “This English guy, Farage, said that Hofer would go for a vote on the EU if he won. He sounded really confident as if he knew something. So I voted for Van der Bellen and so did my wife. We don’t want to leave the EU, our relations; our friends don’t want to leave. If there was a vote the majority will vote to stay in the EU; but why do something like such a vote, which will bring in divisions?”
Nigel Farage’s tunnel vision about the European Union will not change. And, since being patted on the head by Donald Trump, he sees himself more and more as a statesman, a key player in shaping the destiny of Europe. It is highly unlikely that he will stop seeking to interfere in the elections to come on the Continent. But if that actually leads to results such as the one in Austria, those who do not want to see the far right gain power may well ask themselves, “What’s not to like?”Reuse content