Nigel Farage is on home turf on his soapbox. Like those who praise authoritarians, he is comfortable only when surrounded by his supporters and his security. When pressed about his controversial past (to put it mildly) and his many unsavoury statements, he responds in the only way he knows. Like his mates Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, Farage acts the victim and lashes out.
When Andrew Marr had the temerity last Sunday to press him about his views on the NHS, gun control, relations with Russia and more, he blamed the questioner. As soon as he was out of the studio, he launched into a rant against the BBC, calling it “the enemy”. That’s the same organisation which has put him on Question Time 33 times. I struggle to think of any broadcaster who could have been more accommodating to Farage than the Beeb.
This is all straight out of the Trump playbook. Attack the media; seek to undermine anyone, anything, that attempts to stand up to you.
That’s why on Monday I challenged Farage to a face-to-face debate. No special favours and no controlled environment. I wasn’t under any illusions, but a small part of me thought he might just accept. But within minutes, not only did he refuse to step up, but he delivered his message in his inimitable style – with brusqueness and brashness.
I would relish the opportunity to ask Farage to account for whether he still thinks foreign patients with HIV are undermining the health service; whether he stands by his “breaking point” statement regarding immigration during the 2016 referendum; and if he continues to believe – as he has said before – that, in terms of policy, the Brexit party is no different from Ukip, from which he stood down as leader five times. The public have a right to find out.
But the point of such a debate is not just about Farage. The reason he has cornered much of the press coverage around Brexit is because the others have run scared.
Why is our prime minister, Theresa May, an invisible figure in this campaign? We know the answer: she is in freefall, with her own party close to collapse. Jeremy Corbyn has been out and about a little, but the only subject he doesn’t want to talk about is Brexit. While Tom Watson and Keir Starmer describe Labour as “the Remain party”, their shadow cabinet colleague, Barry Gardiner, declared this week: “The Labour Party is not a Remain party”. No wonder Corbyn doesn’t want to answer questions on Europe – Labour is as deeply divided as the Conservative Party I left to join Change UK.
Farage won’t meet me to discuss the big questions that voters need answered. But at least the electorate now has a choice – between party leaders who are running scared and a party, Change UK, that is prepared to stand up and be counted.
We want to change politics. But first, we want to stop Brexit. It’s that simple.
Heidi Allen is MP for South Cambridgeshire and leader of Change UK
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