‘They’re not proper people.’
Pint in one hand, fag in the other, Nigel Farage is passing withering judgement on the political class. ‘They don’t pass the Farage Test’, he says of Cameron, Clegg and Miliband. The Farage Test? Warming to his theme, his voice rising an octave, he explains. ‘I judge everybody by two simple criteria. Number one: would I employ them? And number two: would I want to have a drink with them? To pass the Farage Test, you only have to pass one of those. There are lots of people I’ve employed over the years who I wouldn’t choose to have a drink with, and there are lots of people who are completely useless but rather nice to have a bit of a jolly with. But this mob don’t pass either.’ Then, after eviscerating Them, calling into question their employability and drinkability, wondering out loud if they’re even ‘proper people’, he lets out what I think we should call the Farage Laugh: a deep and hearty, nicotine-stained guffaw at the world: ‘HA HA HA HA HA HA HA.’
I don’t know if I’d pass the Farage Test, but the UKIP leader has agreed to have a drink with me. We’re at a pub in a small street in central London — outside, natch, for smoking purposes — with a pap lurking behind a parked van, clearly unable to believe his luck that he might get a shot of Farage drinking and smoking and laughing. We’re interrupted every five minutes by passers-by who want to shake Farage’s hand or get a selfie with him. (‘Go to UKIP dot org and become a member. Bloody well do it!’, he tells one young fan.) It’s chilly but sunny; Farage is making light work of his pint; he still has a little make-up on from a by-all-accounts barnstorming appearance on ITV’s Loose Women; and he’s ready, he says, to speak his mind. ‘Interviewing me over a drink — always far better. HA HA HA HA HA HA.’
One thing on the Farage Mind is the total out-of-touchness of his opponents in the upcoming General Election: the three main political parties. ‘They’re over-advised. They’re scared. They view the whole operation of politics as playing safe, as if criticism is a bad thing.’ And more fundamentally they’re the ‘wrong sort of people’, he says, to be doing a job that involves engaging the public and speaking to ordinary people. ‘Lack of breadth of life experience. They’ve not had the knocks.’ He adds one rider, ‘which is that David Cameron had a son who was ill and died’. ‘But if you take that out, if you examine the lives of these boys, it’s been seamless. My life, by contrast, has been marked by regular disasters and stupidities. I’ve had some dramatic failures, and I think that probably puts my feet a bit more firmly on the ground and it means I can speak to anybody. I honestly believe I am the most classless person you will ever meet.’
His ability to ‘speak to anybody’ is on full display today. Everyone who irritates the hell out of me by interrupting the interview to press the Farage flesh is engaged with directly and honestly. ‘I’m doing fine, whatever the buggers might say!’, he says to one man who asks how things are going. Farage is intrigued by the inability of the other party leaders to do what he does, to be normal, to engage the electorate in real, everyday language. Cameron has to boast about once having eaten a Cornish pasty in Leeds in a desperate bid to connect with the throng, while poor old Miliband can’t even eat a bacon sarnie without making a tit of himself and reportedly seeks expert advice on how to do that terrifying thing of Talking To People. Farage puts this colossal disconnect between the political class and the public down both to the political leaders’ seamless, knocks-free lives and also to the professionalisation of politics — the way politics has become the domain of an increasingly narrow, bubbled strata of society.
‘As the seven per cent that go to public schools dominate politics, the media, the arts, sport, every aspect of our life in this country, [we’ve] almost reached a situation where the only time these guys have met a working-class man or woman is if they are driving the car. And they can’t even be nice to them then’, he says.
He saves his most stinging class-based barbs for the Tories. ‘The Conservative Party is as upper class today as it has ever been. Over the past hundred years, the upper classes had more connection to their fellow man than they have today. And I’ll tell you why. Firstly, those that were from the landed classes may have been selfish financially, over the corn laws or whatever it was, but they ran their estates themselves. They actually knew the lads that cut the hay and looked after the horses. And then we had two world wars, which brought the whole class system together. Up until the late 1980s you had senior Tory politicians from posh backgrounds who could talk to the lads doing the scaffolding. They can’t do that now.’
It isn’t only the aloof, not-proper-people of the New Conservatives, New Labour and the Lame Lib Dems who fail the Farage Test: his strongest ire is aimed at another group that has of late become a major player in British politics, a key pillar of establishment thinking — the media. He’s cutting. ‘The media have now become a bigger problem than the politicians. We talk about the Westminster Village in politics, [but] forget it — the media village is even tighter, even narrower, even more inward-looking, and even less in touch with their own potential readership and with the country.’
Ouch. But Farage’s barely disguised fury with the media is understandable. It’s hard to remember in recent years any other person or thing being the recipient of as much samey, uniform media bashing as Farage. Even ‘Jihadi John’ has been the subject of some sympathetic editorials — ‘Us brutes made him like this!’ — but not ‘Nasty Nige’. From the newspaper of record, The Times, to the favoured newspaper of the new elites, the Guardian, and in pretty much every shade of commentary in between, Farage is bogeyman du jour, potential destroyer of Europe and repressor of Romanians. The anti-Farage hysteria reached its crescendo with Channel 4’s mockumentary UKIP: The First 100 Days, which provided a better insight into the cut-off, swirling, masses-fearing minds of TV execs and the newspaper hacks who cheer them than it did into UKIP’s policies or potential. Now Farage is firing back.
‘I’ve watched over three years, as UKIP has grown, the incredulity from journalists, incapable of fathoming why UKIP’s doing so well — they’re literally incapable.’ The media are even more unable to read the public mood than politicians are, he says, because they’re so beholden to ‘the narrow tribalism’ of ‘binary politics’. Why do they stick to this binary-politics script? Because it brings them rewards, he says. ‘Peerages, knighthoods — such patronage is dished out to the press on a scale that no other private-sector industry gets. I know [senior politicians] get an OBE or a knighthood, and if you’re a soldier you have a very good chance. And we understand that, because these are public servants. Private-sector rewards, however, are few and far between — but not if you’re a newspaper editor.’ The media, all shades, are now part of the establishment, he says.