Nigel Farage, like the clap, is back and angrier than ever – not that he ever really went away.
He doesn’t smile very much anymore. Doesn’t hold empty pints above his head. Doesn’t arrive to the whistled theme tune of The Great Escape. That was Ukip. The Brexit Party is different.
It’s got very different production values, for a start. Now it likes to welcome its leader to the stage with air raid sirens and lighting blackouts.
Its leader likes to bounce up and down on the balls of his feet, ionising the air around him with all the usual high voltage words, like “betrayal”, like “treachery”, like “democracy” – the thing he likes to claim he is “taking a stand for” when what he is actually doing is burning it down – but we’ll get on to that shortly.
On Tuesday morning, the carefully mixed bongs of Big Ben chimed his entrance over a syncopated disco clapping track, and the Brexit Party leader made his way to the stage like one of those ageing, minicab-driving darts players on whose slumped shoulders the laser lights and thumping bass of 21st-century sports entertainment just cannot sit.
He looks different as well. The Brexit Party has gone to great lengths to ensure diversity among its 500 and counting Westminster parliamentary candidates, a Herculean effort that is just not reflected in its leaders new hairstyling, which is very much Just for Men.
He sounds different as well. He sounds angry. Angry at Boris Johnson, angry at Remainers, angry at everybody. Angry, most of all, at the growing possibility that a deal on Brexit might be done. He is angry at the withdrawal agreement, with or without the backstop. “The withdrawal agreement is not Brexit,” he boomed, to the sound of rapturous anger. “It is a betrayal of what 17.4m people voted for!”
Nigel, of course, has been betrayed by reality. Betrayed by the simple fact that no amount of Spitfire nationalism can supplant the inevitable consequences of his actions. That the UK would always be the supplicant in negotiations with the European Union. That the European Union is just that – a union – and no amount of phoney patriotism can alter the fact that, to take just one example, little old Ireland now dictates terms to Great Britain.
It wasn’t meant to be this way. By now, the German car makers were meant to have beaten down the door to Angela Merkel’s office, demanding that the single market be compromised to accommodate British demands.
Now Nigel bangs the drum for no deal at all, an outcome that he couldn’t have made clearer was palpably impossible in June 2016. Now Nigel is furiously angry about the transitional arrangements for ECJ oversight on certain product regulations in the withdrawal agreement.
“When I said, ‘we want our country back’, I didn’t do it so foreign judges could overrule laws made in this country,” he said. “The withdrawal agreement would leave us under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice for a minimum period of eight years!”
Who of us can know what Nigel really meant when he chanted “We want our country back”, but as a point of fact, the last time I heard those words chanted were during the session on immigration at last year’s Ukip conference. Others in the audience tweaked the lyrics slightly, to the more succinct, “Send them back!”
If ECJ regulatory oversight really was the big question all along, one does wonder why he invited all that needless fuss over the “breaking point” poster.
Indeed, a few years ago, the conventional wisdom on Nigel Farage was that Britain was in some way lucky that its right-of-right wing politics had been captured by someone as “cuddly” as Nigel. A clubbable public school boy who had drawn the sting from Nick Griffin and the rest. But while Farage was more than happy to be badged in this way, he is just as happy to host tea parties at The Ritz, begging for money for his Brexit Party from global far-right figures.
Which means, we are at least entitled to ask, who is the real Nigel Farage? The charming cheeky chappie, or the Steve Bannon disciple at the vanguard of a genuinely terrifying new politics that seeks to break up democratic institutions all over the western world?
He has very deliberately made “democracy” the buzzword of the Brexit Party. It’s not merely that there is is no democratic mandate at all to inflict the most miserable of all Brexits on a voting population that was promised, time and time over by all parties concerned, that it couldn’t possibly happen.
No, it is the more chilling aspect. Democracy is a sacred word. That democracy cannot possibly be a bad thing is the pretext upon which populists have dismantled liberal democracies throughout history. It is no surprise, at all, that Germany’s National Socialists used a dozen public referendums to undermine and destroy the Weimar constitution, and I make no apology whatsoever for mentioning this.
There is genuine talk of shutting down the House of Commons to force through a decision that threatens to reduce UK GDP by 10 per cent.
Over the road from the Brexit Party rally, backbench and frontbench MPs of all parties gathered to sign a declaration that they would not allow such a thing to happen.
We live in times that are every bit as serious as the early 1930s. If Nigel Farage has chosen to shake off his cuddly image, the least the rest of us can do is return the favour. The time to do otherwise has passed.
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