Nigel Farage - class act or just a barrel load of laughs?
From Brother Ivo:
The country-wide tour by Nigel Farage brought him to within a couple of hundred yards from Brother Ivo’s door last week, so it seemed rather churlish not to take advantage of the opportunity to hear a speaker who undoubtedly puts most professional politicians into the shade when it comes to charisma.
Political meetings have gone out of fashion since the hurly-burly days when hundreds would turn out to see the likes of Lloyd George, George Brown or Enoch Powell in a public meeting. In those pre-soundbite days, you had to be willing to take on hecklers and answer impromptu questions. Today, news reports of closed meetings for many a Cabinet or shadow minister are more often notable for a clique of supporters and Spads with printed banners 'doughnutting' around the speaker - as if the public actually cared what they had to say.
Nigel Farage has no such problem. His cheeky chappie schtick is polished, well-rehearsed and brilliantly delivered even when it is clear that this is the fifth time he has delivered it that day. If you have not caught the flavour of it, HERE is a good montage of what he offers on tour.
Brother Ivo was fortunate to have Simon Heffer as the warm-up act, so the evening was thoroughly enjoyable for all, including the ex-Conservative Mayor (whom Brother Ivo sat next to), and a group of Conservative Future members which he identified to me. They were young, had probably never seen a class act like this before, and plainly enjoyed the evening.
Having young people present was not the only unpredicted feature. There was a good smattering of people from ethnic minorities and some of them were identified as candidates in the imminent Council elections. The Twitter response may be full of accusations that UKIP is quasi-racist, but the meeting was less 'hideously white' and masculine than the LibDem Parliamentary Party. No group received more warm and fulsome praise from the speaker than the Ugandan Asians who have made such a success of their opportunities in this country.
Nuremberg it wasn’t. Mr Farage explained that he was consciously following Paddy Ashdown’s political strategy of encouraging countrywide candidacies for local elections to build a base upon which a parliamentary campaign strategy would be built. Interestingly, he claimed that substantial funding was in place. He made easy capital about the other parties spending a fortune to find out what the man-in-the-pub thinks, while he himself just goes into the pub and asks them.
He covered all the obvious talking points: sovereignty, EU unaccountability, immigration, grammar schools, political correctness, welfare reform - it seemed like a rather belated echo to Michael Howard’s ill-founded dog-whistle campaign 'Are you thinking what we’re thinking?' The big difference being, however, that while Michael Howard received the plain answer 'No', Mr Farage appears to be receiving an altogether more affirmative answer. Sometimes you just need better timing.
Brother Ivo distrusts crowd responses, and constantly cautioned himself that populism has a poor history of happy outcomes. And yet, as Mr Farage eviscerated the entire political class with the same directness and wit that he famously deployed against Herman Van Rompuy, it became clear that what was being presented was not the disordered ravings of a demagogue, but articulation of the honest concerns of many ordinary people. He is more Michael Foot or Tony Benn than Mussolini. There is passion and wit but little personal malice. Harold Macmillan once chided Oswald Mosley with the observation that when Englishmen march in the streets they do it in flannel trousers and tweed jackets, not black shirts. And that certainly captured the mood of the meeting.
The cheerful scorn of the three main parties and their leaders is dangerous to them, and they underestimate the appeal of the Farage tour at their peril. No matter how well-scripted Ed Miliband’s jokes about the Bullingdon Club may be, we all know that he himself is a privileged millionaire. The revelations about Chuka Umunna’s opinions of ordinary folk only confirm what even Labour voters suspect, and Mr Farage is not slow to point out that more Labour expense cheats have gone to prison than Tories. One continues to sit in the Lords.
Traditional Labour voters notice these things as much as disaffected Tories. Such scandals are low-hanging fruit for a politician of Mr Farage’s skill, and it may be no idle boast that his party can attract the disillusioned from across the political spectrum. Brother Ivo suspects that the scuttling sound of Labour re-positioning itself on welfare has as much to do with the fear of UKIP as any thought-through policy review.
So what did Brother Ivo see at his first foray into a political meeting in years? A David Owen (without the arrogance)? A Ross Perot? Nadine Dorris’s future party leader if Mr Cameron does not set aside pettiness? A rival to Boris? Britain’s premier 'throw-the-bums-out' candidate? Probably a little of all of these.
He certainly did not see a well-researched programme for government, or a Cabinet-of-all-the-talents in waiting. What he did see was perhaps not a king-maker for the next election, but almost certainly a king-breaker, and that can be the scariest creature on the political landscape for any of the party leaders, none of whom attracts as much affection or instinctive identification in the electorate as 'our Nige’.
They will certainly not want him alongside them in any leadership debates.
(Posted by Brother Ivo)